Kentucky Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau is under new leadership as of yesterday when the interim executive director, Elena Blevins, officially took the reins. The change came about after the former executive director, Randy Newcomb, announced his resignation effective Nov. 30, in order to "relieve pressure on the budget."
Newcomb served as executive director of the KY Lake CVB for 18 years, and said he spent the last several months considering what he could do to improve tourism in Marshall County. Ultimately, he said he was left with "a tough decision, but a necessary one for the betterment of tourism in Marshall County."
"I have been struggling with this decision for most of this year after seeing the decline in our income due to a drop in visitation to our area," he explained. "Several factors are involved with that drop, most notably the Asian carp problem we are currently experiencing. Although it looks as though things will soon be improving, the CVB could no longer market the area the way it needed to be unless some major cuts in the budget took place."
Newcomb said the CVB is unable to properly market the county when marketing dollars are cut from the budget, so he decided to relieve the budget by cutting his salary and benefits.
"I discussed this with the board and although not wanted and unfortunate, it was agreed that this was the best solution to relieve pressure on the budget," he explained. "Since 1995, I have loved and lived tourism in Marshall County and although I'm moving on, Marshall County will always be my home and my number one tourism destination."
Mark Wood, chairman of the KY Lake CVB board and owner of Moors Resort and Marina, said the board elected to promote Blevins, who has served as marketing director for more than eight years, to fill the vacancy following Newcomb's resignation. As of now, he said she will remain in that position until at least the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
"We anticipate her staying in that position going forward, we just want to make sure she can handle it. She's been with us for years, she's done an excellent job, we have all the respect in the world for her and we expect great things," he said.
Wood said they do not intend to hire a replacement for Blevins' previous position and the board intends to keep its only other paid employee, who works part time. He said the board has a few volunteers on whom they can call to fill in the gaps as needed.
Even after a small pay increase as part of Blevins' promotion, Wood estimated $75,000-80,000 for the board's net savings at the end of this fiscal year. And he said yes, the needs of the budget really are that dire.
Wood confirmed Asian Carp is the main reason Marshall County tourism has seen a steep decline in the last few years. At the resort he owns and operates with his wife, Kathy, Wood reported they had seen a steady increase in business since 2012--but then a 12% decrease in lodging in the last two years.
"Tourism has changed overall. People have different travel habits or travel expectations but I would say the Asian Carp is the biggest reason," he said. "Our summer season was fine. The summer vacationers and family vacationers don't seem to be declining like those who usually come in the off season. The majority of off season business is fishing and that's been way off the last couple of years because we've lost tournaments."
Wood said while the Asian Carp pose a tangible issue that needs to be addressed to the fullest extent, it's the negative publicity that has caused more harm than the actual fish.
"The (game) fish are still here. The guys who have been fishing certain areas for 40 years say they can't get fish here anymore, that there aren't any fish in the lake--but the fish change patterns and you have to change with them. So then they get on social media and say Kentucky Lake is dead because they didn't have as much success one year and negative publicity always spreads more quickly than positive."
And it's going to take the community getting involved in improving that image, Wood said, to make it better for everyone. He referenced a local project and initiative currently underway which is aimed at helping repair the damage caused by the fish and by the negative publicity. Anyone interested may visit AsianCarpAid.org for more information.
Wood said the board wants to make sure the community knows Newcomb "didn't do anything wrong, we just basically couldn't afford him anymore."
"Randy was the one who brought up the idea of his resignation and it's been in talks for several months, maybe even a year, so it's not something we arbitrarily decided. It's been on the table for a long time in anticipation of budget cuts and the trend we saw coming. We knew if it got any worse we would have to take drastic measures and that's where we are," he added. "Randy has our full support and he's done a great job over the years. He's a good guy and we want nothing but the best for him."
KY Lake CVB's budget is funded by the 3% transient room tax collected by hotels, resorts and any facility which welcomes overnight stay facilities.