Highland County’s Tourism Plan
According to a study by the U.S. Travel Association, tourism contributed to 210,000 jobs in the state of Virginia, with employees earning more than $4.7 billion in income in 2012. With the travel industry establishing itself as one of the largest sources of economic growth in Virginia, Highland County has been working to promote tourism in the area.
Donna Bedwell is the current chair of Highland’s Tourism Council. “The Tourism Council was established by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) in the county,” Bedwell said, “to be able to achieve the goals and objectives that have been outlined in our tourism strategic plan.”
Before the Board of Supervisors approved the Tourism Strategic Plan in January 2014, a committed group of individuals had been working on it since 2009. “What that does, essentially, is just give us some goals and objectives—a marketing plan. You really don’t know where you want to go until you know where you are. It gives us a concrete road map to try to increase tourism within the area.”
Highland County also recently adopted a transient occupancy tax. Bedwell explained that it’s a 2% tax added to room rates at lodging establishments as a way to support tourism marketing efforts. The tax is also a way for Highland County to measure occupancy rates and better understand how many people are visiting the area. According to Bedwell, any community in the state of Virginia can levy a transient occupancy tax of up to 2% without legislative approval.
“71 of Virginia’s 96 counties have a transient occupancy tax,” Bedwell said. “If all the other counties around us are aggressively marketing, we will lose our market share. People will drive through Highland on their way to other areas.”
One of the driving forces behind this tourism initiative is the collaboration between organizations. The Chamber of Commerce, Highland Center, and EDA/Tourism Council have been working together to move forward.
“We’re all stronger working together than individually,” Bedwell said, “and we’ve all identified that we have pretty consistent goals. We all want to increase the sustainability of the future or Highland County, and it’s recognized that tourism can be a major part of that equation. It’s not the end all. It’s going to take a combined effort and a lot of collaboration among everybody, but I believe that you could certainly identify the sustainable future of Highland County as a common goal for all organizations in the area.”