Concerned tourism businesses propose alternate solutions

Published 5:29 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Some adamant against county transferring service to chamber
Polk County commissioners will consider some new ideas presented by concerned tourism business owners who say they do not want area tourism services to be run by the Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
Concerned tourism business owners met Thursday, March 3 about the recent proposal to transfer travel and tourism duties to the chamber. A petition is also being circulated to present to commissioners during their March 21 meeting. The Polk County Travel and Tourism Advisory board has requested to be on the agenda for that meeting.
New ideas proposed at the March 3 meeting include having the county’s travel and tourism department partner with the county’s economic development department. The county’s economic development commission (EDC) has not said whether it wants to join the two departments.
Another alternate idea proposed is to hire a part-time employee and use volunteers to run the office using just the occupancy tax, collected by accommodation providers, and no money form the Polk general fund. The travel and tourism advisory board would oversee day-to-day operations.
Other ideas being proposed include expanding the occupancy tax to tourism-related businesses such as restaurants and imposing a business fee for new businesses to be used for tourism.
Pine Crest Inn owner Carl Caudle also said he has a proposal for the county that he thinks will work better than the chamber proposal and how the tourism department is currently operated.
Local bed and breakfast owners, who ran the meeting last week said they have nothing against the chamber of commerce, but feel the switch could mean taxation without representation.
“What happens to us who are not (chamber) members?” asked travel and tourism board chair Peggy Turner. “Do we have to pay to play?”
Turner also mentioned that it has been reported that in most counties in North Carolina the local chamber of commerce handles travel and tourism services, but the neighboring and competing areas, such as Asheville, Blowing Rock, Hendersonville and Boone, Burke, Rutherford, McDowell and Jackson counties have their own travel and tourism departments.
Mimosa Inn owner Jim Ott said he doesn’t think anyone is against the chamber; they just think the chamber has a different purpose than tourism businesses.
“It isn’t personal,” said Ott, “we just feel they are not on the same page as we are.”
Caudle said he has had issues for the last few years with the travel and tourism office, which in his opinion has no accountability.
“I don’t want things to stay the same, but I don’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire,” said Caudle. “I intend to propose a solution that I believe will be better than the chamber proposal and better than what we have now.”
The chamber has not made a decision on whether it wants to take the service. County commissioners have also not yet openly discussed the idea of the county giving the chamber the approximately $65,000 per year in occupancy tax to handle travel and tourism services.
Travel and tourism will be on Polk commissioners’ agenda on Monday, March 21. The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. at the Womack Building in Columbus.