June 28, 2023

Greetings on Behalf of the Buncombe County TDA

Following a public hearing at today’s Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) meeting, board members approved the total FY24 budget of $39.9 million, including an operating budget of $27.5 million. Asheville has witnessed a cooling in travel demand and visitor spending over the past three months, reflecting choppy national trends. Our marketing team is working to mitigate these headwinds by inspiring potential visitors to choose our distinct destination. At next month’s board meeting, we will share performance data from the first half of the year from our community and other comparable destinations.

Our last board meeting of this fiscal year was held at UNC Asheville, which received a Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) investment for the new Karl Strauss Track that is set to debut in August. Today, several important topics were shared and discussed:

This summer season, we are excited to announce the return of our popular Summer Social. Explore Asheville invites partners to the Observatory rooftop bar at The Restoration Hotel from 4 to 7 pm on Aug. 1. Please save the date and be on the lookout for a partner invite early next month. 

Kathleen Mosher Chair


May Lodging Occupancy Rates Continue Recent Easing Trend
Hotel and Vacation Rental Occupancy Settle from Post-Pandemic Boom

Hotels witnessed a 68% occupancy last month, down nine points from 2019 and only three points from 2021. May vacation rental occupancy shifted downward from the previous years’ highs, dropping 11 points from 2021 but remaining two points above 2019 rates.  

Visitor Spending Remains Above FY22 by 3.3%
Data Samples from the Last Three Months Show Slight Declines

According to Zartico data, five percent of visitor credit card spending in our community corresponded to $27.7M in local businesses this fiscal year. This results in a 3.3% increase from the $26.8M spent by the same percentage of visitor credit card data captured in our community in May last fiscal year. We are witnessing similar cooling trends across the country in many comparable markets.

Choppy Travel Performance Forecasted Nationally
Economic Concerns and Luxury Trends Impacting Local Travel

Americans place a high priority on travel. U.S. Travel Association research reports that 74% of travelers agree that travel is important to a healthy, productive, and happy life. Yet uneven national travel performance and forecasts are being reported due to economic uncertainty, high prices, and the desire for overseas and bucket-list trips that Americans have put on hold for several years.

  • U.S. Travel Association’s newest national travel forecast also shows the normalizing of leisure travel demand from the post-Pandemic surge that Asheville has benefitted from recently. These uncertainties are expected to hamper leisure spending growth by a modest 1.4% for all of 2023.
  • Nearly half of Americans say high travel prices have kept them from traveling in the past month. Recessionary fears continue, with the most recent research showing that nearly 60% of travelers expect a recession in the next six months.
  • According to Destination Analysts, many Americans prioritize having at least one luxury travel experience. Those higher-spending travelers who stayed domestic over the last several summers are venturing abroad for bucket-list trips or returning to major metropolitan US cities—impacting destinations like ours.
  • To further compound the issue, real and perceived public safety issues are reported to be curbing travel decisions and experiences here in our community.

Credit card spending in the market has trended downward over the last three months. This is important as 69% of visitor spending takes place outside of lodging businesses and throughout our community supporting local restaurants, shops, art establishments, and attractions. This reduction in visitor spending also impacts the sales tax, which contributed $238M to local and state government budgets in 2021. 

May Destination Performance Report


New Officers and Appointments to Join the BCTDA in FY24 
Brenda Durden Assumes the Role of Chair Following Kathleen Mosher's Two-Year Term 

For the new fiscal year starting July 1, we welcome Brenda Durden, chief operating officer for Asheville Hotel Group, as BCTDA Chair, Matthew Lehman, general manager of the Grand Bohemian Asheville, as BCTDA Vice Chair, and HP Patel, president & CEO of BCA Hotel’s LLC, as the new Treasurer of the BCTDA nonprofit. Brenda was reappointed to the board by the Buncombe County Commissioners on June 20. She will serve a second three-year term through August 2026, at which time she will not be eligible for reappointment.  

Lucious Wilson will join the board in September

We also welcome Lucious Wilson, who will join the board in Sept. 2023. Appointed by the City Council on June 13, Lucious is the general manager and partial owner of Wedge Brewery, with three locations in the city will fill the seat for an owner of a restaurant, brewery, distillery, or winery open for tours/tasting, or executive director of a ticketed arts organization. Lucious will serve a three-year term through Aug. 31, 2026, and have the option for reappointment to a second three-year term. He will replace Andrew Celwyn, owner of Herbiary, who terms off the board at the end of August after six years of service.


BCTDA Approves FY24 Budget
Earned Revenue to Fund New Workforce Development Program

At the May 31 meeting of the BCTDA Board of Directors, a proposed budget ordinance was presented, and today the FY24 budget was approved. This includes for the increased Buncombe County administration fee of $2M, a $2.5M allocation from the fund balance, and earned revenue generated from the Explore Asheville website.

