Overnight tourism in Haywood County is up for the sixth consecutive year, continuing the trend that’s been seen year-over-year since coming out of the recession.
Tourism stagnated from 2009 to 2012, but has grown a whopping 72 percent since then, as measured by room tax collections through the years.
The 4 percent room tax levied on overnight lodging brought in $1.537 million for the most recent fiscal year, up from $890,000 in 2012. The most recent fiscal year was up 9 percent over the previous year.
Now, all eyes are on the weather heading into the winter ski season. Visitation to Cataloochee Ski Resort can make or break winter tourism numbers.
“We are very hopeful we will have a great ski season and a nice cold winter,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.
Tourism leaders have made winter tourism a priority in recent years, with several initiatives designed to augment ski travel.
This year, a synthetic ice-skating rink in Maggie Valley that’s been years in the making will finally become a reality with a two-week run in February at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. Maggie Valley has also expanded its winter appeal with a holiday lighting campaign, which kicked off to record-setting crowds during the Maggie Gets Lit festival over Thanksgiving weekend.
In Waynesville, a downtown event series launched last year called Winter Arts Smokies Style will continue once more, giving tourists a reason to visit during January, February and March.
These initiatives are funded in part through the $1.5 million in annual room tax proceeds. The room tax is plowed back into tourism marketing and special projects to advance the critical sector of Haywood’s economy.
TDA board appointments coming up
Late this month, Haywood County commissioners will be making a round of appointments to the Tourism Development Authority board that oversees the county’s tourism strategy and decided how the room tax is spent.
Three seats on the TDA board are up for appointment. The seats fall into three categories. Here’s who has applied for the seats.
• Representative of tourism-related business:
Dave Angel, owner of Elevated Mountain Distilling Co. in Maggie Valley, would bring a valuable perspective to the TDA and has proven his mettle in the industry. Elevated Mountain has been wildly successful, with Angel anticipating more than 20,000 visitors in his second year of operations.
Angel is the only one who applied for this seat. It was previously held by Chris Bates of Cataloochee Ski Area.
• Representative of accommodation with 20 units or less:
Lyndon Lowe from Twin Brook Resorts in Maggie Valley is the only one who applied in this category. Lowe has been on the TDA for six years, currently serving as its chairman, and hopes to continue the strides made.
“We have been able to transform the board into an efficient, proactive board, which has increased our tourism significantly,” Lowe wrote in his application.
Lowe would typically have to step down from the TDA due to the county’s term limit policy for board appointments. But since he was the only applicant in this category, he would be allowed to stay on.
• Representative of accommodation with more than 20 units:
Pratik Shah, owner of the Best Western Smoky Mountain Inn and new Hampton Inn coming to Waynesville, has served in this seat for three years and reapplied for another term.
Lauri SoJourner of Lake Logan Episcopal center also put her name in the hat for this seat.
Commissioners will interview each of the applicants at their board meeting in mid-December.