Folkmoot USA International Dance Festival once again saw its grant funding cut by the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.
The event that brings in international folk dance and music troupes from eight to 10 countries for a 10-day extravaganza has been a signature festival in Haywood County for 30 years. But some on the county tourism authority have grown weary of continued financial support for Folkmoot year after year.
The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority may be ready to start thinking about hiring an executive director. Board members of the still-new tourism organization are currently forming an exploratory committee to ponder the possibilities.
Lynn Collins has honed the art of eavesdropping. It began innocently enough, unavoidable even, since nothing but a cubicle separates her from the foot traffic of downtown Waynesville.
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But her accidental eavesdropping soon became intentional. From her desk at the back of the busy visitor center on Main Street, Collins keeps one ear tuned in to the tourists who pour through the door. It became her secret weapon in the fiercely competitive game of landing the almighty tourist dollar in the mountains: what’s driving them to come here, and what are they looking for when they get here?
For decades, mountain tourism strategists have concocted catchy ways to state the obvious: come visit us because we are in the mountains.
It was so predictable. And there were only so many ways you could say it.
Letter to the Editor:
While I currently serve as chairperson of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, I wish to make clear that I am speaking as a private citizen and my comments may not reflect the collective opinion of the TDA.
First, I wish to thank news organizations for their coverage of the formation and deliberations of this TDA. Having served six years with Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority, I can say that this is the most attention the media has paid to the tourism efforts of Jackson County that I have seen in many years.
The statement made in a recent Sylva Herald editorial, “… a robust tourism industry is critical to everyone in Jackson County …to a great extent, we rely on visitation dollars,” is quite accurate. And no one knows that better than those the county has selected to direct the development of that segment of the economy just how critical it is. As the writer indicated, the impacts of tourism on the Jackson County economy are far-reaching. But it does all start with getting those “heads in beds.” That is the catalyst for all of the benefits that the paper listed in the editorial.
You see, each one of those who sit on the Tourism Development Authority was selected because of their connection and understanding of the industry based on ownership or management. They have a vested interest in the success of efforts being put forth. Unlike some, their income is tied to the dollars the TDA invests in enhancing and promoting the Jackson County tourism brand, accommodations, amenities and attractions.
And what they are doing is working. So much so, in fact, that in the first six months of the fiscal year, occupancy tax collections increased by 8.2 percent. That number is adjusted so that the 1 percent occupancy tax increase does not inflate the percentage (so actual collected revenue is even higher than the 8.2). Using the vernacular of the editor, I would say that the Board not only “burned rubber,” but left the previous revenue figures in the dust. Growth in that collection is one of the metrics of success that lets the board and the public know that efforts (and dollars invested) are bearing fruit.
Again, to use the analogy of the writer, youngsters often make fun of what they don’t understand. We, as citizens, need to be reminded occasionally that an opinion page is just that — opinion. Even if it is brought forward by those who normally bring us the “news” and even if it is peppered with facts, a person (journalists included) is not required to be accurate or correct when giving their opinion in print.
Insinuating that the TDA paid for two words shows a gross misunderstanding of what it takes to produce a slogan or brand concept, brand creative and the associated research, which is also a product of the effort. And to declare that the TDA is spending money frivolously is an insult to each of those who are putting heart and soul into efforts to improve Jackson County’s tourism product, image and help the overall economy of Jackson County grow. The TDA’s actions are not frivolous, they are deliberate and they are not only working; they are showing increase.
I invite you, as citizens and media, to attend our monthly meeting and see first-hand what is going on in the TDA. I can do that as a citizen; those meetings are public and open to everyone. Again, as the opinion writer stated, tourism is important to Jackson County. We should all be working to enhance it and not tear down those who are volunteering to lead it.
Becky Seymour can see the bright lights of Hollywood from Haywood County.
“Right now we’re in the major infancy stage, but we want to basically put Haywood on the map in the film and television world,” she said.
As video marketing manager for the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, Seymour is leading a charge to tap the niche industry.
The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will see unprecedented turnover on its board this month, with five of the 12 seats being filled by newcomers.
Editor’s note: Alice Aumen has been a major voice in Haywood’s tourism landscape for more than half a century — as a founder of Cataloochee Ski Area, operator of the third-generation family-run Cataloochee Ranch and a leader in the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.
After a split vote that followed nearly an hour of discussion, the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority hired three different marketing companies for a five-month period ending when the new fiscal year begins in June.
People seeking funds from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority spend hours filling out grant applications, and all the tourism agency gets for the applicant’s trouble is paper skyscrapers.