The Paintsville Tourism commission and Executive Director Josh Johnson fielded a question from commissioner Patricia Nelson about a lack of incoming tour buses to Johnson County during its regular meeting Monday, Apr. 19.
Nelson inquired first about how much money the tourism commission makes from weddings, ending her question with a statement that “that’s pretty much all we’re promoting any more, it’s just weddings.”
Johnson broke down the prices, giving the example of the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum’s $125 an hour rate, decorating rates and more. Nelson then made her question a bit more pointed.
“I’m just wondering why we’re not promoting anything more than just weddings,” Nelson said. “How long has it been since a tour bus has come in for us, not from Prestonsburg, not from Pikeville.”
“Year before last,” Johnson said.
Chairman Jerry Daniel said he had heard promotion of golf packages and tourism packages in this meeting.
“How many,” Nelson asked.
“Well, we had the Airstreamers, which isn’t classified as a bus, but we did have the one group,” Johnson said.
“So, just one besides Airstreamers,” Nelson asked.
“Would you like to know the main reason,” Johnson asked. “They connive with these people at these conventions, so, Tony for example, they don’t make anything on these tour buses, I try to make sure when we do tour buses, we at least break even. We don’t make any money, but I also try to make sure we don’t lose our butts on it. But, you know, I feel comfortable in saying, probably 75-percent of Pikeville’s tour buses, they probably just about pay them to come.
Other communities, he said, have also taken other tactics to bring the buses in.
Johnson said one of the drawbacks in trying to attract tourism to Paintsville was the lack of lodging options, stating that although the Ramada Inn was a nice establishment, options were limited.
“One of our drawbacks is, the only nice hotel we’ve got is the Ramada, Pikeville’s got the Hampton Inn and the Hilton and they’ve got a lot better options there. Prestonsburg, they’ve got four hotels, they’ve got the lodge,” Johnson said. “We have a group rate that I’ve worked out with Ramada, which is, I feel, very fair, it’s right on the spot.”
Johnson said that the lack of tour buses wasn’t for a lack of effort on his part.
“I mean, it’s not that I don’t try, I’ve went through lists, two years ago and emailed everybody that we’ve been to a convention for the last seven years, everything I could find, I offer just exactly what they do, if they want entertainment, they want fed, whatever, I’ll basically give them the farm to try to get them to come,” Johnson said, adding that a layer of difficulty was present due to the past’s revolving door of tourism directors.
Commissioner Kay Hall interjected, stating that tour buses are good, but there is more going on than weddings, with several events spinning up.
“Well, tour buses are good, you’re getting people from out-of-state and stuff, but anything that we offer here, I think, is a plus, whether it’s a wedding, a Princess Party or whatever, as long as people see activity going in what we have, I think that’s a win. You’ve got weddings, you’re bringing people from out of town, who are going to say, we saw this, we saw this, this is a nice place we can go back to for a weekend, it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a bus. I would say buses right now, because of COVID, are few and far between, plus, when you’re looking at a tour bus, you’re looking at an older generation, who are not comfortable in traveling, with the Airstreamers, you know, they’re separate, they’re in their own vehicles and stuff like that,” Hall said. “So, I’m fine with the weddings, it’s activity going on. Tour buses, you know, it’s great. If Pikeville wants to pay them, fine, they’re still bringing them down here and that’s, again, advertisement, to where they can come back. Like Josh said, we’ve got one place to offer as far as staying goes, and in the scheme of things, that’s not a whole lot. It’s a nice place and all that, but still, as long as we’ve got traffic anywhere, I think we’re good. I really do.”
Commissioner Adam Preece stated that a lot of the events on which Tourism focuses are geared towards giving opportunities for local residents to participate in events and that that attracts outsiders as well.
“A lot of these things that we’ll do, that we put a lot of our efforts into are really geared, in a lot of ways, for people from here,” Preece said. “You’ll hope that people not from other areas will see it and take note, but a lot of what you do has to be involving the people from home. When people from other areas come in, they want to see what the locals are doing and if that activity’s not going on, I think we have to provide it.”
Hall said that that word of mouth was the most powerful form of advertising and that in the grand scheme of the situation surrounding COVID-19 and travel, the commission was doing a good job.
“Word of mouth is your best advertisement ... I’ve put stuff on Facebook, I took a picture of the Mayo Church, and I had people saying, where is this, I want to come visit,” Hall said. “That’s all it takes, is just a little bit of advertisement, but in the grand scheme of things, I think we’ve done pretty good ... I have told the stores downtown, kudos to them ... everybody’s done great to have kept their heads above water. I have no complaints, I really don’t, I know it’s been tough, but our stores downtown have figured out a way to reach people, whether it’s to do lives on Facebook or whatever, but I think, for the most part, minus the floods and the ice storms and stuff, Paintsville’s done well.”
Hall and Preece agreed that with events like weddings, Front Porch Pickin’ events, Superhero Parties, Princess Parties, October events planned, and Appalachian Craft Days coming up in September, events have been plentiful.
Nelson suggested that the commission work on advertising — perhaps having an advertising or public relations director to place signage and/or billboards and do advertising outreach.
“We can’t afford to put a sign in another state,” Hall said.
Daniel said the commission had a PR director for a time and that everyone had complained about that.
“Other than reaching out to the tour buses and businesses and stuff, which (Johnson) has done, there’s not much you can do,” Hall said. “Right now is a difficult time.”
Johnson said that he is open to any further suggestions as well.
The Paintsville Tourism Commission meets on the third Monday of each month at 4 p.m. in the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum and all meetings are open to the public.