Currently six of the nine seats on the tourism board are reserved for lodging owners. The other three must be in the tourism-related business. The bias toward lodging owners has resulted in what some critics feel is a narrow definition of tourism. The board is overly focused on what has become known as “heads in beds” — promoting overnight stays — rather than the bigger tourism picture.
The task force has recommended changing the make-up of the board. Only three seats should be reserved for lodging owners, watering down the two-thirds majority of lodging owners to only one-third.
In addition to three lodging owners, the task force recommends three members from a tourism related business and three at-large members. The at-large members should be from the business community but don’t have to be directly involved in tourism.
Every sector of the local economy is indirectly impacted by and connected to tourism and the new board make-up would acknowledge that, said Roy Gass, a regional manager of Mast General Store.
“We were interested in looking at tourism as an economic engine in Haywood County. It’s not just heads in beds,” Gass said.
County Commissioner Mark Swanger said broader criteria recommended by the task force should improve the pool of applicants for the board.
The change won’t go into effect right away. First, the county commissioners must approve the new make-up of the board. And, since the tourism authority was granted the power to levy and collect taxes by the state, the state also has to approve any changes to its make-up. Summer 2007 is the earliest the change could go into effect.
In the meantime, three seats on the tourism authority will come up for grabs at the end of December. One member — Sonja Michaels — will leave the board. She has already served the maximum of two back-to-back terms.
The other two seats are held by lodging owner Ken Stahl and Dale Walksler of Wheels Through Time Museum. Stahl and Walksler have each served one term and can re-apply. That does not preclude others from applying for the seat, too. Applicants must be from a tourism-related business. For an application call 828.452.6625.