Departing from the normal talks of budget cuts and tightening belts, Haywood County commissioners asked a group of tourism and town leaders how the county could pitch in to help bring visitors or new second-home owners to the county.
The commissioners met with members of the county tourism board and elected officials from Canton, Maggie Valley and Waynesville, among others, last week to discuss tourism and how the county can attract more residents or second-home owners.
“I would be interested in the county putting money into something,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. “How can the county help?”
One option Kirkpatrick offered up was commercial advertising. The county could look into a commercial that would collectively market Haywood County to people in other parts of the U.S.
“I would be interested in doing something like that if it’s in the best interest of everybody,” Kirkpatrick said.
“We would be interested in the county putting money into something too,” came the quick reply of Alice Aumen, a board member with the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.
Aumen’s swift acquiescence to the county tossing in a few shekels drew chuckles from other leaders seated around the large square table.
The trick is getting people here, not so much selling them on the place — the area generally speaks for itself once people come to visit, several attendees stated.
“It all starts with a visit. It all starts with them being a tourist here,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA. Collins said that many retirees and second-home owners were initially tourists in the county before they were residents.
The meeting last week, billed as a roundtable discussion, was a chance for county commissioners to get up to speed on the tourism authority’s marketing campaign and strategy.
Jennifer Duerr, a member of the tourism board, suggested marketing Haywood County as centrally located between Gatlinburg and Asheville. People could stay in Haywood County and easily make daytrips to either location, she said.
Duerr also emphasized the county and towns should use more pictures and videos of the area. It is their best form of advertisement but often is under-utilized.
“It is so simple,” Duerr said. “This gorgeous area has been given to us like a gift, and we always walk away from that.”
The Tourism Development Authority recently purchased its own film equipment and has been shooting video to use in its advertising efforts.
As discussions dove deeper, several leaders noted that it is difficult to market “Haywood County” per se when few people know where it is or even that it exists. Out-of-town visitors are more likely to recognize Maggie Valley, many stated.
“Well, we are glad to let you use (the name) Maggie Valley,” half-joked Maggie Mayor Ron DeSimone.
Haywood County as a whole should build upon the efforts of places, such as Maggie Valley, Waynesville and Lake Junaluska, which have name recognition nationwide.
Ben Glover, owner of Maggie Mountain Rentals, said that he shied away from naming his business Haywood Mountain Rentals because he feared it would attract fewer customers.
“Haywood County, we were scared of and that is kind of sad,” Glover said.
Glover said a concerted effort may be able to change that.
“The term ‘Haywood County’ needs to be collectively promoted,” said Glover, a member of the TDA board.
Wintertime recreation was also a particular topic of concern at the meeting. Beyond Cataloochee Ski Area, the list of activities is meager.
“In the wintertime, we are truly at a loss for things to tell them to do,” Collins said. “We do have a shortage of things for children to do.”
Aumen agreed, adding that the county should focus on attracting entire families that can come back generation after generation.
County Commissioner Mike Sorrells suggested creating more indoor events to occupy people during the cold winter months and offering package deals for travelers.
Several leaders said that the towns are not adequately communicating what they have to offer to tourism leaders who tout the activities as reasons to visit Haywood County.
“I think that is everybody’s shortcoming,” said Canton Town Manager Al Matthews. “We can’t fault (tourism promoters) for not telling (visitors) about something that they don’t know exists.”