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February 24, 2021

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority


Greetings on behalf of Buncombe County TDA

Explore Asheville continues to encourage safe and responsible travel to and around our community – and is now laying the groundwork for balanced recovery and sustainable growth for Buncombe County. Safety protocols protecting our local residents, essential workers and visitors are critical for a healthy community. Welcoming visitors into our community responsibly helps support local jobs for residents, economic vitality for area businesses and tax revenue to sustain governmental efforts.

That’s the message shared in today’s BCTDA Board of Directors meeting. Although there's still a long way to go to full recovery and to realize the full value visitors can bring to the entire Asheville community, we are starting to see bright spots.

Updates regarding important Tourism Product Development Fund projects were presented, including the approval of the budget for the African American Heritage Trail as well as the extension of the construction deadline for the City of Asheville’s Riverfront Destination Development project, which was awarded a total of $7.1 million in TPDF funding. Over the life of the TPDF program, an overwhelming 75% of funding has gone to City, County, or State-owned assets – while 25% has been invested in private/non-profit projects.

The team remains focused on new and creative ways to keep Asheville top of mind among potential travelers, both leisure and business. Our collective efforts are beginning to be organized around four strategic pillars that align with broader community priorities:

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

Read on to learn how some of our initiatives will support these strategic areas. Thank you for your partnership to help our community thrive again.

Himanshu Karvir
Strategic Pillar: Deliver Balanced Recovery & Sustainable Growth
Vacation rentals continue to see increases in occupancy rates

Total overnight stays and the value visitors bring to the entire Asheville community continue to suffer during the pandemic; January of 2021 is no exception to that trend. Hotel occupancy for the month of December was 41.8%, down 17% year over year.

A bright spot in overnight stays continues to be the short-term vacation rental market – good news for local residents offering vacation rentals who are earning more and benefiting from the return of visitors here. December vacation rental occupancy was up 8.5%, reaching nearly 53%.

Traveler optimism: Nearly 85% of Americans report travel plans

Research released this week from Destination Analysts reveals that travel confidence is at its highest level since the pandemic began. Nearly 85% of American travelers report to have at least tentative trip plans this year – the majority of which are expected to take place this summer, reflected in the graph below.

That aligns with Asheville Regional Airport's recent announcements that twice-weekly service from Destin, Florida to AVL on Allegiant starts May 27 and Saturday service from Boston to AVL on American begins soon thereafter, on June 5.

Explore Asheville is planning for a return to the marketplace later this spring. Whether travelers are dreaming of travel or ready to hit the road, it's important for Asheville to be in travelers’ hearts and minds as we work to engage potential visitors in support of local businesses and jobs, contributing to the community’s economic recovery.

Timing of Travel
Planting the seeds for the return of groups

Although group travel is not expected to pick up until later in 2021 and into 2022, the sales team has created some effective virtual tools and resources to stay engaged with meeting and event planners, many that involve our local lodging partners. Take a look these tools and resources HERE >>

Strategic Pillar: Encourage Safe & Responsible Travel
Inspiring travelers to visit responsibly for the well-being of our community

Explore Asheville continues to monitor trends in coronavirus and vaccination data, both regionally and locally. When we launch our marketing campaign in a phased approach this spring and into summer, safety messaging will continue to be a top priority, encouraging travelers to act responsibly when they visit here for the health and well-being of the Asheville community.

Responsible travel encompasses more than following public safety guidelines – it's also ensuring our outdoor resources continue to thrive. Explore Asheville is preparing to launch several initiatives to promote principles of sustainability and protection, including Pledge for the Wild and Leave No Trace, the latter in partnership with Visit NC, the NC Outdoor Recreation Industry and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. We'll be introducing these more fully in the coming weeks.

Strategic Pillar: Engage & Invite More Diverse Audiences
Sharing stories of Asheville & Buncombe's Black communities & characters

Today's meeting included a number of updates on Explore Asheville's efforts to amplify the heritage, stories, and people of the Black community. These include spotlights on entrepreneur and Asheville native DeWayne Barton, owner of Hood Huggers International, offering tours of historically African American neighborhoods, and support of the documentary "Muni," by local filmmaker Paul Bonesteel, featuring the stories of Black caddies-turned-players at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course, airing on the Golf Channel.

Additionally, plans are in place to engage and invite diverse audiences through media platforms that include Essence, Vibe, Complex, O - The Oprah Magazine, and sponsorship with the Black Travel Alliance.

The meeting also included a report on the African American Heritage Trail, which the BCTDA committed to support in the Tourism Product Development Fund grant cycle in 2018. The project will develop content in collaboration with the community that documents local Black heritage with walking trail markers and an accompanying website. An extensive community engagement process was completed last June. The project is currently in Phase 2 - Research & Story Development, with future phases offering opportunities for ongoing community input and collaboration with historians and artists. See the presentation HERE >>

Explore Asheville celebrates Black Mountain native and Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and pianist Roberta Flack, whose likeness on the side of Black Mountain Brewing is part of the N.C. Musicians Mural Trail.

Strategic Pillar: Promote & Support Asheville’s Creative Spirit
City of Asheville's River Arts District project, supported by BCTDA with $7.1 million in TPDF grants, nears completion

Over the past two decades, 39 community projects have benefited from $44 million in grants from the Buncombe County TDA through the Tourism Product Development Fund, which comes from 25% of the lodging tax paid by overnight visitors. Among those is the City of Asheville's Riverfront Destination Development project, awarded $7.1 million in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

With a weeks-long celebration of completion later this spring, the project features a greenway, bike paths, sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities, landscaping and street trees, roadway and stormwater improvements, and public art along a two-mile corridor in the River Arts District. The TPDF grants to the City were in addition to the signage installed as part of BCTDA's management and funding of the countywide wayfinding system.

Asheville’s creative spirit on display in upcoming promotional partnerships

Asheville's creative spirit and character will be conveyed in a number of paid media partnerships that will kick off this spring, several of which will intersect with other strategic pillars such as diversity and responsible tourism. Among these is a partnership with "Places to Love," the popular PBS program hosted by trusted travel personality Samantha Brown. Known as an immersive series that focuses on the passion of people and soul of a place, the program is a perfect fit for highlighting Asheville’s creative spirit. The show will shoot on-location here in Asheville in May this year and will air in the winter of 2022.

Other media partnerships in the works for showcasing Asheville's immersive experiences and creative character include AFAR, Travel + Leisure, and Food & Wine. In addition, video spots on highly recognized platforms including Hulu and YouTube will feature the voices of local Asheville residents.

Report Now Available: Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund
6-month survey of grantees shows 98% still in business

Legislation signed into law last spring allowed the BCTDA to appropriate $5 million from the Tourism Product Development Fund (revenue that had been collected but not awarded) to establish a one-time emergency grant program, the Buncombe Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund. At last month's meeting, Mountain BizWorks, the nonprofit contracted by the BCTDA to administer the fund, summarized findings from a survey of all 394 businesses that received grants, revealing remarkable results. As of December 31, 97.5% were still in operation, with 3,341 jobs retained, recovered or created. The full report is now available.


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

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Annual Planning Retreat & March Meeting
Thursday, March 25 | 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Friday, March 26 | 9 a.m. - 12 noon
More details will be posted HERE >>

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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