TDA fine-tunes its approach

Double-digit increases in both monthly and year-to-date tourist spending have the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority flush with cash, but still seeking to build on better-than-projected collections.

“I’m very optimistic,” said TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins after a June 28 meeting that saw the organization’s April revenue figures released.

The TDA’s budget year runs from July 1 to June 30, so April’s data represents five-sixths of a year; every municipality in the 1 percent group was up over the year, with Lake Junaluska and Clyde continuing to lead the pack in percentage increases.

New lodgings in Clyde and a new tax designation for parts of Lake Junaluska account for much of the growth in those jurisdictions. Year-to-date growth was 67 percent and 103 percent, respectively.

The jurisdiction that collects the most room tax revenue — Maggie Valley — saw strong growth of 22 percent, while Canton posted a gain of 11 percent to Waynesville’s 8 percent.

The TDA’s 3 percent pool saw related gains, posting double-digit performance over projections for each month of the budget thus far and coming in at 31 percent over projected revenue so far this year.

The smallest gain of 15 percent was reported for January and the largest was a staggering 67 percent in March. Sandwiched between them was a tasty 27 percent gain for February, suggesting tourism industry growth in the county during what is traditionally the off-season; April’s collections ended up 54 percent over projections.

Although the revenue projections made by the TDA were conservative, the 3 percent pool is still up 17 percent over actual revenue collected in the 2015-16 budget year.

“The overall picture is very good,” said TDA Finance Committee Chairman and Maggie Valley Alderman Mike Eveland during the meeting, which also saw the group renew the branding debate over “Haywood” versus “Smokies,” contract with a new vendor, and renew a contract with an existing vendor.

Greenville, South Carolina-based Crawford Strategies, the TDA’s current advertising agency of record, was rewarded with another 1-year contract worth $48,000 plus $6,150 per month for creative and technical support, search engine marketing management, search engine optimization management, as well as media planning, placement and management.

“They’re very instrumental in our advertising and marketing campaigns, our website,” Collins said, noting that the contract was a slight increase over the previous year’s. “It’s a crucial component of what we do and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Another crucial component according to Collins is the TDA’s printed visitor guide.

“A lot of people like to have that, to plan their trip or use as a reference while they’re here. This year our inquiries have gone up tremendously — people get the visitors guide in anticipation of making a trip to help them make a decision on what area they’re going. They may order half a dozen guides and that may be the deciding factor.”

The TDA approved a new vendor for its printed guide this year, Akron, Ohio-based Lunar Cow.

In addition to designing, printing and filling the visitor’s guide with content, the company says it will sell $40,000 of advertising, lowering the TDA’s total cost to less than $3,000.

Previously, the TDA had to pay for its own printing — around $25,000 — but contracted for design and content services with The Smoky Mountain News, which sold advertising for the guide in exchange for whatever revenue could thereby be generated.

That figure was around $33,000 last year, but if it were only $10,000, the TDA still would have gotten the goods, with the supplier on the hook for the staff time involved.

If Lunar Cow comes up slightly short in the ad sales department “there are some adjustments they can make” in terms of cover quality or possibly even print quantity, Collins said.

If Lunar Cow comes up way short, it’s possible the TDA could be left holding the bag on the $43,000 deal.

“I don’t see that happening,” Collins said.

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