Tourism authority examines roles, updates bylaws

By Jessica Johnson

March 22, 2014

Under the direction of a new chairperson — Lenise Lynch, vice president/general manager of Hampton Inn of Mount Airy — the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority (MATDA) met for its yearly board retreat and reflected on how far it has come as a board and looked toward the future, including a rewrite of bylaws, which had not been updated in a while.

An examination of the bylaws was suggested by Mount Airy Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, who is a member of the MATDA, and the board agreed at a previous meeting that the yearly board retreat would be a good time to update.

The board welcomed former chairman Greg Perkins, and Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce President Betty Ann Collins, to the retreat.

Lynch went over the roles and responsibilities of the board members, who are appointed in certain categories. The TDA operates under Senate Bill 138, and requires the MATDA to include board members who meet the following criteria:

• Two individuals who are owners or operators of tourist accommodations — Trudy Willard, general manager of Holiday Inn Express, who was unable to attend the board meeting; and Chairperson Lynch, general manager/vice president of Hampton Inn

• Two individuals who have experience in the promotion of travel and tourism — Board Treasurer Sandy Hallman, senior director of physician practices at Northern Hospital of Surry County, who was unable to attend the board meeting; and Vice Chair Ben Webb, owner and operator of Old North State Winery

• Individuals who are members of the Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, selected by the chamber — Jatin Patel, owner of Knights Inn and Comfort Inn of Mount Airy; and Board Secretary Magen Atkinson, administrative assistant of Cross Creek Country Club

• One member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners — Commissioner Shirley Brinkley

• The city’s finance officer, who serves as an ex-officio non-voting member — Pam Stone

The mission of the MATDA is “to further the best interest of the citizens of the City of Mount Airy and to promote travel and tourism.”

Jessica Icenhour Roberts is the tourism and marketing director for the Mount Airy Visitor’s Center, and is considered a non-voting member of the board.

The MATDA contracts with the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce to provide management oversight of the tourism program for Mount Airy.

Perkins explained to the board that they have seen growth every year from a tourism standpoint. “This is part of my passion, because when you look at economic development, the most valuable dollar is the dollar that comes from somewhere else. These folks are paying taxes that help pay for services; they eat here, they stay here, they pay sales tax dollars. We are seeing the fruits of this, which are sometimes hard to quantify. We do see occupancy tax numbers, but the other data is sometimes hard to quantify.”

Each community’s TDA — Mount Airy, Dobson, Pilot Mountain and Elkin — contributes a member to the Tourism Partnership of Surry County board.

Perkins and Roberts encouraged all board members to attend the meetings of the county’s tourism partnership and Perkins reminded the board that 53 percent of the total contribution for the county’s tourism partnership budget comes from Mount Airy, the largest contributing member.

Tourism updates

Roberts announced to the board they are in the process of developing a sonker trail, and had discussed developing a film trail as well. She added that the Piedmont Triad Film Commission is always on the lookout for locations to scout, and the MATDA will benefit because when movies, commercials, TV shows, etc. are filmed here, they are supporting small businesses and bringing in occupancy tax.

“That’s what tourism really is —bringing cash to registers, and putting heads in beds. It really hits a lot of different pockets,” she said.

Roberts said that the film commission is looking for a horse farm of modest size right now, for a filming location, one that has a fair amount of trees around the house. If anyone knows of a location, she said, email her pictures and she will share them with the film commission. Roberts recently was appointed to the film commission’s board.

Perkins said he is pleased to see a variety of cars from different states downtown on any given day, and is impressed with the larger amount of people who are in the downtown area in the evening hours.

“Ben and Joel [at Old North State Winery] have so much to do with that, so thank you,” Lynch added. Old North State Winery is open in the evenings when many downtown businesses are closed, and it features live music multiple nights per week, which has become a huge draw for locals and visitors.

Roberts shared that a writer who was involved in the recent media mission to New York mentioned Mount Airy in the “Queens Chronicle” in an article about March Madness. The writer suggested that people from the area travel to North Carolina for golf opportunities, and mentioned that there is a thriving wine industry around the city of Mount Airy.

There are multiple tourism-related businesses hiring in the area right now, including Hampton Inn of Mount Airy, which is holding a job fair for several part-time jobs on Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Multiple local restaurants also are hiring, Roberts said. Tourism-related jobs typically hire during the early spring, in order to prepare for the uptick in visitors to this area.

Jessica Johnson may be reached at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.