Motorcycles main drive in Maggie
As the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend returns to Maggie Valley for the second year in a row, the community is preparing to welcome motorcyclists from all over the country with open arms.
The motorcycle industry is what many believe is keeping Maggie alive by filling up hotels, spending money in shops and restaurants and bringing their friends and families back to see more. Craig Madison, former CEO of Grove Park Inn in Asheville, confirmed that sentiment when he presented the town’s business and government leaders with the results of the Moving Maggie Forward study.
Madison was contracted by the town to perform interviews with stakeholders and present a cohesive plan on how the businesses could improve tourism — it’s staple economy.
“Could not have survived without Wheels Through Time and motorcycles” was the answer several people gave when Madison asked them how their business was doing.
About 80 percent of people interviewed for the study said the Wheels Through Time Museum was very important or somewhat important for their business. Another 80 percent said the surrounding natural beauty and proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway was very important to their business.
Dale Walksler, owner of Wheels Through Time, said Maggie Valley’s tourism industry had definitely evolved since he moved his museum here in 2002.
“From the old days of the car dealer rallies to the present, Maggie Valley and Haywood County has seen a huge increase in motorcycle tourism,” he said.
This year Maggie Valley Festival Grounds hosted the sixth annual Can-Am Spyders Owners Conference for the second year, which brought in more than 1,300 participants for a two-day event.
The RoadRUNNER organizers are expecting more than 500 participants for the three-day conference at the festival grounds. The conference is only open to the public on Thursday. While these types of events typically move around the country each year, organizers have said the local, facility and hospitality have made it easy to return for a second year.
Audrey Hager, Maggie Valley director of special events and festivals, said RoadRUNNER Magazine originally contacted the Haywood County Tourist Development Authority about accommodating the event and Maggie Valley was a perfect location.
When giving his final Moving Maggie Forward report, Madison said there was no doubt that motorcycles had a major impact on the economy of Maggie Valley. One of his main recommendations was to make Maggie Valley a “hub” for all types of motor enthusiasts, including motorcycles, cars and bicycles because of Wheels Through Time and the beautiful driving opportunities surrounding Maggie.
A CNN report from 2012 lists the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina as the No. 2 best motorcycle road in the U.S. and specifically names Blue Ridge Parkway. The drive is second only to the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon to California.
Madison and many other lodging and restaurant owners in Maggie see the benefit of capitalizing on that draw.
“Wheels Through Time truly has changed the identity of Maggie Valley by turning it into a destination for motorcycle enthusiasts,” Madison said.
Walksler has long contended that the TDA other tourism-related businesses have underestimated the importance of the motorcycle industry to not just Maggie Valley, but also the county as a whole.
“To the TDA and the tourism community, my question would be when are you going to publicly acknowledge the importance of Wheels Through Time and take a real position on the motorcycle industry?” he said.
Lynn Collins, TDA executive director, said the TDA has increased the money it spends on marketing and advertising in the motorcycle market and was instrumental in bringing the RoadRUNNER rally to Maggie for the last two years.
“In addition, staff has posted YouTube motorcycle videos, reposted Wheels Through Time events/posts on social media and sent out press releases on the motorcycle brochure and motorcycle rides in WNC,” Collins said.
The TDA has increased its motorcycle marketing spending from $20,000 in 2011-12 to about $36,000 budgeting for the current fiscal year. The TDA budgeted $8,375 for Road Runner Magazine advertising, $6,000 on a “Visit NC Motorcycle” video filmed at Wheels Through Time and Blue Ridge Parkway and almost $4,000 to produce and print 25,000 motorcycle-ride brochures.
“… The TDA fulfilled numerous motorcycle inquiries as a result of the ads and the press releases,” Collins said.
Hager said the festival grounds would host six motorcycle-type events this year, including the spring and summer Thunder in the Smokies rally. She said these events bring additional bed-tax revenue from room stays and sales tax from visitors eating and shopping.
“Motorcycle events are always at the forefront but we can’t have too many rallies,” she said. “We want a variety of events. We want people to have exposure to the area — like the Spyder people were saying they will bring their families back.”
Collins said Haywood County would also be hosting a TV crew this month for a show entitled “Motorhead Traveler.” The crew will be in Haywood County filming for four days, one of which is at Wheels Through Time.
Walksler also is starring in “What’s in the Barn,” a Velocity TV reality show. It premiered worldwide on June 25 and will run all summer. Walksler said the museum has seen record numbers for June and July because of the show’s success.
While “What’s in the Barn” is the first thing one sees when visiting Wheels Through Time Museum or the Velocity TV’s website, Walksler can’t understand why the TDA hasn’t promoted it as much as other projects, pointing out that the TDA hasn’t mentioned it on Facebook since April 30.
“The motorcycle industry speaks for itself in Haywood County — it’s obviously the main tourism engine in Maggie Valley,” he said.