Making tourism sustainable as economic development

op frBy Ken Stahl • Guest Columnist

There appears to be controversy concerning the proposed 2 percent occupancy tax increase. This is a good thing as it generates a reflection on concerns of the stakeholders. Several issues have been discussed, and a lot of people have been confused as to what this is all about.

We here in Haywood County must rely on tourism for our livelihood. Almost all of our industrial jobs are gone. The big players in tourism here in Western North Carolina are our neighbor to the east, Buncombe County, and our neighbors to the west, the Cherokee. Buncombe County tourists spend approximately $729 million per year in the county. Swain County tourists spend approximately $256 million. We struggle to get tourists to spend $116 million annually with us.

Our research shows that tourists come here for the scenic beauty. The problem is getting visitors to come here for the first time and then getting repeat business. This takes a multi-faceted approach.

Buncombe County has been successful with implementing a tourism economic development program. Their core principle was that any project they undertook had to be able to show an increase in room night stays. This innovative approach has also been implemented in other counties. We must not rely on the status quo and hope things will get better. The proposed 2 percent occupancy tax increase will enable us to implement our own tourism economic development plan. We would hope to be as successful as Buncombe.

One of the main concerns voiced in several meetings was the representation of Maggie Valley in spending the 2 percent tax money. The people that spoke about this indicated they thought that the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and the new proposed Product Development Committee would spend the money on projects that would not benefit Maggie. This thought seems to come from the belief that Maggie would not have a voice in this process.

Having been involved in the previous 1 percent tax increase, I can say that Maggie will be well represented in both the new proposed 2 percent tax increase as well as the existing 4 percent occupancy tax. The TDA has the final approval authority on any and all spending projects. Currently the TDA has 12 voting members on its board. Seven of these — including the chairperson — are from Maggie Valley. This is a 58 percent majority. Additionally, the new product development committee — which has no spending approval at all — will have 10 members. Per the existing proposed legislation, Maggie has the opportunity to have five members on this committee that will analyze proposed projects.

Maggie will be well represented on both committees.

We on the TDA have learned a lot with the implementation of the previous 1 percent tax. All guidelines, rules and procedures that were developed will guide us in fairly implementing the new proposed 2 percent tax.

Frankly, we have been good stewards with the existing 4 percent tax money we now collect. However, in order to do more we need to look to economic development projects to increase our market share of tourism?

Maggie Valley should be applauded for its efforts in creating a strategic plan that will look at their strengths, weakness, threats and opportunities. This plan will probably be a work in progress, perhaps with baby steps to start with. It’s like the mayor of Maggie said, we all should be pulling on the same end of the rope.

(Stahl is chairman of the Haywood County TDA Finance Committee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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