Tourism board chairman: Will industry revive or sink more?Added occupancy tax part of solution
LAKE JUNALUSKA — Members of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, the board that spearheads tourism issues in the county, were asked to think of ways to grow the industry, especially in light of major initiatives by neighboring counties to capture an even greater share of the market.
“Hope is not a strategic plan,” said Ken Stahl, a long-time TDA board member who was elected chairman Wednesday. “We need to decide if we’ll revive what we've got or will it just sink more.”
Part of the TDA board strategy to better promote tourism includes securing legislative authority to charge an additional 2 percent tax on overnight accommodations, but Rep. Michele Presnell has successfully stalled the effort.
The board learned of a Buncombe County initiative to invest $100 million in tourism product development (places where tourists would enjoy going) in the next five years, and of a planned expansion at Cherokee.
“The pressure of competition will increase,” Stahl predicted. “Cherokee is building a $100 million theme park and a new casino. Pigeon Forge has 50,000 tourists a day, and it’s wall-to-wall people. We don’t’ have the money to go toe-to-toe with those folks, so we need to find our niche markets. We’ve got to learn to play the game better.”
During a Wednesday meeting where several newly appointed board members were present, a sometimes intense discussion took place about the proposed occupancy tax legislation which earmarks proceeds for capital projects.
Newly appointed member Tammy Wight expressed concerns about the proposal, as did the town of Maggie Valley’s representative on the board, Robert Edwards.
It was agreed there are a lot of questions — and a lot of misinformation being circulated — about the proposal. The board agreed answering those questions was important and made plans to do so.
However, there is no guarantee the issue will pass. Stahl said he, along with two county commissioners, Mark Swanger and Michael Sorrells (who is also on the TDA board), County Manager Ira Dove, TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins met with Presnell about the proposal.
“Hopefully we have clarified any issues with her that seem to be surrounding this issue,” he said. “That meeting could get us to a good spot.”
Stahl said Presnell has commissioned the John Locke Foundation study the issue, and that it is unclear whether she will support the extra occupancy tax, or even whether it will move forward for legislative discussion in the May short session.
Meanwhile, Stahl urged board members to think about the future of the tourism industry in Haywood and how to best address current and future needs.
“A strategic plan is the best tool we can have,” he said. “Maggie Valley has one and we’re in the process of doing one. We need to take a deep breath and think where will we be in five years.”