March 24, 2022

Greetings on behalf of the Buncombe County TDA

Two years after the global pandemic devastated the local economy, Asheville is experiencing a dramatic recovery. Most of the tourism community is enjoying success that often exceeds even the benchmark year of 2019 – from food and beverage purveyors to outdoor outfitters, attraction and tour operators, wedding planners, lodgers and retailers. The notable exception is some of the indoor arts spaces, to which local patrons and visitors are returning at a slower pace.

While it will be later this summer before final numbers are in, direct spending by visitors in calendar year 2021 is projected to approach $3 billion – up from $2.2 billion in the benchmark year of 2019 and $1.6 billion in 2020. That's excellent news for local small-business owners who rely on visitors in addition to residents to sustain their year-round operations and jobs for area residents.

There's also been good news for local residents who own vacation rental properties, as we've reported in this space numerous times. The growth in vacation rental occupancy tax collections is expected to be up $8 million from FY19 through the end of this fiscal year in June – that's sales growth of 180%. Growth in hotel occupancy is estimated to be up $3.4 million (sales growth of 17%).

Fold in pent-up demand – 90% of American travelers say they have plans to travel in the next six months, despite concerns over gas prices – and these are just some of the trends and statistics that the BCTDA Finance Committee considered in establishing a revenue objective for the coming fiscal year. We invite you to read more below. 

The Buncombe County TDA has the fiduciary responsibility to ensure that occupancy tax dollars are spent in accordance with the specific legislation governing their use. Our goal is balancing this responsibility with the needs of local residents and guests to our community who are vital in sustaining economic stability. We value your continued partnership in these efforts.


2022 BCTDA Finance Committee
Lean Ashburn (Highland Brewing Company), Finance Committee Chair & Treasurer of the BCTDA Nonprofit; Matthew Lehman (Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville), BCTDA member; Chip Craig (GreyBeard Realty), past BCTDA member

Finance Committee engages in thorough process to establish revenue objective for Fiscal Year 2023

Forecasts for remainder of FY22 exceed budget expectations

In the spring of 2021 with vaccinations just becoming available and research indicating an increase in confidence by American travelers, a revenue objective representing a 9% increase over the benchmark year of 2019, or $27 million, was established for the current fiscal year.

Those numbers did not factor in just how quickly Asheville would recover from the pandemic, nor the strength of our sustainable growth strategy to increase visitation throughout the year.

Every month since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2022 last July, actual occupancy tax revenue has exceeded budgeted amounts. The forecast for the remainder of this fiscal year is for collections to reach $36–$37 million.

Visitor Spending

Factors considered for FY23 include trends, projections, scenarios, key economic indicators & industry research

At its March meeting, the Buncombe County TDA approved this year's Finance Committee's recommendation of a revenue objective of $40.8 million for FY23, representing a 12% increase over FY22 projected revenue. The committee, with help from research analysts and forecasters at Tourism Economics, derived this number after a thorough review of trends, projections, key economic indicators, industry research, and a variety of scenarios.

Our thanks to the committee led by Highland Brewing Company President & CEO Leah Ashburn (BCTDA member and Treasurer of the BCTDA Nonprofit), Grand Bohemian Hotel General Manager Matthew Lehman (BCTDA member), and GreyBeard Realty Owner & Founder Chip Craig (past BCTDA member). They will also help advise Explore Asheville staff in developing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

See below for a glimpse at some of the factors considered in setting the revenue objective or go here to review the full presentation deck.

Rapid growth of vacation rentals a factor in higher occupancy tax collections

While hotels still make up the lion's share of total collections, the rapid growth of the vacation rental segment and its resilience through the pandemic is apparent.

Upside, baseline & downside considered for FY23

The Finance Committee considered three forecast scenarios for Buncombe County created in early March by Tourism Economics. They also considered tailwinds that could help increase growth in the coming year, balanced with headwinds that could slow down growth or cause negative effects on meeting projections.

Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company dedicated to understanding the relationship between travel and the economy, has been working with Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County TDA for more than a decade to measure the value of visitors to our community.

Tailwinds & Headwinds

Interest & plans for travel remain, despite higher gas prices

Despite a level of concern expressed over gas prices, pent-up demand to travel remains near pandemic-high levels, with 90% of American travelers saying they have plans to travel in the next six months. Research additionally shows that travelers will adjust other spending rather than cancel trips. COVID is less a factor in influencing travel plans.


The Finance Committee considered several other factors in establishing a revenue objective for FY23, including increases in air service and new hotel properties coming into the market in the next few months. Click below to view the full presentation deck and a recording of the discussion at the BCTDA meeting.

Other News & Updates
Occupancy rates in February 2020 versus today clearly reflect pre-COVID trends

Two years ago, in the "before times," hotel occupancy hit 60% in February, while vacation rentals were 46%. In February 2022, while hotels are still ahead of vacation rentals, the numbers are more balanced: 54% for hotel occupancy, 52% for vacation rentals, reflecting the increased use of vacation rentals by travelers and those who chose to work remotely from Asheville during the pandemic. Even so, vacation rentals are beginning to taper off, as shown here, three points down from 2021.

HospitableMe co-founders Bill Kolber & Kenny Porpora will present "Everyone Welcome"

Upcoming event part of efforts to extend a genuine invitation to diverse audiences

The Buncombe County TDA's strategic imperative Engage & Invite More Diverse Audiences aims to extend a genuine invitation to diverse audiences, including LGBTQ+ visitors, aiming to connect them with local neighborhoods, businesses and entrepreneurs.

To accelerate those efforts, Explore Asheville has engaged with HospitableMe, a global leader in inclusive hospitality, to present "Everyone Welcome," a 90-minute LGBTQ+ diverse audience training event for the travel and hospitality businesses and those interested in our local tourism community.

Join the Buncombe County TDA and Explore Asheville for this in-person training opportunity on March 30, 3:30 – 5 p.m. at the Wortham Center for Performing Arts, located at 18 Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. Doors open at 3 p.m. and the presentation will be followed by a networking reception from 5 to 6 p.m.

REGISTER: LGBTQ+ Diverse Audience Training
Glenn Cox, Explore Asheville's Vice President of Administration, celebrates retirement after 6½ years of service

The Buncombe County TDA recognizes Glenn Cox upon the occasion of his retirement on March 31. Glenn has served Explore Asheville and the BCTDA as VP of Administration since August of 2015. An avid supporter of art and craft, Glenn was Executive Director of Handmade in America prior to joining Explore Asheville, an organization that promoted the region's long history of crafts as an essential part of its culture. Our best wishes and thanks to Glenn for his dedicated service.


Find meeting documents and a recording of the March 24 board meeting HERE >>

Wednesday, April 27 | 9 a.m.–11 a.m.
In person at Explore Asheville offices
Details to be posted HERE >>

Friday, March 25 | 8:30 a.m.–3:45 p.m.
The Inn on Biltmore
Register to attend virtually 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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