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January 27, 2021

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority


Greetings on behalf of Buncombe County TDA

Today in the monthly meeting of the Board of Directors, we heard the good news that, of the 394 businesses that received grants last June from the $5 million Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund, nearly 98% were still in operation at the end of December, with 3,341 jobs retained or reinstated. This data was from a six-month interim survey of grantees, with all 394 businesses reporting.

That doesn't mean it's been easy for our fellow members of the tourism community, or that the weeks and months ahead won't continue to be challenging. There's still a long way to go to full recovery.

But Asheville has bounced back more quickly in the past than other destinations, thanks to our fresh, wide open spaces and long-standing reputation for health, wellness, and connection with nature. Research indicates that people are dreaming of a return to traveling. In today's meeting, plans were presented for inspiring people to visit here safely and responsibly when they are ready, bringing back customers for our valued local businesses.

See more highlights of the meeting below. If you'd like more information on any of these items, please let us know.

The BCTDA is committed to the vitality of Asheville and Buncombe County and are honored to contribute to our community. Thank you for your support.

Himanshu Karvir
Residents with Vacation Rentals Continue to Benefit from Visitors
Hotels, motels end one of their most challenging years in 2020

Local residents with short-term vacation rental properties continue to benefit from the return of visitors to our community. As reported at today's BCTDA meeting by Buncombe County CFO/Finance Director Don Warn, vacation rentals in November were 31.2% higher than 2019, while hotels and motels saw losses of 25.1% and bed and breakfast operations decreased 7.4%.

Overall, total lodging sales for the month of November 2020 were down 14% as compared to the previous year. Total lodging sales encompasses all property types and is a leading indicator for overall visitor spending in a community.

Preliminary data for December from Smith Travel Research show hotel and motel occupancy at 54.8%, down 20% from December 2019. Again, the bright spot in overnight stays was with the short-term vacation rental market: December vacation rental occupancy according to AirDNA (covering Airbnb and VRBO rental properties) was up 16%, reaching nearly 66%.

Vacation rentals for the full calendar year reached 64%, compared to 59% in 2019, while hotels and motels ended the year at just under 50% occupancy, compared to 73% in 2019.  

The bright spot in overnight stays in 2020 was for residents who operate short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnb and VRBO properties, while hotels and motels ended the year at just under 50% occupancy, compared to 73% in 2019. 

Buncombe County TDA Pandemic Relief & Recovery Efforts
Update on TDA Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund

Legislation signed into law last spring allowed the BCTDA to appropriate $5 million from the Tourism Product Development Fund (that had been collected but not awarded) to establish a one-time emergency grant program, the Buncombe Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund. A survey of grantees conducted six months after receiving funding revealed remarkable results in meeting the objective of helping local small businesses safely and sustainably reopen, providing the support to protect jobs for local people.

Nearly 400 businesses that provide a visitor experience received grants – of those, 97.5% were still in operation on December 31, with 3,341 jobs retained, recovered or created. Highlights of the survey were presented today by Mountain BizWorks, a nonprofit contracted by the BCTDA to administer the fund. A full report of survey findings will be posted to in February. See today's presentation of the summary interim report HERE>>

Grantees reported that, in addition to rehiring, retaining, or creating jobs, the funding covered critical expenses, supported modifications in operations, and increased their resilience; however, they also expressed the need for additional assistance, calling on BCTDA to help bring back customers, particularly those who will visit safely and responsibly.

Approval of Second Allocation to 'One Buncombe Fund'

Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund grantees also identified the need for additional funding sources to help in their continued recovery. Explore Asheville hosted a free webinar for the community last week to provide information on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other federal relief opportunities. In today's meeting the BCTDA also approved an allocation of $40,000 to One Buncombe, the community COVID response fund sponsored by the Buncombe County Service Foundation, bringing our support of this initiative to $90,000 total as a founding/lead sponsor at its inception last spring.

This latest round of One Buncombe funding, approved last night at a special meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners, will provide grants to local businesses with fewer than 25 employees, with a special focus on PPP-ineligible businesses, minority-owned and woman-owned businesses, and sole proprietorships. As it was previously, the contribution made by BCTDA will come from earned revenue funds, which are non-occupancy tax dollars not subject to legislative mandates and are primarily used to support the community.

Update on Recovery Marketing & Messaging
Inspiring Travelers To Visit Safely & Responsibly When They're Ready
Explore Asheville continues to monitor trends in coronavirus spread both regionally and locally. The ability to promote the destination through paid advertising has been restricted as we are still following the strategy outlined at the June meeting of the BCTDA, monitoring Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data to determine where and when to advertise within the drive market region.

But research released this week by Destination Analysts and presented at today’s meeting indicates optimism by American travelers as they begin to dream and plan for future travel. Asheville business owners, as indicated in the aforementioned discussion of the Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund, are also looking forward to the return of visitors to our community to help bolster their recovery.

While we continue to monitor changes in COVID data, a full marketing plan is under development for the spring, which will continue to include campaign messaging focused on safety and responsibility. The business goals for the plan will be to generate overnight demand to contribute to the community’s economic recovery, to build back the visitor base to support local businesses and jobs, and to prioritize longer overnight stays to ease the impact on infrastructure and maximize the value of each visitor to the community.

The strategy for attracting these visitors can be summed up in this way:

  • Right People: Engaging diverse travelers with shared values, focusing on traveling safely and responsibly.
  • Right Time: Meeting people where they are in their readiness stage – those dreaming about a trip in the future, those considering a trip soon, and those ready to hit the road.
  • Right Place: Using flexible media channels to reach this audience efficiently.

To see today's marketing presentation, go HERE>>

Welcome New BCTDA Board Members
Ex-Officio Appointees from City Council & Buncombe Commissioners

We welcomed two new members at today's BCTDA board meeting: Asheville City Council Member Sandra Kilgore and Buncombe County Commissioner Robert Pressley. Both Sandra and Robert are ex-officio (non-voting) members who were appointed by their respective governing bodies.

Born and raised in Asheville, Sandra Kilgore is the owner and broker-in-charge of a local small business, Kilgore & Associates Real Estate, located near her childhood home in the Southside community. The top vote-getter for Asheville City Council in the November elections, Sandra attended UNC Asheville and earlier in her career served as a flight attendant for Piedmont/British Airways/US Airways.

Robert Pressley is also a native of Asheville and spent 30 years racing cars, from the local level at Asheville Speedway (now the location of Carrier Park near the River Arts District) to the highest level in NASCAR. He, too, is a small-business owner, having opened Celebrity's Hot Dogs on Brevard Road upon his retirement in the mid-2000s. Robert has served as a Buncombe County Commissioner since 2016. We thank Robert and Sandra for their willingness to serve on the BCTDA board.


Find meeting documents and a recording of today's meeting HERE >>

The next joint meeting of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority
and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Nonprofit Corporation is on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, at 9 a.m.

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.

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Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau
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