Tillis listens to the concerns of the tourism industry | New
Tourism was the topic of the day last week when American Thom Tillis gathered in Waynesville for a catered lunch at The 37 (formerly The Gateway Club).
Tillis spent about 90 minutes listening to representatives from tourism-related businesses, and those who work or advocate for national parks spoke about the industry’s successes and needs.
Brandon Rogers, vice chairman of Haywood County Commissioners, explained the importance of tourism to the county and how the industry thrived during the pandemic where outdoor recreation had added appeal.
For the fiscal year ending June 30, overnight accommodation owners in Haywood received $ 2.5 million in revenue, $ 1 million more than the previous year, Rogers said.
The senator called the tourism income figures astonishing, especially in light of restrictions that have reduced occupancy at many sites.
With the growing popularity of tourism comes a downside, said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Authority.
“More people are buying houses, and there is more traffic on the boardwalk and in the park,” she said. “We have reduced the sending of visitors to certain places. It was a good year, but it also presented some challenges.
Pratik Shah, who helped organize the event, agreed.
“Vacation rentals and short-term rentals work well, but it’s at the expense of homes that could be used for families,” Shah said.
Ken Howle, executive director of the Lake Junaluska Assembly, praised the COVID relief measures adopted by Congress.
“You have done a lot of things well to help companies like Lake Junaluska get through the pandemic,” he said, noting that the Assembly’s business model which relied on offering group conferences had been hard hit. “In a normal year, our revenues would be $ 9 million. We lost half of that. PPP loans on business friendly terms have been a transformation for us. “
David Francis, the county’s special projects administrator, congratulated Howle and the Assembly leadership team for all they have done to help meet housing needs during the recent flooding. Its first call was to help house more than 200 search and rescue workers immediately after the flooding, and later to shelter those who had lost their homes.
“The answer has always been yes for everything we have asked,” he said.
Officials from the National Park Service, along with advocates for parks and public recreation facilities, spoke about the huge backlog in maintenance and infrastructure needs and how failure to address the issue could have a negative impact. significant negative economic impact in the future.
Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent Tracy Swartout said the nation derives about $ 28.5 billion in economic benefits from national parks, of which about 10% is generated in the Smokies.
At Blue Ridge Parkway, there is between 20 and 40 years of work to do. These are not ‘nice to have’ amenities, she said, but ‘fundamental infrastructure projects that make it possible to visit the parks and take people away from the boardwalk and join them in the surrounding communities. “.
Ken Stamps, of Friends of the Smokies, spoke about the $ 220 million deferred maintenance in the park and the challenge of meeting needs amid skyrocketing visit rates.
“The infrastructure that exists in the park has never anticipated the levels of use that the park is experiencing,” he said. Where is it going? How much will demand continue to hit the park in terms of traffic, visits and just total overuse? “
Stamps said the Smokies are at a disadvantage because there are no visiting fees charged, which could create an opportunity to close the backlog on needed projects.
George Ivey, North Carolina Director of Development at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, focused on reducing the operating funds available for national parks, resulting in staff cuts, bottlenecks on essential roads and extensive and insufficient rangers.