Jan. 24, 2024

Today at the BCTDA Board of Directors meeting, Explore Asheville presented the substantial breadth of work that inspires business and leisure visitors to travel to Asheville and Buncombe County year-round. We are setting the foundation for another productive year by encouraging and securing travel to our community from January through April.

We encourage you to review the Q2 Strategic Imperative Update, which highlights initiatives during the peak travel period of fall and the holiday season. Additionally, preliminary lodging occupancy data for 2023 was presented and next month we'll share a more in-depth analysis of last year’s performance.

Takeaways from the January board meeting include:

We look forward to convening our partners for the first time in 2024 at The Year Ahead event on Jan. 31 at the new Embassy Suites by Hilton Asheville Downtown. Nearly 400 partners are registered to attend. Please let us know if you are no longer available so we can accommodate others.

Brenda Durden Chair
Vic Isley signature
December Lodging Occupancy Softens Slightly from 2022
While Lodging Demand Outpaces 2019 Baseline

December hotel occupancy was down three points from 2019, two points from 2021, and one point from 2022. Vacation rental occupancy was flat compared to 2019, down nine points from 2020, and three points from 2022.

Demand for hotels and vacation rentals has grown since 2019, with vacation rentals outpacing hotel demand growth significantly. December hotel demand grew 10% from 2019, while vacation rental demand grew 68% over the same period.

View the Latest Destination Dashboards (Oct. & Nov.)
Preliminary 2023 Lodging Performance
Detailed Annual Performance to be Presented in February

Lodging occupancy is a leading indicator for destination performance and visitor spending in our community. As 70% of visitor spending occurs outside of lodging businesses, it is also a guiding indicator for local business performance and sales tax collection that supports City and County government revenues. Preliminary lodging performance for Asheville and Buncombe County includes: 

  • Early figures from the Asheville Regional Airport show air passengers reached 2.2 million, up 20% year over year. Air passengers typically stay longer and spend more throughout the community.
  • Asheville and Buncombe County hotel occupancy has not recovered to 2019 levels and is relatively on par with comparative communities like Savannah, Charleston, and Greenville. 
  • Local hotels ended 2023 ahead of comparative communities in average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR). This indicates price—not profit—as business costs have increased exponentially.
  • Exponential vacation rental growth that started during the City Council’s hotel moratorium and Covid continued through 2023.
  • National economic and travel trends, plus some localized issues, have created headwinds for local business—including retail shops, arts & culture institutions, restaurants & breweries, and lodging partners.

Looking ahead, forecasts from U.S. Travel & Tourism Economics reveal domestic leisure trips have fully recovered, but economic headwinds still pose challenges in 2024. This is important as 93% of visitors are leisure travelers. These headwinds also impact domestic business travel, which is not expected to reach full recovery until 2026.

Explore Asheville is working with Tourism Economics to deliver a destination-specific forecast in late March, which will support budget planning for FY25. 

Quarterly Progress on Strategic Imperatives
October to December Packed with Targeted and Integrated Efforts

Explore Asheville department heads provided updates on progress towards strategic imperatives, which ladder up to broader community goals and guide the direction of our initiatives and community investments. Major highlights include a record-breaking fall color report campaign; the launch of our first-ever destination app; a surprise trip from the CBS Mornings Show; the unveiling and commemoration of the long-awaited Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail; Investment of more than $6 million in community projects through the Tourism Product Development Fund; $100,000 invested in 25 local festivals and cultural events; the hosting of 18 meeting planners on a test drive of Asheville during the Fall FAM Tour.

Read the Q2 Progress Report
Business Development and Sales Performance
YTD Results on Secured Events, Generated Leads, and Direct Spending

Our Business Development Team brought in nearly $22.5 million of direct spending in the first half of this fiscal year. Additionally, the team has booked 186 events, an 11% increase from last year. Hotels in Buncombe County are on par with comparable markets, but continue to outpace them in average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR).

