The Transylvania Times -

Tourism Impact Touted


March 20, 2017

If the local tourist industry were a single employer, it would be the largest and the highest revenue producer in the county.

So said Clark Lovelace, executive director of the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), during a presentation last week to the Board of Commissioners.

Lovelace talked about the impact of the tourism industry on Transylvania County to commissioners during their regular meeting.

According to Visit North Carolina, the state’s tourism body, in 2015 — the most up-to-date information available, tourism generated $88.86 million, 770 jobs, $3.4 million in state tax revenue, $16.47 million in payroll and $4.06 million in local tax revenue in Transylvania County.

Tourism jobs don’t get “outsourced,” Lovelace noted, to another country, and the industry impacts each local household with tax savings of $387.

In 2016, revenues from the occupancy tax increased by 18 percent in the county compared to 8.9 percent statewide.

“Eighteen percent is incredible,” Lovelace said.

There are three factors for how this came about, he said.

The average daily cost for a room in the county is $122, compared with the state rate of $98.88, though Transylvania’s rate is lower that Buncombe and Henderson counties’ rates.

The occupancy rate was also higher in Transylvania — at 76 percent — compared to the state average of 64.9 percent.

This information comes directly from accommodations in the county that have five rooms or more, Lovelace said.

The increase in short-term rentals is the third factor.

Accommodation revenue has increased steadily each year — from roughly $7.8 million in 2010 to $13.4 million last year.

Each month in 2016 set a record for room revenue.

Lovelace said the figures also show that demand for accommodation is surpassing supply. Marketing and advertising are the TDA’s main focus but those efforts aren’t seen here but in Charlotte and Raleigh, Greenville, S.C, Atlanta, Ga., and beyond, including in Canada.

The current marketing plan reaches more than 30 million potential visitors and is done through print, radio, television and social media.

The TDA has also launched its first billboard on U.S. 26, ushering travellers to take exit 40.

Lovelace also highlighted the “Drink It In” promotional campaign that recently won an award, saying it costs significant funds to make sure they can use top-class photography and videos.

The Asheville-based Market Connections oversees the TDA’s marketing and advertising efforts.

Lovelace talked about the information kiosks the TDA has placed in downtown Brevard, at the Pisgah Forest Ranger Station and DuPont State Recreational Forest, with others planned at Gorges State Park and Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest.

The kiosks are designed to help visitors find other local attractions and to stay here longer, Lovelace said.

The TDA counts on partnerships with various local entities, including an initiative that is looking at how to balance tourism with preserving the county’s natural assets. The TDA is also planning an upcoming waterfall safety campaign involving the public lands and the media.

The TDA has also given $250,000 in grants the past five years, including a $20,000 festival grant and a $25,000 grant for wayfinding signage in the county, similar to the signs in Brevard.

In closing, Lovelace highlighted the work being done to prepare for the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 and the anticipated increase in visitors. The TDA has created a $10,000 mini-campaign to promote the event.

In other items at the meeting,

•Three members of the public — Eleanor Mockridge, David Williams and Kathleen Barnes — spoke about current efforts to repeal/replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Mockridge asked commissioners and the general public to contact U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows to urge him to change from supporting the current legislation to replace the ACA, saying it will negatively impact the poor in Transylvania County.

Williams talked about the state having roughly 2 million people on Medicaid, saying the Republican plan will place more of the financial burden on the states and, ultimately, Williams believes, the burden will be put on counties. Williams asked commissioners to work on a plan to help citizens if that occurs.

Williams also said it was the commissioners’ “responsibility” to reject the current plans to replace the ACA and that another plan needs to be developed.

He said the argument has been about “numbers,” but it’s not about numbers, he said, “it’s about people.”

“People are going to suffer because of this,” Williams said.

Barnes commended Commissioner Mike Hawkins’ recent comments raising concerns about the current plans to replace the ACA.

Barnes noted the estimated 2,700 Transylvania County residents currently covered under the ACA that could be impacted. She asked commissioners to contact Meadows about the possible negative repercussions to the “working poor” in the area.

•Commissioners will hold a public hearing on March 27 about the draft 2025 Transylvania County Comprehensive Plan.

•Commissioners approved spending $15,000 for design costs associated with the possible installation of air conditioning in the Recreation Center gym. Current estimates for the air conditioning work is between $167,000 and $210,000.

Design work will give staff a better idea of the costs.

•Commissioners approved spending $17,738 for staffing, supplies and food/snack for a free summer camp in Rosman, with extended hours.

•In October, county staff issued $171,910 approved by commissioners to various local nonprofits. All the nonprofits complied with the six-month report requirement.

•Commissioner Jason Chappell and EMS Director Bobby Cooper were appointed to the county’s Personnel Board. Hawkins, Josh Hallingse and Shelia Norman were appointed to the Land of Sky Regional Council Board of Delegates.

•Commissioners approved the county’s purchasing card policy and procedures.

The Board of Commissioners next scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m. on March 27.


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