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Swain tourism agency plans for new website

Swain County Tourism Development Authority plans to take another step toward separating itself from the Chamber of Commerce after the board of directors decided to invest money into a new website. 

TDA and Chamber operations and finances have been intertwined for years as the two organizations shared an executive director and other staff. However, as the two entities have grown over the years, board members have decided it makes sense for them to operate separately. After all, the TDA is a quasi-governmental agency that is tasked with spending room tax revenue to promote tourism while the chamber is a private nonprofit that supports its paying business members. 

Last May, the TDA board approved hiring Mary Anne Baker as its executive office, leaving former director Karen Proctor Wilmot to stay on as the chamber director. There are still a few things left to be worked out though, including the future of GreatSmokies.com — the website that promotes Swain County’s tourism industry. 

During a Jan. 13 TDA Zoom meeting, the board discussed whether the website would be operated by the chamber or the TDA moving forward. 

TDA board member Erin Smith made the recommendation to let the chamber continue to take care of the GreatSmokies.com site while the TDA embarks on creating a new tourism website. Even though greatsmokies.com is designed as a tourism destination website and was paid for with TDA revenue, it is technically owned by the chamber of commerce. 

“The chamber is not willing to give up the website domain,” Smith said. 

“It’s really a shame. The chamber honestly should, logically, create a new website for chamber members. (GreatSmokies.com) looks like a tourism website, not a chamber website,” said TDA member Carolyn Cornblum. “I’m not trying to cause division, but we’re having to start over again.”

TDA member Eugene Shuler agreed, saying that he felt pretty certain the TDA could lay claim to the domain since TDA revenue funded it. He added that he would support hiring a lawyer if needed to do the research into it. 

“I’d like to challenge the legality of that so we have definite proof of who owns it currently — not 10 or 20 years ago,” he said. “We’ve been billed for it for years, so that’s my position.”

Baker agreed that the existing website was a tourism website, but that the only listed businesses on the website were chamber members, which excludes other tourism-related businesses and accommodations. In discussing possible domain names to go with, she recommended purchasing explorebrysoncity.com.

TDA board member Shannon Lackey said it would probably be a waste of TDA money to fight for the website and suggested investing money into a new website that would be more advanced than the Greatsmokies.com site. 

While Deep Creek Arts designed GreatSmokies.com, the TDA board discussed asking for proposals from different designers to avoid any potential conflict of interest since Deep Creek would continue to maintain the chamber site. 

Lackey mentioned how amazing Gatlinburg’s website is and suggested getting a proposal from the same designer, Simple View. 

The board ultimately approved putting out a request for qualifications instead of a request for proposals. This will allow the board to choose the company with the best qualifications instead of choosing a specific proposal with a set price tag. 

The TDA also discussed the possibility of funding a contract with Granicus (formerly named Host Compliance) to help the county identify short-term rentals that aren’t paying the waste management fee for trash collections. There are an estimated 800-plus rentals in the county but the TDA only has a record of 300 paying the fee. 

TDA member Ed Ciociola said the cost of the service would probably be worth recouping the additional fee and perhaps they’d find rentals not currently paying occupancy tax either. 

“I think we’re in a position where the TDA can fund that through some additional occupancy tax,” said Ciociola.

Baker said she would get a quote from Granicus. 

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