Last year, the tourism board cut the amount of money it gave to festivals. Instead, it applied the money toward a broad-based marketing strategy.
The tourism board upped the festival allowance this year — without sacrificing the marketing budget — following an increase in revenue from a good tourist season last year. The tourism board oversees roughly $685,000 collected through a 3 percent tax on overnight lodging and uses the money to promote tourism.
In addition to an increase in revenue last year, the tourism board is banking on a whopping 10 percent increase in the coming year. While some members on the tourism board initially favored a more conservative estimate of 5 percent, the board was swayed by optimism over the reopening of Ghost Town in the Sky. The popular Maggie Valley theme park is slated to open May 26 following a five-year hiatus.
“Ghost Town is going to bring in a 5 percent increase alone,” said James Carver, a tourism board member and owner of the Maggie Valley Restaurant.
If tourism revenue doesn’t increase by 10 percent, however, the tourism board could end up having to cut its budget toward the end of the year.
“I don’t want to come up at the end of the year and have money left over, but I’d also hate to overspend,” said Ken Stahl, tourism board member and owner of Super 8 motel.
While grants for festivals were increased, funding contributions for the visitor centers run by Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce remained the same. In addition to cuts to festival funding last year, the tourism board cut its contribution to the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce for operational expenses, from staffing to its Web site. Despite calls for giving the visitor centers more money, the tourism board held the line on visitor center budgets.
Sonja Michaels, a Maggie Valley hotel owner and member of the Maggie Chamber, told the tourism board that the Maggie Chamber should not have to bear the expense of running the visitor center. The Maggie visitor center gives out tourism information for the entire county, providing a valuable service, she said.
“There is no reason we should be paying those bills,” Michaels said.
Carver agreed that the visitor centers should get more money for providing an important and necessary function.
“They are the arm of (Tourism Development Authority.) My thoughts have always been to keep the tourist bureaus strong,” Carver said.
The tourism board funds four visitor centers in the county: one in Maggie run by the Maggie chamber, one in Waynesville run by the Haywood chamber, and one in Canton and Balsam, which are both run in-house by the Tourism Development Authority.