The Ashe County Tourism Committee met on Thursday, May 15 to go over a presentation that discusses the importance of tourism in the county.
Before going over the presentation, Ramona Renfroe, a member of the committee, said she would be talking to the Ashe County Planning Board later that evening.
To kick things off, Renfroe mentioned that for full-time Ashe County residents, tourism money saves everyone an average of $405 each year.
“The average amount of money spent by tourists everyday, if averaged throughout the year is $127,543,” she said. “That income was used for $6.58 million in worker payroll.”
Renfroe emphasized that tourism is helping the county a lot, and people needed to be more aware of how it helps.
“Supporting tourism helps support other forms of business,” she said.
Ashe County is a seasonal tourism region. The season starts in May, when the weather starts to warm, and continues through December, when Christmas tree season is in full swing.
Tourism is an economic development strategy that helps diversify the economy. In addition, tourism continues to promote growth in the county for businesses already in place.
“It gives us opportunties for small businesses such as retail shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, hotels and entertainment,” Renfroe said.
Tourists are defined as people who travel 50 miles or more to a community for leisure or business. Member Cabot Hamilton, who also serves as the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the definition for the area should be lowered to 30 miles, because of the amount of traffic coming in from Blowing Rock, Boone and Wilkes County.
The committee then discussed how it should continue promoting tourism into the county while construction is done on U.S. 221. Renfroe then mentioned a campaign done by Swain County, where they promoted different things that could be done in the area during the U.S. Government shutdown.
“Everyone was terrified about how that was going to impact their area to tourism,” she said. “What (Swain County) did was a viral video and their whole theme was ‘Shutdown Shut up.’ Instead of looking at things in a negative way, they said we’re still here and there’s still a lot going on.”
Renfroe then discussed what are people coming to Ashe County to find, and then said local businesses needed to stay open later to bring in more tourism dollars.
“They’re coming for a slower pace, the scenic views, going down the (New) river, but they want to go out and do other things,” she said. “Businesses need to stay open later, 70 percent of spending does after 6 p.m., and 70 percent of our businesses are closed by 6 p.m.”
Finally, during the presentation’s discussion, an emphasis was made that tourism jobs are not outsourced to other parts of the country or globe. Also, tourism gives the largest returns in the shortest amount of time.
“(Tourism) improves the character and the appearance of a community,” Renfroe said.
After going over the information, the Committee discussed upcoming events in the county and adjourned.
Planning Board comments
During the Thursday, May 15 meeting of the Ashe County Planning Board, Renfroe gave the presentation before the Board.
“We are working of course on the comprehensive plan,” said Planning Board chairman Gene Hafer. “It’s something Adam (Stumb) has been working on for a long time and he’s a professional who guides us.”
Hafer and fellow member Arvil Scott were the only members in attendance. Because of that Stumb believed they should hold this presentation again so all board members can listen to it.
“We will have (Renfroe) back, if you’ll come,” he said. “I think it would important for the others to hear it.”
Scott the plan challenges the Planning Board to balance issues for the present and future.
“It is important to all of us that we balance development with our natural beauty and what we have, as well as all of the qualities (Renfroe) has highlighted,” he said. “We have to keep in mind that those are the treasures and not let development or industry, destroy that.
Afterward, the Planning Board was dismissed, due to not having a quorum present.
Alan Bulluck contributed to this article.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.