TODAY'S NEWS

Page County Cabin owners association disbands

Page News and Courier

LURAY — Plans for a new association aimed at capitalizing on the county's 2009 designation as Virginia's Cabin Capital have been put “on hold,” after supervisors voted not to fund the effort with the county's tourism dollars.

“We had a good little group, and if we would have gotten the funding we wanted, we would have moved forward, and probably had something produced by now,” said founding member of the Page County Cabin Owners Association J.D. Cave. “I am disappointed and frustrated that the Page County Board of Supervisors didn't have the wisdom and the insight to invest in the business opportunity and benefits of the cabins association.”

After its inaugural meeting in January, Cave and Randy Howan ― who collectively own about 30 cabins and rental properties in the county and represented about a dozen cabin owners ― requested $50,000 from supervisors in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue to help fund the association's efforts.

Each year, the county allocates TOT funds ― made up of 5 percent of the total amount paid for room, cabin and campground rentals outside of a town limit in the county ― to more than a dozen groups. While 2 percent of the TOT dollars collected remain in the county's general fund, the difference must be designated for “marketing of tourism or initiatives” that spur tourism and bolster occupancy at lodging properties.

As tourism continues to grow in Page County, with visitors in 2014 spending $63.6 million, according to the most recent statistics by the Virginia Tourism Corp., so does the county's TOT fund.

County officials project $700,000 to be generated in the current fiscal year through TOT revenue ― up $50,000 from the previous year's projection. For the past several years, the county has exceeded those projections. At the end of fiscal 2015, TOT funds totaled $730,431 ― $110,431 more than the year's $620,000 estimate.

The growing funds have attracted a growing number of requests. The cabin owners association was one of more than two dozen groups vying for fiscal 2017 lodging tax dollars. Supervisors heard requests totaling nearly $920,000 ― about $220,000 more than the year's projection.

As chief drivers of the funds ― more than $329,000, according to Supervisors' Chairman Johnny Woodward ― Cave and Howan said local cabin owners should have a bigger say in how the money is spent.

“If you've got a thorough-bred horse, you should feed the horse the best that you've got,” said Cave. “What is likely to make the coffers grow? Are [other organizations receiving TOT funding] likely to put as much or more money back in the barrel as a cabins association would?”

Cave and Howan told supervisors that, if funded, they planned to use $50,000 in TOT funding in part to develop a website listing cabin association members, similarly to how the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce currently lists its cabin-owning members on its website.

Based on the chamber's estimate, between 350 and 400 cabins are available to rent in Page from between 200 and 250 owners. About 100 of those owners are chamber members. The chamber additionally hosts several cabin-centered events each year, including a cabin forum.

The chamber additionally advertises through television, radio, print and digital platforms, and includes a link to the county's Cabin Capital designation ― which promotes cabins in Page as a whole, regardless of whether that cabin's owner is a chamber member.

Supervisors questioned the necessity of duplicated efforts by a new association. Cave told supervisors that while the local chamber does “an okay” job at promoting the county's cabin, the association aimed to do “a great” job through niche marketing.

Other efforts in the works through the association, continued Cave, would be beneficial to the community as a whole, not just cabin owners. The association planned to earmark the bulk of its TOT request for a professional marketing video that would be filmed by a state-of-the-art drone and feature landmarks and destinations throughout the county.

“Of course we would mention Luray Caverns. Of course we would feature Shenandoah National Park, the Shenandoah River,” Cave said. “Page County is extremely fortunate to have all of these tourism-related businesses and entities working together ― and for the most part, we are working together ― to make this a destination.”

In June, supervisors allocated $668,770 of fiscal 2017's $700,000-projection, leaving $31,230 to be divvied out at a later time. Although the cabins association was one of 13 requests not funded, supervisors encouraged Cave and Howan to return later, once the group has been better established.

“We're not going to commit $50,000 of our own money for a video on a 'maybe,' and then maybe be left holding the bag,” said Cave. “It's probably doubtful that we will proceed [with the association]. The short answer is: for now, it's on hold.”



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