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Doin’ the TDA shuffle: Haywood, Maggie Valley tourism entities ponder merger

A tug-of-war over the $600,000 in tourism tax money in Haywood County and how it is used to lure travelers reached a new level last week.

At the prodding of Maggie Valley motel owners, the Maggie Valley Town Board is calling for a joint meeting with the leaders from other towns as well as the county to strategize on a potential overhaul of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, which oversees tourism tax dollars.

The uproar was prompted two weeks ago when the tourism authority reduced the amount of money it gives to the Maggie Valley Visitor Bureau. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce also relied on tax dollars doled out by the tourism authority. It, too, saw a cut in funding, as did the town of Canton.

The members of the tourism authority board said they would use the money to beef up the overall marketing plan for the county rather than doling out dollars to the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau and Haywood County Chamber of Commerce to do their own marketing. The tourism authority had been hotly criticized over the past year for not devoting enough attention to a strategic master marketing plan.

But the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau relied heavily on the tourism tax dollars to operate and are now left in the lurch come July 1 when the new tourism authority budget kicks in. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce relied on tourism tax dollars to a lesser extent, but will still be left with less money.

Both feel as if the rug was pulled out from under them suddenly. The Maggie and Haywood chambers were given no advance notice their budgets would be cut. In fact, several of the tourism authority’s own board members were unaware of the proposal. The idea to spend more on marketing efforts in-house and in turn cut the chambers’ funding was developed by a committee of four of the nine tourism board members.

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The idea was shared with the other tourism board members two days before the board would be voting on the proposal, giving them little time to consider it. Word circulated through the tourism community fast in those two days, however, fast enough to generate a large crowd at the board meeting where the tourism authority was slated to vote on the budget proposal.

The tourism board did not allow public comment until after they had voted on the proposal, however, so complaints had little impact. The tourism board was split on decisions to cut funding from the Maggie Visitors Bureau and Haywood Chamber to put toward an overall marketing strategy.

The board voted on each funding request from the Maggie Visitors Bureau and Haywood Chamber individually. Examples of these requests are money for a Maggie Valley billboard, money for the Haywood chamber to set up a booth at a travel show in Charlotte and hand out literature on the area, money for Maggie Valley to host travel writers and money for a “Miss Maggie” to stroll the Maggie sidewalks in a bonnet and apron and numerous requests to advertise festivals. Both entities also asked for money to hire a festival director.

The tourism authority also got requests from the Downtown Waynesville Association, Haywood County Hotel Association, Canton Labor Day Celebration committee, and other small groups wanting money primarily for festivals. Many of the votes were 5 to 4, with the board members wanting to spend tourism tax dollars in-house rather than dole them out barely prevailing.

One reason is because the strategy being developed in conjunction with a marketing firm has not yet been made public.

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