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Niche tourism strategy debuts ‘micro’ Web sites

Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is employing an ambitious new marketing strategy to lure tourists, and their dollars, to the region.

The plan calls for a narrowing focus on certain niche markets, as well as soliciting sponsorships from local businesses. The TDA will unveil five new “micro” Web sites to target what the tourism board believes are “key” markets next year: golf, motorcycles, wedding destination, military and cultural heritage.

Each micro site will be sponsored by a relevant local business whose ads will be prominently featured online.

“We’re just trying to narrow the focus a bit,” said Lynn Collins, executive director for TDA. “You can’t be all things to all people.”

Collins said the TDA also aims to attract a younger demographic since the traditional market is literally dying off.

“We have tremendous repeat business. Those folks are growing older,” said Collins. “We have to go out and regenerate it.”

Tourism revenue collected by the TDA went down 9 percent for the fiscal year ending in June compared to the previous year — largely due to recession-driven belt tightening among would-be travelers. The TDA brought in less then $1.1 million last fiscal year, generated by a 4 percent tax on overnight lodging, which is pumped back in to tourism promotion.

Another of the authority’s major goals is to attract tourists year-round. Collins said with Cataloochee Ski Area’s investment in high-tech snowmaking equipment, the ski and snowboarding season is starting earlier and lasting longer and hopefully driving more winter visitors. And when the snow is no more and flowers start blooming, the TDA hopes visitors will come then, too.

“We want to promote that as our other color season,” said Collins of the spring shoulder season.

The tourism authority is hoping local businesses will chip in with a multitude of sponsorship opportunities at the Balsam and Canton visitors centers. Local businesses can pay to plaster their logos on newly instituted staff uniforms or debut ads on a new 32-inch flat screen television, just to name a few.

But these businesses won’t be alone on stepping up on advertising. The tourism authority itself plans to splash its logo on a vehicle of its own. At its monthly meeting last week, the authority’s board of directors authorized the purchase of a vehicle to avoid paying out mileage to its employees.

At the meeting, Chairwoman Alice Aumen said the vehicle would be akin to a “traveling billboard.”


Catering to online trip hunters

The Haywood Tourism Development Authority hopes to save big on stamps this year with the launch of its first interactive digital visitors guide in January 2010.

TDA spent almost $48,000 in postage last year in bulk shipping, as well as mailing out individual guides to interested tourists, according to TDA Director Lynn Collins.

“My goal is to cut that in half,” said Collins.

In past years, the TDA has provided a PDF of its visitors guide for people to download. The new electronic version will be interactive, allowing users to flip through pages and click on advertisements.

The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority has been doing an interactive digital visitors guide for several years already.

The Haywood TDA will revamp its overall Web site as well to match the format of the guide.

Meanwhile, the printed visitors guide will be smaller so that it can fit as easily into purses as backpacks.

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