The Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority held a meeting May 19 to discuss its 2020-2021 budget, during which members ultimately decided to adopt the drafted budget under the condition that the TDA readdresses the funding half-way through 2021.
The drafted budget allows for a 40 percent decline in tourism revenue as a result of COVID-19, which was a decision after consulting TDA officials from areas similar to Blowing Rock, according to TDA Executive Director Tracy Brown. Brown noted that the Watauga County TDA has also allotted for a 40 percent revenue decline.
The percentage decline in Blowing Rock is equivalent to the loss of $417,455 when compared to the adopted 2019-2020 budget.
“This industry will spring back quicker than any, and tourism here in the High Country is strong,” Brown said. “We expect it to continue, but it’s going to take a little time. Folks need to feel comfortable about where they’re going.”
TDA member Greg Tarbutton commented that he believed the allotment of a 40 percent decline “is a good projection,” and noted that he believes there’s going to be an opportunity to raise the budget, based on recent inquiries.
The proposed budget does not include raises for the 2020-2021 period, and no intern expenses are allotted for. Additionally, no changes in salary will be implemented for either full-time or part-time TDA employees.
Advertisement saw the biggest cuts in regard to the upcoming year’s budget, being cut nearly by 50 percent from the 2019-2020 budget year to the 2020-2021 budget year. Brown specifically mentioned decreasing the number of physical handouts available to visitors, such as brochures and restaurant cards.
“We went from our budgeted $252,387 this year down to $176,000. That’s the biggest chunk of change we could move,” Brown said, adding that “we’re hoping that we can adjust this stuff up.”
Additionally, the budget includes an allotment of $75,000 for the Management Plan for the Blowing Rock’s Tourism Marketing Survey, which Brown said could begin April-May 2021. The amount of funding was set through conversation with various TDAs, including Jackson County, that have already completed similar studies or plans, Brown said, adding that the average cost of constructing a Management Plan is “between $50,000-$100,000.”
“We thought we ought to keep it in there, realizing that if things don’t work out like we hope, we may have to put it on hold for a year,” Brown said. “This will take months and months and months of work … really, at the end of the day, part of our job is to not let the tourism get out of balance (with the character of the town).”
Other members of the board recognized the importance of the project in regard to the future of the town, but voiced their concern regarding the amount of funding allocated in the case of a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.
“I agree that in the long term we need to conduct the study for the future, but I am concerned about the funding,” said TDA board member Jim Steele. “I think (we should) have a look-see at the end of the year, maybe after the November and December numbers are in to see how we’re doing from a revenue and expense perspective.”
Steele noted that since the project won’t begin until the summer of 2021, the board has “a little bit of latitude to be fiscally responsible but also look at the long-haul.”
Following the TDA board’s approval of its recommended budget during the May 19 meeting, the budget will be presented to the Blowing Rock Town Council during its June 9 meeting, at which time members may decide to officially adopt the budget for FY2020-2021.