January 26, 2022

Greetings on behalf of the Buncombe County TDA

Travel is the "front porch" for economic development, with the potential to attract new business sectors, bolster the tax base, and create quality jobs for local residents. When business owners and influencers discover the rugged independence and creative spirit of our mountain community while here for vacation or a meeting, that visit can result in a decision to expand or relocate their company here. A great place to visit, after all, is a great place to live and work – and a diversified economy is a healthy economy, improving opportunity for all residents.

Explore Asheville's sales team is working in partnership with the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County to inspire group travel in industry sectors identified for growth: outdoor products, climate and environment, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and technology. We welcome the opportunity to showcase our community as a hub for entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity to purpose-driven companies aligned with the region’s values. See below for more on these efforts as reported by our VP of Sales, Marshall Hilliard, at today's meeting of the Buncombe County TDA.

The meeting also included an update from Tina Kinsey, Director of Marketing, PR & Air Service Development for Asheville Regional Airport. Although the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the global airline industry, Asheville is a bright spot. Thanks to the interest in our community as a leisure destination, air traffic at AVL is returning and growing more quickly than in other markets. The volume of visitors to our area helps support the growth of direct flights in our market, enabling residents to take advantage of better connectivity for their own travel.

Hotel Occupancy Down Slightly in November from 2019; December Numbers on Par
Local residents with vacation rentals continue to benefit from increased occupancy over 2019

Hotel occupancy for the month of November 2021 was 74%, down two points from 2019 levels. Short-term vacation rentals reached 70% in November 2021, up eight points from the benchmark year of 2019.

In December, hotel occupancy was on par with 2019 levels at 69%, three points higher than vacation rentals at 66%. However, vacation rentals were up 10 points in December over 2019 levels, continuing to be good news for local residents who earn incremental income from visitors using their vacation rentals.

November 2021 Lodging

Dec 2021 lodging

Avg Occupancy

Recovery Is Strong for Asheville Regional Airport
AVL's strong inbound traffic from leisure travelers means increased airline access for residents

In 2018, Asheville Regional Airport hit a major milestone with more than 1 million passengers. "It took 57 years," said Tina Kinsey, Director of Marketing, PR & Air Service Development in an airport update presented to the Buncombe County TDA. The next year hit a record 1.6 million passengers and distinction as one of the two fastest growing airports in the country.

In 2020, the pandemic devastated the airline industry – but thanks to the leisure travelers, in 2021 the airport exceeded 2018's numbers and hit 88% of 2019's record-setting year, at 1.428 million passengers. The bottom line for our community: Increased visitor travel through Asheville Regional Airport results in recovery opportunities for the airlines – and that means increased airline access for residents.

View the full presentation here, including information on the airport's master plan and upcoming expansion.

VIEW PRESENTATION: Asheville Regional Airport Update

*Note: Indicates unique travelers by zip code, not frequency of travel
Sample size: 151,682 AVL travelers

Group Sales Team Pursues New Business in Key Growth Sectors; Sees Success in Booking Off-Peak
Local business leaders assist in identifying & engaging purpose-driven companies to choose Asheville for meetings & events

The Explore Asheville group sales team is making progress in applying the long-tail strategy developed earlier in the fiscal year to bring business meetings, incentive trips, conferences, and other groups to Asheville. In doing so, the team is following these guiding principles:

  • To be ADDITIVE: Focus on new business and the quality of the visit.
  • To be BALANCED: Pursue and book off-peak business throughout the year, focusing on specific need periods.
  • To be ALIGNED: Attract business aligned with our strategic pillars, economic development sectors, and community assets.

Among the team's initiatives is the establishment of the Asheville Business Events Council, an ad hoc organization comprised of a cross-section of local leaders to help connect with opportunities for group business in key growth areas identified by the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County.

By creating an opportunity for these business leaders to leverage Asheville's travel and hospitality community to lift other sectors – outdoor products, climate and environment, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and technology – Explore Asheville can serve as a positive force in helping balance and diversify our economy.

More opportunities for delivering balanced recovery: Increasing business in off-peak times

In addressing the strategic imperative Deliver Balanced Recovery & Sustainable Growth, the sales team is continuously seeking to increase group business in off-peak times. Efforts are beginning to pay off: From July through December of 2021, roomnights for group travel booked jumped to 58% versus weekend bookings at 42%. (In the hotel industry, a "roomnight" is calculated by multiplying one room times one night. One room booked for five nights, for example, generates five roomnights.)

