Old Fort, NC – The McDowell County Tourism Development Authority will welcome a new executive director on May 1, with the arrival of Shannon Odom, who brings nearly three decades of destination marketing, tourism development and outdoor recreation economic development experience to the role.
“Having grown up in the upstate of South Carolina and being a regular visitor of western North Carolina all my life, I’m looking forward to promoting this spectacular area and all of its natural resources to enhance our quality of life,” said Odom. “McDowell County has a long and successful past, and its story can be told in interesting and genuine ways that will ensure a bright future and entice new visitors.”
Originally from Greenville, SC, Odom began his career with the U.S. Park Service in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, before moving back to the southeast and working for 20 years in tourism development with the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Charleston and Resort Islands Golf.
His prior experience also includes roles with the chamber of commerce and a nonprofit community organization in Big Sky, MT, which has a population of just over 3,000 people, according to the 2020 Census.
Odom joins the McDowell TDA from his most recent position with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, where he managed tourism-based economic development and statewide marketing programs with a focus on international visitation growth.
Odom’s background and views on tourism development stood out to the nine-member McDowell TDA Board of Directors, which conducted a two-month search for a new executive director when former director Carol Price retired at the end of 2022.
“What really impressed us about Shannon was that, in addition to his extensive tourism development experience in both rural and metropolitan areas, he has a clear focus on building balanced and sustainable connections between tourism and the community through strong partnerships," said McDowell TDA Board Chair Brigette Walters.
“This focus on collaborating with the community is vitally important to the McDowell TDA as we center our efforts on developing tourism responsibly for the county where we live and work,” she continued.
Established in 1985 through state legislation, the McDowell County Tourism Development Authority operates as an independent agency under the county government’s umbrella of operations. Visitors know the McDowell TDA as the Blue Ridge Traveler.
The McDowell TDA manages the spending of the county’s occupancy tax, currently set at 5% of a nightly room rate, paid by visitors who stay overnight in the county’s hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, short term vacation rentals and some camping facilities.
Under the legislation for McDowell County’s TDA, two-thirds of occupancy tax revenue must be used to fund the promotion and marketing of the county as an overnight travel destination, while one-third can be used to fund other tourism-related work, including asset development and capital improvement projects.
The McDowell TDA specifically works with collaborative partners on projects named in the TDA’s 15-year strategic plan for tourism, Destination McDowell.
Along with managing a visitor center staffed by the McDowell TDA in Old Fort, Odom will oversee the TDA’s expansive marketing endeavors and will work with the TDA’s community partners to continue moving the strategic plan forward.
Current strategic plan projects in McDowell County involving the TDA include the Marion Peavine Rail Trail Master Plan adopted by the City of Marion in February and the development of a new park on Catawba Avenue in Old Fort being managed by the Catawba Vale Collaborative.
“The City of Marion is thrilled to welcome Shannon Odom to McDowell County,” said City Manager Bob Boyette. “It is wonderful to see someone with his experience and credentials coming on board as TDA Director.”
He added, “We appreciate the investments being made by the TDA in Marion and McDowell County, and are excited about working with the TDA Board and Shannon going forward.”
“Catawba Vale Collaborative, which counts among its investments in downtown Old Fort the Catawba Vale Business HUB coffee co-working space, the development of Catawba Avenue Park and the Catawba Vale Innovation Space, is proud to partner with the McDowell County TDA and eager to continue building our relational muscle with the Blue Ridge Traveler as Shannon Odom steps into his all important role," said Stephanie Swepson Twitty of Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation and CVCHUB.
Other projects that have received partnership funding in the past year from the McDowell TDA are Phases I and II of the G5 Trail Collective’s Old Fort Trails Project, construction of the Old Fort Fonta Flora Trailhead and Arrowhead Park being overseen by Friends of Fonta Flora State Trail and the planning of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail in the southern part of the county led by Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.
“What excited me most when deciding to apply for this position was seeing all the projects already in progress and future initiatives laid out in the 15 year strategic plan for the county,” said Odom. “I personally love being located in an area where the locals are involved and proud of where they live.”
More information about the McDowell TDA can be found at blueridgetraveler.com.