Tourism board chairman: Will industry revive or sink more?

Added occupancy tax part of solution
By Vicki Hyatt | Feb 06, 2014

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.”

Comments (6)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 05, 2014 17:54

"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.” -- Brilliant!  I'm all in on that one.


“A strategic plan is the best tool we can have,” -- Another great idea.  Putting the horse before the cart does work much better!


"and that it is unclear whether she will support the extra occupancy tax" -- It's easy to oppose a tax.  But if there is a well-founded proposal for which that tax will fund, that could be harder to oppose and easier to support.


I can't wait to hear about the next chapter in this continuing saga!

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 05, 2014 22:24

"a sometimes intense discussion took place about the proposed occupancy tax legislation which earmarks proceeds for capital projects." -- What appears to be posted as law seems to say the TDA can already "finance tourist-related capital projects in the county."  So it seems that if the TDA wants to build a sport complex instead of making YouTube videos or posting billboards, the NC legislature permits that activity within some "travel and tourism" constraints.  Admittedly, someone with more of a law background than I would have to check this out:


Thank goodness there is a pause in the madness to find out where we are, where we're going, and what it might take to get there.


If anyone from the TDA board reads these online things, here's a suggestion: Disclose the percentage of funds that go to the cause of marketing, promoting, and funding capital projects related to tourism.  Disclose the percentage of funds that go to overhead -- including employment and employment-related benefits and/or "administrative expenses".  If "administrative expenses" exceed 15%, you should have a breakout of what those are as large, vague spending items will cause suspicion.  Any non-profit charity shows this measure as an indicator of their worthiness and it's not uncalled for to expect the same out of this TDA group. 


Here's why I think this disclosure is important:  Not too long ago, the TDA was required to keep administrative costs to 15% of the taxes collected.  Now, administrative expenses incurred in engaging in the listed activities can be as much as TWO-THIRDS of the total taxes collected!  Who allowed the TDA to increase "administrative expenses" from 15% to 66% and why?  I don't want to think up to 66% of every dollar the TDA collects does not go to marketing, promoting, and capital funding related to tourism but expenses related to the spending 33% of each dollar collected.


One more tip... Every member of the TDA board should have a printed copy of SL 2007-337 at every meeting.  That's their Charter Document and it would be inexcusable for board members to act without knowing the boundaries and constraints in which they are to act.


I feel for you TDA board people.  Getting 15 people in a room and getting them to agree on anything will be an accomplishment!

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Feb 06, 2014 12:26

               Personally, I wouldn't commission the John Locke Society as headed by hood to study anything. That's the job of the people in the room, being members of the TDA.

               Mr Lilly;

               Many things changed with the tea-baggers ascending into power. Not all were benneficial to the public good. Follow the money, as it were.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 06, 2014 21:08

Mr. Zimmerman, you and I agree on this one: "That's the job of the people in the room, being members of the TDA."  But I suppose the TDA board could welcome whatever benefits (if any) come from "studying the issue" from the John Locke Foundation -- or anyone else that has something to contribute.  At least in this article, Mr. Stahl has made statements that suggest he's taking the TDA's mission to heart and as Chairman of a large group of 15, he's going to need a lot of patience and a lot of skill to have the committee work together.


I once served 7 years on a Commission with legislative authority.  All too often some people that served on the Commission got appointed and really had no idea what their role was and how they should do stuff.  So with that perspective, the City Staff that we oversaw was able to "suggest" to those members what they should do and the Commissioners just did it to the delight of the City Staff.  I hope the TDA board has a firm understanding that THEY manage the TDA and not the other way around.  And to do that, they each need a copy of their Charter Document(s) so that they know their mission and the constraints in which they operate.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Feb 07, 2014 09:52

            I see no reason for the TDA to exist.

            It is an unneccessary escapaid into "big government".

            It is anti-capitolist or free market.

            The Natural beauty of the area sells itself. The county commissioners could do the simple job of placing small simple inexpensive adds in trade papers. They have abrocated their authority. And more. Created an authority whereby certain buisness gain and others do not. Where taxes are collected essentially as a "sin-tax" on passers-by in order to build capitol projects that should be funded by all Haywood county taxpayers. This puts US at risk of a civil lawsuit especially as the tax is essentially a surprise at the end of the stay and not announced at the borders of Haywood county in order to inform travelers so they can make an educated decision as to stay or continue down the road. I'd get rid of both the TDA and highway robbery tax.

         As stated, Haywood county, Maggie in particular are basicly stopping off points for other destinations. They are not primary destinations. As We of Haywood county cannot compete with areas on either side of US, We should not exhaust resources trying.

         Again, any buisness that so choses can sell themselves to the public as they please without Govt. support.

          An authority that can lay taxes today, can interferre into all ares of your buisness the next, in the object of "tourism".



Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Feb 07, 2014 15:17

"Escapaid."   I love that one... Well played C.Z. Very well played!!

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