Meetings Database Institute (MDI) summarized all group arrivals and contracted business over the last six months and found:

  • The business development team converted 40% of its leads to 214 contracted meetings, totaling nearly $22.5 million in direct spend and more than 27,000 room nights.
  • Sporting events booked independently by Explore Asheville and with the support from the local sports commission continue to be the strongest business segment, followed by weddings. Financial, medical/pharmaceutical/life sciences, and insurance market segments also performed strongly in relation to driving room nights and contracted business.
  • More than half of all business booked came from within North Carolina, followed by Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia.
  • Groups containing 50 rooms or less drove nearly three-quarters of definite transactions and one-third of roomnights. Groups of 200 or more drove 17% of all roomnights. 
  • A substantial amount of new business came to Asheville and Buncombe County, and the conversion rate for repeat business was very high at 80%.
  • Room nights were evenly distributed across all months, with peak business arrival in September.
  • Nearly three-quarters of lead times were from 3 to 18 months, while the remainder of contracted groups operated within a quick contract-to-arrival timeline.
  • Group roomnights were spread across all days, with 60% occurring on weekdays and 40% on weekends. Weddings and sporting events bolstered 70% of weekend business.

Looking ahead, several large meetings will occur in Buncombe County from March to August, including Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA) and Model A Ford Club of America. These events are estimated to generate more than $2.5 million in economic impact and nearly 4,500 roomnights.

Shining a Spotlight through Destination Promotion
A Look Ahead at Strategic Partnerships Leveraging Assets and Events

Our marketing team is starting the new year off strong by maintaining promotional reach that inspires and supports net new visitor spending in local businesses and throughout our community during this unprecedented and inflated media landscape. We continue to leverage new direct flight routes, such as in Phoenix and Orlando, while maintaining focus on drive markets. Building on its relationship with the United States Tennis Association, Explore Asheville is sponsoring the Billie Jean King Cup Tie taking place in Orlando before the direct flight service from Orlando's International Airport to AVL starts in May.  

Strategic Brand Partnerships Elevate Asheville's Creative Culture Spring to Fall

This November, we are partnering with Dotdash Meredith to provide more than 20 Travel + Leisure readers with an unparalleled itinerary through Asheville’s creative spirit, leisure appeal, history, and local roots. Local partners will be featured in print placements and digital extensions driving bookings for this beyond bucket list trip culminating this fall.

Additional strategic alignments with AFAR and Mitu, a digital news and culture source for Latinos, will extend reach while shining a spotlight on Asheville’s creative spirit. 

Paid partnerships with media outlets such TravelDesk, Black Enterprise, and Garden & Gun are arranged to drive up visitation and boost awareness of home-grown events such as Asheville Ideas Fest, Skyview Golf Tournament, AVL Fest, and this year's Festivals & Cultural Events Grant and Sponsorship recipients.

Illuminating the Area's Intellectual Capital

A Northstar Meetings Group partnership will create editorial case studies and video interviews with local industry experts, positioning Asheville as a hub for climate science, outdoor and wellness, automotive and car launches, and corporate meetings events.

Additionally, Washington Post newsroom-style articles will interview meeting planners who have hosted events in Asheville, further showcasing our destination as a thriving business location.

Inspiring Road Trip Enthusiasts

This May, WILDSAM, known for its story-driven guides to cities, national parks, and iconic destinations, will launch a new guidebook on Asheville and Western North Carolina.

Explore Asheville will optimize the guide debut with Asheville-area storylines and branded content activations that align with the opening of Autocamp and ATTA’s Elevate Asheville.

Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail National Media Campaign

Now that the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail is complete, a national media relations campaign is underway with a media FAM and influencer partnership focused on drive markets this spring. Paid promotion through Essence, AFAR, and Edge Media will go beyond the trail, speaking to the multi-dimensional characteristics of our community. 


Find documents from the Jan. 24, 2024 board meeting HERE >>

Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | 9–11 a.m.
Explore Asheville | 27 College Place | Asheville
Details to be posted HERE >>

Delivering Balanced & Sustainable Growth | Encouraging Safe & Responsible Travel |
Engaging & Inviting More Diverse Audiences | Promoting & Supporting Asheville's Creative Spirit

Follow Our Progress

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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