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March 29, 2021

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority


Greetings on behalf of Buncombe County TDA

For Asheville and Buncombe County to fully achieve economic recovery from the pandemic, the travel sector has to be the focus. That was the bottom-line message from industry forecaster Adam Sacks, Founder and President of Tourism Economics, when he spoke at the Buncombe County TDA's annual planning retreat late last week.

Adam and other nationally and internationally recognized thought leaders provided data, insights and ideas to spark discussion as the board develops a strategic plan in alignment with broader community priorities. As first announced last month, the plan will be organized around the following four strategic pillars:

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

Read more of Adam's insights from the retreat below. This newsletter also provides highlights of the regular BCTDA monthly board meeting, held prior to the retreat, which included recommendations from the Finance Committee on a revenue objective for the coming fiscal year and recognition of VP of Sales Dianna Pierce on the occasion of her retirement from Explore Asheville after 26 years of service.

As always, we thank you for your partnership to help our community thrive again.

Himanshu Karvir
HIGHLIGHTS – Buncombe County TDA Annual Planning Retreat
Adam Sacks: Achieving economic recovery will require a focus on travel

Tourism Economics Founder and President Adam Sacks is an authority on measuring the economic impact of visitor activity. His company focuses on helping organizations, including Explore Asheville, understand the relationship between travel and the economy. Following are some of Adam's insights at Buncombe County TDA's annual planning retreat on why recovery will require supporting the local tourism community.

  • "Star Performer": The travel sector was a leader of Asheville's job growth. According to Adam: "Asheville wouldn't be where it is if it weren't for the travel sector." Leisure and hospitality employment since 2010 has increased 36%, compared to the overall employment picture of just a 20% gain. "So the Asheville economy would not have grown and progressed to the extent that it did without the leisure and hospitality sector, which is driven largely by visitors. In fact, if you take away that leisure and hospitality group, Asheville would no longer be growing faster than the U.S., and that's a really important measure. The Asheville economy would be dealing with much different problems if it weren't for the travel industry over the last decade. This has been a star performer for the Asheville economy over the last decade."

  • In a sector that's been a "Star Performer" for the Asheville economy, one in four jobs lost due to the pandemic. No sector has been hit as hard as travel. Leisure and hospitality employment in the Asheville MSA was down 26% in February 2021 from February 2020.

Industry in crisis

  • To achieve economic recovery, we must achieve a recovery in travel. "This is the most stark picture of where Asheville is right now," said Adam, with 52% of all jobs lost in Asheville in the leisure and hospitality sector – one of every two jobs."It means that travel has to be the focus. If we're going to achieve economic recovery, there's no way to do it other than achieve a recovery in travel. Too many of the losses are concentrated within leisure and hospitality to get back to where we were, economically whole, than by restoring travel."

View Adam Sacks' Full Presentation
Erin Francis-Cummings: A sustained level of optimism and traveler marketability + support for local businesses

What are American travelers thinking and feeling? Tourism marketing research company Destination Analysts has spent the last decade studying travelers from across the globe and translating their evolving, complex behaviors and opinions into marketing insights. Last week, according to President & CEO Erin Francis-Cummings speaking at the BCTDA planning retreat on March 25, the company's surveys indicated continued optimism by travelers. In addition, nearly half of those surveyed say they would be happy to see tourism ads for their own community, with a majority of those recognizing the value visitors bring to local businesses.

Destination Analysts Traveler Sentiment

View Erin's presentation by clicking the link below. We'll share more insights from BCTDA planning retreat speakers and progress on the development of our strategic plan in the coming weeks.

View Traveler Sentiment Presentation
View Slide Decks & Other Retreat Materials


HIGHLIGHTS – Buncombe County TDA March Board Meeting
Vacation rentals continue to see increases in occupancy rates; dispelling the 'October 2020 Myth'

Overall overnight stays and the value the visitors bring to the entire Asheville community have continued to suffer throughout the pandemic – even in October 2020, which has often been interpreted by media outlets as having the "best-ever" monthly room sales, a misleading claim.

The reality, as explained by Explore Asheville President & CEO Vic Isley during the board meeting, is that hotel/motel revenue was down 8%, a year-to-date decrease of 27%. However, vacation rentals were up 76% and bed & breakfast operations 5%, resulting in an increase in total revenue of 7% for all properties. In November, vacation rentals dropped significantly (though still higher than the year before), resulting in total room sales for all properties down by 14% from October.

February 2021 Lodging Occupancy

The trend toward decreased hotel occupancy and increased vacation rental occupancy continued in February, with hotel room sales for the month at 44.5%, down 20.5% year over year. With February vacation rental occupancy up 20.5%, reaching 54.6%, local residents participating in the vacation rental market continue to earn more and benefit from the return of visitors to our community.

As the percentage of positive cases of the coronavirus decreases and the availability of vaccines increases, 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 now, 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.

FY22 Budget: Board projects a 9% increase over revenue received in FY19

An exhaustive process to establish a revenue objective for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2021, resulted in approval by the BCTDA board, with a 9% projected increase in revenue over that received in FY 2019. The BCTDA Finance Committee with help from Tourism Economics studied trends, reviewed key economic indicators, and considered a variety of scenarios to make their recommendation.

View Budget Process Discussion


FOND FAREWELL: VP of Sales Dianna Pierce Retires After 26 Years
CVB's first meetings salesperson started soon after establishment of Buncombe County TDA by state legislators

After more than a quarter century of service to Asheville and Buncombe County, Dianna Pierce has retired as Explore Asheville’s Vice President of Sales.

Buncombe County TDA Board Chair Himanshu Karvir paid tribute to Dianna at the March 25 meeting of the BCTDA.

Read Tribute to Dianna Pierce
Dianna Pierce

Find meeting documents and a recording of the March 25 board meeting HERE >>

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority April Meeting
Wednesday, April 28 | 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.
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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