Findings are healthy economic indicator for Franklin
The most recent tracking data for occupancy tax revenue coming into the Lodging Tax Fund of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce indicates that tourism was up significantly in 2010 over the previous year. According to Franklin Town Planner and small inn owner Mike Grubermann, the data is a healthy economic indicator for the town.
At the year’s first meeting of the Chamber’s Tourism Development Committee (TDC) on Jan. 20, Grubermann was also unanimously selected as the committee’s 2010 chairman, replacing outgoing chairman, John Norris.
“Travel has come back a little,” said Grubermann, adding that his own business, Oak Hill Country Inn in Franklin, also saw better numbers in 2010. “What we’ve seen is we’re getting a lot more local and regional travelers, people from east Tennessee, north Georgia and other places in the region.”
The most recent statistics available, which go through the month of November, show year-to-date distributions to the TDC fund up by a wide margin over 2009 revenue. In fact, April was the only month that didn't see improvements over the previous year in month-to-month comparisons.
Linda Harbuck, Franklin Chamber’s Executive Director, cautions that the data is somewhat deceiving due to the fact that the county changed the way it allocates funds to the Chamber in 2010. An administrative fee of 15 percent that had previously been deducted from tax revenue distributions was lowered to 8 percent last year. Still, Harbuck says the numbers are positive.
Even after factoring in the administrative fee change, by November of 2010, the Chamber had seen at least a 7 percent increase in year-to-date distributions.
“We are climbing again,” Harbuck said, noting that October was a good month. “Particularly toward the end of the year, we saw a positive economic turn.”
Harbuck noted that the Chamber works closely with other regional and local organizations, such as the Franklin Tourism Development Authority, to bring visitors to the area. She added that 2010 saw more visitors in months that are traditionally slow in part because of events like the Gem Capitol Gun Shows, supported by the TDA. Besides the summer show, shows were also held in February and November in 2010.
“We can’t take credit for the economy when it’s bad or when it’s good, either one,” Harbuck said, “but I would like to feel we are trying to help.”
Grants and advertisement funding
The TDC is authorized to approve grant requests from county and community organizations for projects to further travel and tourism in the area. The following grant requests were considered by the Tourism Development Committee at the Jan. 20 meeting:
• The 15th Annual Taste of Scotland Festival requested a grant of $3,000 from the TDC. The festival hopes to draw on the success of previous years of attracting tourists and others to celebrate the town's Scots-Irish heritage and support the Scottish Tartans Museum. This year the festival is scheduled for June 17 through 19. For the first time, Main Street will be closed during the event. Festival coordinator Christopher Burk came before the committee to make the request and answer questions. Burk said that the festival organizers are hoping to grow and modernize the event this year. Besides closing Main Street, the festival will also include more musical entertainment of genres other than tradition Scots-Irish.
The Chamber has funded the festival for many years and in 2010, granted $3,000. The committee unanimously approved the full $3,000 request again this year.
• Franklin’s 4th of July Fireworks & Fun Day requested a grant of $4,000. Organizers claim that of all the events held in Franklin, the annual 4th of July celebration is the largest single-day event each year, both in staging and attendance. An estimated 20,000 people attended in 2010. This year, the celebration will include a greater variety of entertainment, an amazing fireworks display, Fun Land activities for kids, a bungee jump, the annual horseshoe tournament, and many other activities. Profits from the event, from entry fees, booth fees and other sources, go to support the operation of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. The requested funds will go toward the cost of the fireworks display which will total $10,000.
Cindy Cavender, special events coordinator for the Franklin Chamber was on hand to answer questions about the grant request. Last year, the event was awarded $5,000. The committee unanimously approved the request for the full $4,000.
• The Mountain High BBQ Festival requested a grant of $5,000 for promotion. This year the event will be held on August 12 and 13 at the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center. The festival is an official state championship event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, with $12,400 in prize money to be awarded to competitors. Organizers have been meeting with Koss Motor Sports representatives to discuss adding a sanctioned car show as part of the festival. Koss Motor Sports has a cable television show that airs in 22 counties in North and South Carolina and will be expanding to a national forum in 2012. Festival organizers believe this could be a great opportunity to bring exposure to Franklin. WLOS will again be the exclusive television sponsor for this year’s event. However, the event has lost the sponsorship of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, which now only supports 501(c)3 non-profits.
Cavender also answered questions about the grant request. In 2010, the TDC awarded $6,000 to the festival; in 2009, it was $10,000. The committee unanimously approved the request for the full $5,000.
• The 3rd Annual April Fools Trail Days Festival requested $3,500 to help with advertising and maintenance of the festival website www.aprilfoolstraildays.com/. The event is put on by the Town of Franklin to celebrate the beginning of the “thru-hiking” season on the Appalachian Trail. The festival, held in conjunction with the Hiker’'s Bash held every year at the Sapphire, will be moved downtown this year as organizers feel it has outgrown Big Bear Park where it was held in the past. In addition to food and gear vendors, organization booths, and the line up of noted speakers, this year will see more entertainment, including the blue grass outfit Buncombe Turnpike.
“We believe that this event will really grow into a good thing for Franklin,” said Main Street Program director Linda Schlott. Last year, the festival was awarded $1,500 by the TDC. The $3,500 request was tabled until the next meeting of the TDC to allow members more time for consideration.
Besides the grant requests considered at the meeting, committee members also approved a number of promotional and advertising options for the chamber.
• The committee looked at various advertising options for the chamber offered by the Smoky Mountain Host Co-Op Advertising Program. The program offers chambers and tourism development agencies annual buy-in to different media and types of advertising. The committee unanimously approved two online advertising options: TripAdvisor.com and VisitNC. com. Banner ads promoting the Franklin area will appear on these popular travel websites. Total costs for the promotions will be $1,680 ($1,030 and $650, respectively).
• The committee also considered promotions offered by Blue Ridge Digest Promotions which exhibits a “Blue Ridge & Great Smoky Mountains” booth at consumer shows around the region and distributes brochures and travel “paks.” The Atlanta Home & Garden Show (Feb. 11-13) and the Charlotte Spring Show (March 2-6) were both selected by the committee for a total cost of $575 ($280 and $295 respectively).