By Sarah Richardson & Peggy Mackenzie
The Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCCVB) and the Greenbrier Valley Airport (GVA) have been at odds this month, as the Greenbrier County Airport Authority (GCAA) has begun moving forward with establishing their own convention and visitors bureau.
However, at the most recent GCAA meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16, a vote regarding the formation of an airport CVB was tabled due to possible ethics violations. Greg Furlong, vice president of sales for The Greenbrier and a newly elected GCAA member, and Debbie Phillips, whose husband works at the resort part-time, were awaiting a response from the ethics commission about whether they would have to recuse themselves from matters regarding the new CVB due to a conflict of interest.
Phillips opted to recuse herself, while Furlong motioned to table the matter for the next GCAA meeting. County Commissioner and GCAA member Mike McClung attempted to address Furlongs motion to table rather than simply removing himself so a vote could be held, but was interrupted by GCAA President Lowell Johnson’s call for a table motion, which passed unanimously. This was Furlong’s first motion as a member of the GCAA board. He also represents The Greenbrier as a GCCVB board of directors member.
After the motion, two people who signed up to comment offered their remarks. Larry Kline, vice president and general manager of The Greenbrier Sporting Club, told the authority that, “Great things are going on” at the airport. “You’re on the right track,” he enthused.
Kline said the airport authority has certainly gotten the attention of the GCCVB with their plans to open their own CVB. But not voting at this meeting, he added, “is the best thing you can do.” Increasing the bed tax by another three percent cannot be supported by The Greenbrier at this time, he added. Instead, he encouraged the GCAA to let the new CVB idea rest for now.
It has been previously discussed at an airport and tourism marketing session at the GCCVB that if the county were to fund a second CVB, the hotel/motel tax would have to be raised to accommodate it. Currently, the tax is at three percent, which amounts to roughly $1 million in funds each year. Of that money, half goes to the GCCVB.
“Why add to the red tape in competing with the current CVB?” Klein asked, giving examples of the conflicts displayed with Lewisburg’s two farmers markets over the years. Kline closed his statement by saying if it makes sense in the future to open a new CVB at the airport, do it, but to try working with the GCCVB for the present.
Christian Rogner, a frequent flyer businessman, agreed that an airport CVB might be a wonderful idea for the future, but not right away. “There seems to be a lack of cooperation,” he said.
Following the meeting, Executive Director of the GCVVB Kara Dense commented that a second CVB “is not needed,” and emphasized that the current CVB can provide the services that the airport is saying their CVB would provide, all without having to raise the hotel/motel tax.
Greenbrier Valley Airport Director Snyder emphasized during the GCAA meeting that the airport wants to start “working to bring in big groups and conventions [to the airport] so we don’t miss those markets.” Dense reiterated that was a service the GCCVB could offer them. “We’ve always been willing to work closely with the airport, but for this, we’ve never been approached. If they need extra funds to go toward this, we can be the organization that sits down and writes the checks.”
When asked if the current CVB could reach out to airport groups and conventions, Dense replied, “We absolutely could. If that’s something the area thinks there is growth and opportunity in we can figure out how to reach those goals. We could work hand in hand with the airport and The Greenbrier to accomplish this and to reach the right people.”
Snyder followed up by saying that past relations with Lewisburg officials and the CVB have made him wary about trusting airport business to certain organizations, saying, “I am open for any and all formats that best serve the people of our region without any special interests, politics, and with full open disclosure of what’s going on,” referencing the 16 board members who vote on CVB matters.
Distrust continues among some of the major players overseeing the county’s economic development. The topic will return to the airport authority’s agenda at their next meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 3 p.m. at the airport.