Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners,
Future of Tourism
As homeowners, we all have been overwhelmed by the impact of tourists on our lives. In the past, all we had to do was to avoid Downtown on the weekends. This year we experienced overwhelming numbers of tourists and traffic such that we couldn’t go Downtown all week and were trapped in our neighborhoods in the peak leaf season weekends.
We are grateful on the one hand because so many communities were devastated economically by the pandemic. On the other hand, we are concerned about the future.
We need to continually remind ourselves that homeownership is the stable economic base for the Town. 87% of our property tax role and 91% of our W&S customers are residential property owners. Homeowners spend money in Town, pay sales taxes and host many visitors. The demographics of homeownership is changing as more homeowners are using their homes all year. We don’t want to inadvertently kill the “Goose that laid the Golden Egg” by not managing and balancing the impact of tourism on our quality of life.
The Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority (TDA) Board, along with other members of Town leadership, met on Tuesday to discuss the activities of the marketing organization over the past year. For full disclosure, you should know that I serve on the TDA board as the “At Large” member. Other members include Chairman Dean Bullis who is a Downtown retailer, Greg Tarbutton whose family owns Chetola, Kevin Walker who is a realtor and rental agent, and Virginia Powell who is a member of the Town Council. We all understand that we have a fiduciary responsibility to carry out our role on the board which is primarily to promote tourism in a sustainable manner. Tracy Brown serves as the Executive Director and Amanda Lugenbell serves as the Assistant Director. Tracy and Amanda were able to pivot and led us through a very uncertain year.
The ordinance that established the TDA charges the board with responsibilities to oversee tourism marketing plans and to develop strategies and fund activities to assist in minimizing any negative impacts of tourism on the Town.
Funding for the TDA budget comes from a 6% occupancy tax paid by lodging visitors at hotels and short-term rentals. The annual revenue has steadily grown to be over $1 million.
The ordinance structures expenditures to allocate 2/3 to promote travel and tourism including administrative expenses and 1/3 to increase the use of facilities to attract visitors including tourism-related capital expenditures. The 1/3 portion is designated by the board based on needs recommended by the Town.
The TDA leadership and the Town Council recognized the need to address a growing effects of overtourism at the 2020 Winter Retreat which has led to engaging Roger Brooks to lead the TDA, Town and community stakeholders through an assessment and action plan to address the opportunities and challenges of our tourism economy.
Our tourism economy bounced back after the recession. 2019 was consider a very successful year with symptoms of overtourism beginning to substantially impact the quality of life for residents. 2020 was a big surprise when the tourism economy shot back quickly and after the shut down in the spring resulting in unpredicted crowds and traffic seeking to escape the impact of the pandemic.
I have shared the following initial recommendations with the board as we plan for executing the study in 2021.
1. Refine the target marketing plan and offerings to differentiate day visitors as distinct customer segments – (1) shopping visitors (2) outdoor visitors and (3) day trippers.
2. Refine the target marketing plan to include our residents as a primary target market for Downtown businesses
3. Evaluate the guidelines for the allocation of the 2/3 expenditures to include funding Town expenses associated with supporting tourists that are currently paid by property taxes
4. Establish a plan to manage congestion caused by traffic and people in the Downtown, especially day trippers
5. Implement paid parking at least on Main Street
6. Add valet parking to serve the shopping visitor
7. Add parking only outside of Downtown using a spoke parking concept like most historical and European destinations
8. Implement a shuttle system
9. Encourage walking and biking
10. Plan for the future opportunity and impact of Middle Fork Greenway bringing more outdoor oriented day visitors
11. Encourage development and re-development of up-scale hotels and addition of new restaurants in the Business District and Valley Boulevard
12. Establish a Downtown Tax District to fund expenses and capital improvements designed to benefit the downtown business owners and landlords
TDA Annual Retreat Introduces Project with Roger Brooks
The group also had the opportunity to meet with Roger Brooks, the founder of the Destination Development Association. Mr. Brooks has been engaged to conduct an assessment of Blowing Rock and provide guidance for a Sustainable Tourism Management Plan.
Roger Brooks has over 35 years of experience in downtown development, tourism, and branding, and has helped more than 2000 communities around the world become more successful for businesses, visitors, and residents. The meeting gave more clarity for the project timeline and process.
The TDA board was able to ask specific questions of Mr. Brooks who shared his experiences throughout the country similar to Blowing Rock. You can see and hear the conversation on the video link below.
Input will be needed from all our community’s stakeholders- residents and business owners of all types. Be on the lookout for calls to participate in the process.
Watch the full Meeting