Weekend Roomnights Vs Midweek

View the full presentation here, including a deeper dive on new business development.

Other News & Updates
Appointment of Buncombe County TDA Finance Committee

The Buncombe County TDA approved the appointment of this year's Finance Committee, whose primary responsibility is to develop a revenue objective for Fiscal Year 2022-23, which begins on July 1. Members of the committee, chaired by BCTDA board member Leah Wong Ashburn as Treasurer of the BCTDA nonprofit, are Chip Craig (former BCTDA board member and representative of vacation rentals), Matthew Lehman (BCTDA board member and hotel representative), and BCTDA Chair Kathleen Mosher. The committee will also help advise Explore Asheville staff in developing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

New report provides a monthly update on Explore Asheville's progress on strategic imperatives

The goal of Explore Asheville is to consider our strategic imperatives in all actions and decisions. To increase transparency and enable the public to quickly and easily follow our progress, we've created a new report that will be posted monthly on AshevilleCVB.com.


Official 2022 Asheville Visitor Guide now available; content aligns with strategic imperatives

The Official Asheville Visitor Guide for 2022 is now available, providing 84 pages of content that aligns with Buncombe County TDA's four strategic imperatives. Explore Asheville engaged with a host of Asheville photographers and writers to create content for the guide. Free distribution to partners through a contract that Explore Asheville established with Mountain Xpress will begin in February. Watch for more information or pick up copies from the Asheville Visitor Center.


Top-rated PBS travel series kicks off Season 5 in Asheville

The Emmy-winning "Samantha Brown's Places to Love" travel show (airing on PBS in 3+ million households across the U.S.) kicked off its 5th season with a 30-minute episode on Asheville earlier this month.

Explore Asheville and the BCTDA underwrote production fees and worked with Samantha Brown and her crew on story development that aligns with our strategic pillars and spotlights local faces and places, such as those shown here (Eda Rhyne Distilling Company - top; Noir Collective AVL - bottom).


Travel as the 'front porch' for economic development

Through a partnership with the media brand Monocle, which targets a domestic and international audience of decision-makers and business influencers, a 24-page section on Asheville in the December/January edition spotlighted some three dozen local business leaders and makers. The stories illustrate our community's rugged independence and creative spirit and closely aligns our sales and marketing efforts with targeted business sectors to help diversify our local economy.


Remembering Pioneers Craig Madison & Karen Cragnolin
William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award honorees leave a legacy

Asheville recently lost two recipients of the Willam A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award, an honor recognizing those who've made a significant contribution to the local tourism sector and provided exceptional leadership in making the community a special place to live and visit. 

J. Craig Madison was a champion of tourism and development in the community and served for seven years as a member of the Buncombe County TDA, two of those as Chair. Craig started as a bellman in the hospitality industry in high school and went on to become General Manager, then President and CEO of the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa. He was recognized with the Cecil Award in 2002 and died on Dec. 1.

Karen founded and served as the visionary leader of RiverLink for 30 years, spearheading the revitalization of the French Broad River and the River Arts District. The 2015 Cecil Award-winner fought passionately for a clean, accessible, vibrant French Broad River. Today the RAD is a popular spot for all ages to enjoy the river, greenways, parks, bikeways, galleries, art studios, and more. Karen died on Jan. 22.

Photo of Karen Cragnolin courtesy of RiverLink


Find meeting documents and a recording of the January 26 board meeting HERE >>

Wednesday, February 23 | 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Registration & other details will be posted HERE >>

Deliver Balanced Recovery & Sustainable Growth | Encourage Safe & Responsible Travel |
Engage & Invite More Diverse Audiences | Promote & Support Asheville's Creative Spirit

Established by state law to administer the occupancy tax paid by overnight visitors according to the enabling legislation, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is a public authority with a public purpose to enhance the economic vitality of Buncombe County. It is led by 11 local, appointed volunteers (two of whom are ex-officio members) who provide professional expertise to ensure the effective use of the tax to benefit our community and the people who live here. BCTDA meetings are open to the public.

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