The meeting was surprising because it was cut and dry. No fireworks, no accusations, no mudslinging. Many were under the impression that elected leaders from Maggie Valley and perhaps even Canton — both of which lost significant amounts of money in this year’s TDA budget — might push for a quick, drastic course of action.
The council did pass a resolution recommending the formation of a committee of elected officials to study the Tourism Development Authority’s most recent budget. After the gavel had fallen on the official meeting, however, Haywood County Commission Chairman Mark Swanger suggested the creation of a more formal task force with a wide-ranging mandate to study the TDA’s actions and effectiveness.
Swanger wants more than just elected officials on the panel, which is a good idea. Let’s get folks who don’t have to answer to voters. In the end, it will be up to elected officials at the local and state level — the TDA was created by a special legislative act — to support whatever recommendations may be forthcoming.
In the end, it seems there are three broad options from which to choose a plan of action:
• Re-allocate the room tax money — By choosing a different formula for allocating room tax dollars, several competing interests could then turn their back on the entire county and go their own way. Perhaps Maggie Valley, Waynesville and Canton should get a sizeable chunk of the room tax money to do with as they please. Then the TDA would have fewer resources but could remove itself from the infighting and go about its business of promoting all of Haywood County. Another scenario would be for Maggie Valley or Waynesville to win approval for their own room tax, thereby leaving the TDA with the same amount of money but giving each community its own funding pool.
In addition to changing the way the money is divided, changes could be made to how it is spent. Room tax money could be used for signage that branded a community, for put-ins on local waterways, or by local government to offset tourism-related infrastructure expenses.
• Re-constitute the TDA — This idea has not been discussed much, but it is certainly worth a look. By giving the TDA broader representation that is not so heavy with those who work in the lodging industry, the board would likely move away from the “heads in beds” mantra and look at building tourism infrastructure for the long run. This won’t solve any short-term disagreements about how the money is spent, but it could position the tourism industry to gain wider acceptance among every county resident as the economic engine of the future.
• There have been many who want to place much of the blame for the TDA’s woes on Executive Director Scotty Ellis. Her leadership style and her decision-making have been criticized. A professional analysis of the executive director’s job description would help determine just what Ellis’ role should be. Everyone in the county — TDA board members, elected officials, those in the business of tourism, and the community at-large — have different expectations of what she is supposed to accomplish.
A final option, of course, would be to do nothing. A look at how other tourism boards are set up and managed may lead the study group to this conclusion. If that’s the case, then those who are part of this current movement to assess the TDA must also be prepared to accept this scenario.
This task force is a good idea. It’s doubtful that all the dynamic and headstrong personalities in Haywood County’s tourism industry will ever get along, but studying the process will be beneficial. Plenty of wounds have been opened over the last couple of years, so perhaps it’s time for some healing.