Chamber/EDC remaining choices for travel and tourism

Published 8:36 am Friday, April 8, 2011

County agrees to fund tourism with occupancy tax only
After four organizations offered to take responsibility for Polk County’s travel and tourism services, county commissioners have narrowed their options to either the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce or a combination of the county’s travel and tourism department and its economic development commission (EDC).
Before Monday’s decision, keeping the current tourism office was one option on the table, and the Town of Tryon/Tryon Tourism Development Authority (TDDA) had also expressed interest in handling travel and tourism services.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners on Monday, April 4 also agreed the funding for travel and tourism services will come only from occupancy tax dollars no matter who handles the services. Previously, in addition to approximately $64,000 in occupancy tax, collected from accommodation providers throughout the county, the county had funded the department up to $70,000.
“During our last meeting we had several excellent presentations,” said commissioner chairman Ray Gasperson. “There’s a lot of passion in this county about the travel and tourism department.”
Commissioner Cindy Walker said she wanted to make it clear that the county asked the chamber if it was interested in taking on county travel and tourism duties. She suggested the county narrow its options to either the chamber or the EDC/travel and tourism combination.
“They (chamber members) were the only ones who had information, goals and a vision of what they saw,” said Walker. “I was impressed by that. The EDC also had really good points. I’d suggest we narrow it down to those two.”
EDC chair Ambrose Mills said an EDC committee also has a budget and a detailed plan that has not yet been approved by the commission. Mills also said the EDC does not plan to use more than the occupancy tax money for the travel and tourism segment of the joint department.
There has been some discussion of hiring an EDC director, with a part-time employee mentioned Monday.
Commissioners said they want to take the next couple of weeks to speak with travel and tourism businesses. Commissioners said they’ve heard from accommodation providers, but also want to get feedback from area restaurants, sporting businesses and other travel and tourism providers prior to making a final decision.
Commissioners have discussed the options over the past couple of meetings, with some meetings packed with interested residents. The county has heard both positive and negative feedback regarding sending the duties to the chamber of commerce.
Some residents have said the chamber’s location in Lynn makes it unsuitable for the entire county.
Commissioner Ted Owens asked chamber president Andy Millard if the chamber would be willing to keep the current Columbus office open to reduce the location concerns.
Millard said the chamber could possibly keep the office open, but he is not sure the chamber is not a good location. He said one advantage of the Lynn office is it’s on the way to everywhere. It’s not much farther off the interstate than the current travel and tourism office and the chamber already has every brochure for just about every tourism business in the area, Millard said.
“I think we could look at (keeping the office open), but that would involve some real examinations of the two options,” Millard said.
Commissioners are scheduled to hold a work session with the EDC prior to the board of commissioners’ next meeting on April 18. The board could vote on who will take on the duties during the April 18 meeting, which will begin at 3 p.m. at the Womack building in Columbus.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox