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Ghost Town CEO preaches cohesive marketing

Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver told players in the Haywood County tourism community they need to pull together if they want to effectively market and brand the region.

Shiver invited members of the tourism and business community to a breakfast meeting at the Maggie Valley theme park last week for what he called a tourism rally. Shiver appealed to the community to engage in cross-marketing, partnering and co-branding. Shiver said Ghost Town could use its pull to market the region as a whole, and alluded that other business could help drive traffic to Ghost Town.

Shiver has said visitation will be what gets the park through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. If enough people come through the gates, it can make the money it needs to stay open and reorganize. Without Ghost Town, Maggie Valley will lose a major player in tourism and suffer economically, Shiver said.

Shiver said the tourism community has had trouble working collectively in the past.

“Being an outsider and coming in relatively new, looking at the tussle that I have sometimes seen in the past, that does nothing but hurt us all,” Shiver said. Shiver named at least half a dozen tourism entities that all play a role in marketing the region.

“The different groups out there all want the same end results,” Shiver said, but sometimes end up competing.

Shiver came to Haywood County from Florida less than 18 months ago.

The tourism community in Haywood County has been known for its factions over the years. Some tourism entities have historically been at odds, often pitted in a tug of war over the best way to spend tourism promotional dollars.

That division has subsided over the past two years, however. The money tug-of-war was largely solved when Haywood County Tourism Development Authority increased its tax on overnight lodging from 3 percent to 4 percent. That created more money to spread around. The extra money was earmarked for niche tourism initiatives that didn’t fit with the big picture marketing of the countywide tourism authority.

But Shiver questioned whether money could be used more effectively if pooled to make a bigger marketing splash rather than dispersed to myriad smaller entities.

“If we are not on the same page, it dilutes our affect,” Shiver said.

Shiver said Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge continue to claim a bigger piece of the market share “because they had their act together and we were fractionalized,” he said. “If we don’t pool our resources and leverage our resources we are going to lose it.”

Miracle opening

Shiver said he proved hundreds of people wrong by opening the park in the face of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“We have done what many said we could not do,” Shiver said.

Shiver also addressed the question everyone wants to know: when will the roller coaster open?

“Everybody, the roller coaster is on the way,” Shiver said. Shiver said he couldn’t say when, but that it would open one day soon. Shiver has been promising the public that the roller coaster would open soon for over a year now. Many in Maggie Valley feel Ghost Town’s success hinges on whether the roller coaster opens.

Ghost Town is in the midst of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. Shiver said the park is committed to pulling through and paying off its debts, which total some $2.5 million in unpaid bills to businesses, many of them local.

“I apologize on behalf of Ghost Town and its owners. We are going to do everything we can,” Shiver said. “We don’t take it lightly. The position we are in right now we don’t like to be in. But we are going to reorganize and move through.”

Ghost Town was forced into bankruptcy after defaulting on its $9.5 million mortgage. The 1960s-era theme park was rife with major infrastructure problems the owners weren’t privy to when they bought it more than two years ago, Shiver said. The park was also hit by a drop in tourism from the recession. Shiver thinks business will pick back up this year as families look for vacations close to home.

“We heard often Ghost Town is the thing of the past, that if it is not bullets and baggie pants kids don’t want it these days,” Shiver said, referring to the gangster and rap culture of today’s youth.

Shiver said he didn’t agree, however. Shiver said Ghost Town is built on a foundation of family values and that’s just what America needs today. That said, Shiver said the park hopes to expand its rides to increase its appeal for teen-agers. Another goal for next year will be to create an Appalachian heritage village with living history demonstrations.

Shiver has been raising money from investors any way he can to help overhaul the park. Shiver showed that he hasn’t lost his since of humor when thanking Marla Banta, the owner of Jude’s Coffee and Creamery, for giving out free ice cream scoops in exchange for donations to help Ghost Town.

“That million dollars you gave us really helped,” Shiver said.

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