Haywood County is having a bit of an identity crisis.
The Tourism Development Authority touts the county as a place “Where the Sun Rises on the Smokies.” The slogan, created in 2005 by the Tombras Group marketing agency, appears on everything from billboards to print ads to visitor guides. But since it was created, the TDA has welcomed a slate of new members and a new executive director, all of whome have their own opinions about the logo.
At a recent TDA retreat, the slogan’s effectiveness — and whether it’s a good representation of Haywood County — was called into question.
Betty Huskins, a senior vice president at regional economic development group AdvantageWest, facilitated the March 25 retreat. Huskins asked the TDA board to throw out several phrases that represent what attracts visitors to the area. Board members came up with several, including “feeling grounded,” “getting back to basics,” “family values,” and “breath of fresh air.” The current slogan and its focus on the Great Smoky Mountains was conspicuously absent from the suggestions.
“What do they feel? I don’t think it’s ‘gateway to the Smokies,’” Huskins commented.
Board chair Alice Aumen questioned what the slogan tells visitors about the area, if anything.
“Does “Where the Sun Rises on the Smokies,” say anything?” she asked.
The use of the term “Smokies” to refer to far western North Carolina has long posed a dilemma for tourism groups trying to promote the area. Though the region is technically in the Smoky Mountains, many feel that it’s not thought of as such.
“We’re sitting here touting ourselves as the Smoky Mountains, but as far as the consumer is concerned, Tennessee owns the Smokies,” said Lynn Collins, TDA executive director. “Could we identify ourselves better?”
After the retreat, Collins added that “research has proven that in the consumers’ minds, Tennessee pretty much owns the Smokies, and maybe we could position ourselves better.”
Board member Ken Stahl, who was on the TDA when the slogan was adopted, said he likes it more than some of the others the TDA has used in the past. Stahl said the phrase evokes an image of beauty, which is a major reason visitors are attracted to the region.
“If you’ve ever experienced a sunrise here and watched that, particularly when there’s mist on the valleys and the mountains, it’s a gorgeous, beautiful sight,” Stahl said.
TDA members also questioned whether the current slogan targets the area’s largest visitor demographic, which Huskins said is generally a higher-educated, older individual with money to spend.
“We need to start thinking about who our brand is, and marketing to that individual,” said Board Member Ron Reid.
Stahl, however, thinks the logo already targets the county’s major demographic of visitors.
“Our profile is people who are 55 and older that come here with discretionary spending,” Stahl said. “They come here for the scenic beauty, and you can’t highlight it any more than ‘Where the Sun Rises on the Smokies.’”
The TDA has no immediate plans to change its logo, but members did express interest in collecting feedback as to what the county’s brand should be. Collins, who has experience in previous jobs developing brands, said the TDA could start by conducting an online survey of people who have visited the county and asking them to describe in several words what they think of the area.
“You tally feedback and find a pattern out of it, a common theme,” Collins said. “It usually stands out, and you tweak it a little bit and take it and run with it. I’m hoping that can happen (here) as a result of doing some surveys and things.”
Collins said the method of relying on visitor feedback would be in contrast to the way things have been done in the past, when the TDA board paid a marketing organization to come up with a logo and campaign.
“In years past, that brand has been determined from the top down,” she said. “(At the retreat), we talked about going from the bottom up.”
TDA considers downtown location
The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is in talks with the Haywood Chamber of Commerce about the possibility of moving both organizations into a roomy, historic building on the corner of Walnut and Main streets in Waynesville.
The building, which has sat on the market for more than a year, would be a prominent location for both organizations. TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins said her group has already gotten quotes on the rental price per square foot and has toured the house to determine which part of the building the TDA would occupy.
Collins said the TDA is waiting for the owner of the house to get back to the group with drawings, square footage and prices.
“Then we can look at our budget and see if we can afford it,” Collins said.
The TDA will also look at costs it will save by combining some of its business equipment with the Chamber.
Collins cautioned that discussions about the move are still “very, very preliminary.”