Perhaps the best way to label this time for Columbia County’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is “transitional.”
The best thing the community can hope for, then, is that the product of that transition is continued improvement.
As 2011 neared an end, the only director the county’s relatively young CVB had ever known turned in her resignation. The friction that led to that departure is gone, but also lacking is the boundless energy that Beda Johnson brought to the job.
Let’s face it: Columbia County doesn’t exactly merit its own Fodor’s guide. Our attractions are regional, at best, and unlikely to bring travelers from across the country.
Yet those attractions themselves are in a growing, transitional phase. Even though the largest tourism draw – Clarks Hill Lake – still gets its share of visitors, economic conditions (and the persistent drought) have kept it in the doldrums for the past few years.
Columbia County’s latest and greatest attraction, Evans Towne Center Park and its Lady Antebellum Pavilion, still doesn’t have its footing. It’s been the scene for a couple of concerts (including the inaugural show from its namesake), but mostly the park has been just an extraordinary local amenity.
Hopefully, the pending restructuring of the CVB will change that – and more.
The CVB board is biding its time, waiting for moves by the county to determine whether they’ll even seek a new director. The county, meanwhile, has taken the remaining member of the CVB staff and placed her in with the county’s Recreation and Community Events Department, which itself recently went through a transition that melded the two functions.
The aim, says Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, is to see how the staffers work together while officials and the CVB board evaluate just what needs to be done to market Columbia County’s attractions. That could include a dedicated staffer, a formal relationship with a promotional company or some mixture of the two.
It’s important to note that there’s a lot of money available for promoting the county: Fully 40 percent of the county’s hotel-motel tax, by state law, is dedicated for use in marketing the county outside the area. Not a dime of that comes from local property taxes, and all of it is available to help bring visitors to our community – where they can spend even more money.
More than anything else, Cross and the CVB board advocate patience. Fair enough, as long as there’s a good ending to this transition.