- Cullman, Alabama

February 3, 2013

EDITORIAL: Resolving issues, moving forward

The Cullman Times

— What appeared to be a sudden departure from the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce by 10 hotels, was actually the result of a lingering issue.

In a letter addressed to the chamber’s board of directors, managers of 10 hotels, who make up the Cullman Hospitality Association, expressed displeasure about the communication between chamber leaders and the hotel interests. Specifically, the hotel managers were unhappy that a redesign of the chamber’s web site was done without their input, and that the chamber’s tourism committee was, to them, unproductive.

In addition to those complaints, the managers expressed concern about how the chamber planned to spend money from the local lodging tax. Chamber leaders announced a week ago that they will be directing more than a million dollars to the effort to building an interchange at County Road 222 and Interstate 65. The project is expected to open up tremendous retail development opportunities and help persuade the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame to locate on property in the vicinity.

Chamber chair Charles NeSmith said some of the issues raised by the hotel managers have been brewing for some time. He believes the chamber will be able to address those concerns, especially since Leah Bolin was hired as the permanent president of the chamber after serving an interim term following the departure of the last president.

The timing of the hotels’ departure from the chamber surprised many people because the chamber’s new leadership is preparing to ramp up efforts to bring more visitors into the area. Perhaps the hotel managers’ frustration reached a breaking point, but that doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be repaired.

NeSmith accurately noted that the input of the hotel managers is crucial to building a broader and more successful tourist trade in Cullman County. Plans within the chamber include reshaping the tourism committee to gain more direction for the tourism push from concerned parties such as the hotels. The chamber is also reserving money from the lodging tax to use specifically for tourism promotion.

The voice of the hotel managers should always be an important part of the planning where tourism is concerned. They directly greet and talk to visitors and have tremendous insight into what tourists enjoy. And the truth is that most chamber of commerce members and staff fully understand and appreciate this point.

Chamber and hotel leaders should come back to the table and re-examine their relationship and the potential of what can be realized with better communication and cooperation.

From all indications, the chamber of commerce and area political leaders are serious about bringing tourism to the forefront. Everyone may not agree on all the ideas that have surfaced in recent months, but the hotels of the area are highly important to the success of the efforts about to be put forth.

The chamber of commerce is realigning its organization to better meet the needs of the community. Such efforts take time, but the plans are quickly coming into place, now that the president’s post has been filled. The hotel managers and chamber leaders, as well as local government officials who are pushing for increased tourism, should meet and resolve to move forward together at this pivotal time for the community.