  • This is the second year that the budget was developed according to the new legislation mandating two-thirds into marketing and one-third into tourism-related capital projects.
  • This year, destination media investment and destination product investment are nearly equal, at 33% and 32%, respectively.
  • Festivals and cultural events grants have been transferred to the two-thirds budget from earned revenue.
  • Earned revenue will now fund the creation of a workforce development program to engage the next generation of tourism professionals.


TPDF Committee Recommends McCormick Field Investment 
BCTDA to Provide Final Vote at the July Board Meeting

At the last board meeting, the City of Asheville presented its request for McCormick Field funding through TPDF’s Major Works Pathway, where the BCTDA Board voted to refer the request to the TPDF Committee. Following a presentation by the City, a site visit of the facility, and a detailed review of application materials, the committee voted to recommend the BCTDA approve the City’s $22.95M funding request in full. Their request reallocates the $1.95 million awarded to the Coxe Avenue Green Street in 2022 and incorporates debt service in the amount of $1.4 million for 15 consecutive years. The committee recommended additional terms to the agreement and is continuing to work with the City to finalize the details. The BCTDA will provide a final vote on this TPDF Major Works Pathway request during its board meeting next month.


Marketing Strategies Designed to Inspire Travel Now
Media Partnerships, Customized Messaging, and Pilot Programs

Aware of the current economic conditions and travel trends facing our community, our marketing team is hard at work extending invitations through targeted, thoughtful messaging. As with all our efforts, these marketing strategies are guided by Explore Asheville’s Strategic Imperatives that are aligned with broader community goals. We've highlighted partnerships that shine a spotlight on our destination and the people that make this place so special. A comprehensive list of recent marketing efforts can be found in today’s presentation. 

Updates from the Marketing Team
Delivering Balanced & Sustainable Growth

Our airport continues to thrive in a competitive environment, and we know visitors from direct flight locations stay longer and spend more throughout our community. Customized website pages have been created for customers in Washington D.C., New York City, Boston, Austin, Chicago, and Denver to encourage travel from key flight markets.

We have lowered our TV presence over the past few years but are increasing it again to catch the eyes of summer viewers. A new commercial will air from late July through September, synchronizing with Visit NC and Biltmore’s ad campaigns in similar markets.

To position Asheville as an ideal destination for last-minute travelers looking for a quick and easy trip, new and refreshed online content focuses on budget-friendly ways to explore Asheville.

A Trip Advisor X Asheville Bluegrass Jam Session partnership celebrates our rich tradition by telling stories of Asheville through bluegrass music. The campaign, expected to generate over 15 million impressions, runs through July and includes a custom-branded hub promoting local talent via stories covering Asheville, our music history, and the craft beverage scene. Listeners can even ask Alexa to “take me to Asheville.”

Encouraging Safe & Responsible Travel

A partnership with Outside Magazine featured five locals in the 2023 style guide. This editorial coverage will run through July and is expected to generate 7.7M impressions.

In fall and spring campaigns, we leveraged Volta EV charging station inventory to reach like-minded visitors with a destination message that was rooted in sustainability. These campaigns are expected to generate 15M impressions.

Engaging & Inviting Diverse Audiences

The Black Enterprise partnership is just one example of how we are amplifying stories of local Black entrepreneurs and their contributions to the Asheville community. Six custom articles and video interviews featuring local stories from Noir Collective, AVL Cake Lady, YMI Cultural Center, Hood Huggers, Andrea Clark, Black Wall Street AVL, and My Daddy Taught Me That are expected to generate more than 7M impressions.

Skyview Golf Tournament, one of the nation’s oldest African American golf tournaments, is hosting its 63rd annual tournament here in Asheville. In addition to granting BCTDA Festival & Events Fund Support, we have provided a print placement in the June issue of African American Golfer’s Digest, display banners and video running across Black-owned sites, and PR support to encourage editorial and social media coverage. This support is expected to generate nearly 1M impressions.

Promoting & Supporting Asheville's Creative Spirit

Indoor arts and cultural venues have not fully recovered from pandemic lows, so we are piloting an initiative with Arts AVL to increase engagement and attendance for Asheville’s performing arts spaces this summer. This includes creating a map of venues on the Explore Asheville website, storytelling, and social media posts dedicated to upcoming events and performances.

U.S. Travel is starting to see an increase in international travelers returning to the United States. A partnership with Brand USA will showcase Asheville’s music legacy next month by featuring Laura Boosinger and other local musicians, including Grammy nominee Josh Goforth.  

Find documents from the June 28 board meeting HERE >>

Wednesday, July 26 | 9–11 a.m.
Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau | 27 College Place | Asheville
Details to be posted HERE >>

Delivering Balanced Recovery & 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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