The TDA oversees more than $600,000 collected from a 3 percent tax on overnight lodging, revenue that’s used to promote tourism. Most of the money goes toward promoting Haywood County as a whole, but a portion is doled out to advocate one part of the county over another. Maggie Valley gets a piece. Waynesville and Lake Junaluska get a piece. And Canton and Clyde get a piece.
The system was created 10 years ago to give each area of the county a little autonomy over its tourism needs. The three sections of the county were dubbed corridors, and the funding became known as corridor funding. Money passed out to corridors is spent on everything from visitor center staff to festival advertising.
But complaints have cropped up in recent years that the system propagates divisiveness. It pigeonholes each community into thinking of themselves as a tourist island. A visitor center employee paid out of Maggie Valley corridor funds feels beholden to promote Maggie and would be less likely to send walk-in tourists down the road to Waynesville. A festival funded with Waynesville corridor funds is shoe-horned into benefiting that community only.
“Both chamber directors have said please don’t divide us up like that,” said Alice Aumen, co-owner of Cataloochee Ranch and a TDA board member. “Waynesville might have a wonderful festival that brings in a lot of tourists for Maggie and vice-versa.”
Aumen was director of the Maggie chamber when the system of divvying up tourism dollars around the county was instituted.
“It served its purpose at the time, but times have changed. There seems to be a mindset of more cooperation,” Aumen said.
Wade Reece, a TDA board member, said he sends tourists from his hotel in Maggie to downtown Waynesville all the time. And when Reece threw a festival in Maggie last summer, he posted hand-written signs on utility poles in and around downtown Waynesville directing people to his festival.
“We want people that come to Maggie to go to Waynesville because it increases their stay,” Reece said. “We all have to work together.”
Another source of contention over corridor money is how much each corridor gets. The money is divvied up based on where it originated, in other words, where the tourists slept. That means the Maggie Valley area, home to the largest concentration of hotels and motels, gets the lion’s share.
The formula has drawn criticism lately for rewarding Maggie Valley with the majority of tourism funds simply because that’s where the hotels and motels are located, regardless of what tourists came to Haywood County for.
Another concern was the growing portion of corridor funds being used to pay the salaries of workers at the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau. Corridor funds accounted for more than half the Maggie Visitors Bureau’s annual budget.
The TDA will vote later this month on whether to do away with corridor funds. Instead, the TDA will fund visitor centers in Maggie Valley and the Waynesville/Lake Junaluska vicinity with a set amount of $25,000 each. The TDA will also fund a visitor center in Canton and one at the rest area in Balsam off U.S. 23-74.
The rest of the corridor money — some $85,000 — will be reserved for festivals and tourism initiatives like before. But it will be considered one big pot of money that anyone anywhere in the county can apply for, with no quotas or formulas that dictate how much each corridor is entitled to.
“Maybe it’s time to change it, modify it, time to do away with it, let every project stand on its own,” said Ken Stahl at a TDA meeting last fall when the idea of doing away with the formula was first broached.
Like the merger of the chambers, however, many thought it would never happen.
“We are in an osmosis right now,” Reece said.