By David Rogers. December 11, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — There CAN be too much of a good thing, board members of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority learned at last week’s annual meeting of the TDA — but there SHOULD be ways to more effectively manage it.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
After TDA Executive Director Tracy Brown reported to the board that tourism in Blowing Rock is reaching record levels in terms of visitors, occupancy taxes received, and earned media coverage, he followed up by outlining various problems that have arisen with success.
Brown reported that compared to peak occupancy takes collected in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 fiscal years, when occupancy collections peaked in back-to-back years at roughly $800,000, in 2017-18 the Town collections approached almost $1.1 million. (occupancy taxes are based on collecting a 6% tax on lodging sales, including hotels, motels, and vacation rentals). The amount of collected taxes means that Blowing Rock lodging businesses saw almost $7 million in annual sales and that visitor spending in the area was estimated at more than $20 million.
But following that good news, those problem issues were highlighted by Brown and underlined with brief comments by Tim Gupton, the president of the Blowing Rock Civic Association (BRCA). Although he had no prior knowledge that he would be invited to address the board with BRCA’s views of “sustainable tourism,” Gupton effectively articulated the recent concerns raised not just by BRCA members, but also by several different constituent interests. He provided an outline of what sustainable tourism could mean to Blowing Rock.
Gupton and Brown both described the basic problems as traffic and congestion, also agreeing that they could be largely remedied by better management of the Town’s events and activities that attract tourists. The symptoms of the problems, they acknowledged, were masses of people at key intersections downtown, including the recent example of a female pedestrian being struck by a car as she tried to cross Main Street, they noted, even if illegally — diagonally at the intersection (not in the provided crosswalk).
Other symptoms, they observed, included parking, as well as long waits at downtown restaurants.
Brown stated that the TDA must work closely with other agencies and organizations to “spread out” special events. At one point he said, as an example of poor coordination, is having an Art In The Park date calendared on Labor Day weekend when “…we know that the Town is already going to be full of people.”
He suggested that another problem weekend, just as an example, was having Tour of Homes on the same day as Symphony by the Lake, and often on the same weekend as the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show. He conceded that he understood why special event organizers such as for the Tour of Homes choose the dates they do, to maximize their profit from the crowds that will be in town for the Symphony, Horse Show, or some other event, but that it is an example of loading up a weekend with activities that create what many consider are unacceptable, even dangerous levels of traffic and congestion.
These revelations were timely coming from the official government agency charged with promoting tourism in Blowing Rock. Just a week earlier, Blowing Rock News engaged in a conversation with a local retailer who voiced exactly the same concerns, even that the heavy crowds discouraged business rather than added to it, at least at his store. Plus, he said, there were unintended consequences from having too much of a good thing.
“I saw one review,” the source said as long as we protected his anonymity, “that cautioned readers to stay away from Blowing Rock. We may have gotten some acclaim as ‘the prettiest small town in North America’ and such, it said, but it is not so much fun when people have to wait an hour and a half just to get a hot dog or hamburger or even an ice cream cone, and that is after they have parked who knows where and walked a half mile to get back downtown. I’ve read where some people were so turned off by the congestion that they quickly got back into their cars and went somewhere else.”
Given the fundraising goals of the various organizations staging events, “spreading out” the activities will take someone’s most effective powers of persuasion.
The TDA board may need to work with the Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, Planning Board and other potential organizations like BRCA to conduct a study to better utilize the parking spaces the Town already has at its disposal, whether parking structures, parking lots, or street-side parallel parking spaces. Some ideas tossed around that might help with parking, traffic and congestions, among others:
Not permiting American Legion parking spaces to be blocked off for most of a day because of a scheduled wedding or other special event in the building
- For traffic control at busy intersections on the biggest weekends during the summer and fall, have a police officer directing traffic — vehicular and pedestrians — in the intersection. One suggestion is to even make it fun for the town visitors, whether dressing the traffic cop up in a costume, making big (funny and dramatic) gestures, dancing, or whatever. The idea, since this is a tourist town, is to provide entertainment while at the same time increasing the public’s safety
- Add more crosswalks at the intersections
- Change the signal light patterns and sequencing
- Expanding the promotion and use of the AppleCart shuttle from hotels on the periphery of the Town, i.e. Green Park Inn, Chetola, Holiday Inn, as well as larger parking areas such as Shoppes on the Parkway and Food Lion, where a cooperative relationship can be established
As for events, our anonymous retailer observed, “There are a lot of good ideas and they may or may not work out and they will have varying degrees of success. But we have to protect the Blowing Rock brand from a marketing perspective. We want visitors to have a good experience when they come here. So if an event does not enhance our brand, you have to make maybe the tough decision to end it — or figure out how to make if more succesful. Symphony, Horse Show, Winterfest, Blowing Rock Music Festival, Tour of Homes, Plein Air Festival, Art in the Park…all those events, as well as others not mentioned enhance our Town’s brand. Others are a stretch, at best.”