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April 28, 2021

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority


Greetings on behalf of Buncombe County TDA

As described last month, Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority are charting a new course for tourism aligned with broader community priorities. These efforts are being organized around the following four strategic pillars

  • [D]eliver Balanced Recovery & Sustainable Growth
  • [E]ncourage Safe & Responsible Travel
  • [E]ngage & Invite More Diverse Audiences
  • [P]romote & Support Asheville’s Creative Spirit

Development of an action plan for executing on these strategic imperatives is well underway, as you'll see below. The process will continue into May as Explore Asheville hosts a series of 'DEEP' discussions with local leaders whose ideas and insights will help ensure inclusion and alignment with the goals of community partners (see more below).

Concurrent with those events will be establishing a budget for fiscal year 2021-22 (based on revenue objectives presented and approved last month). Following BCTDA approval of the budget and business plan, it will be implemented (and continually iterated) starting July 1. We also expect to have a new agency on board by the first of July, as the contract with 360i expires. Chris Cavanaugh, who served as Interim Executive of Explore Asheville last fall, is leading the agency search.

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

Himanshu Karvir
PILLAR: 'Deliver Balanced Recovery & Sustainable Growth'
Vacation rentals continuing to benefit from visitors to our community

As we marked one year of the massive impacts COVID-19 has had on our entire community including tourism, overnight stays and the value the visitors bring to Buncombe County continue to suffer, but we are starting to see signs of year-over-year recovery. In March, hotel occupancy was 57 percent, up 51 percent from the devastating low of 38 percent in March of 2020. Occupancy still remains 23 percent down from March 2019 levels, which reached 74 percent.

A bright spot in overnight stays continues to be the short-term vacation rental market. This is good news for local residents who own vacation rentals and are earning more and benefiting from the return of visitors to our community. March 2021 vacation rental occupancy was up 35 percent, reaching 65 percent – which is 12 percent higher than 2019 levels that reached 58 percent.

Graph - March Lodging Occupancy
Explore Asheville increases paid media strategy as travel confidence grows

As more vaccines are administered, the desire for Americans to return to travel continues to climb. In March, Explore Asheville implemented a phased approach, relaunching a paid media strategy to welcome visitors to our community. The return of visitors to Asheville and Buncombe County helps support jobs for local residents and new revenue for area businesses.

One of Explore Asheville’s objectives as part of a balanced recovery is to increase our guests’ length of stay, which reduces impact on our infrastructure and encourages broader spending in the destination. An example of messaging around this is through itineraries (see examples below) and establishing the notion that it takes more than a few days to fully experience Asheville. Multiple-day itineraries also provide ideas for wider dispersal of visitors throughout the County.

In many cases, creative concepts cover more than just a strategic imperative to "deliver balanced recovery and sustainable growth" – also incorporating "safe and responsible travel," "diverse audiences," and "Asheville's creative spirit,"as shown in these ads.

Asheville itinerary ads

PILLAR: 'Encourage Safe & Responsible Travel'
Partnership with outdoor brands echo the importance of safe & responsible travel

Safety messaging continues to be a top priority in Explore Asheville's marketing, encouraging travelers to act responsibly when they visit here for the health and well-being of the Asheville community. But responsible travel encompasses more than following public safety guidelines – it's also ensuring our outdoor resources continue to thrive. Explore Asheville is launching several initiatives to promote principles of sustainability and protection, including Pledge for the Wild, which will support work in the Asheville area by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and Leave No Trace, for which we are taking a leadership role in partnership with Visit NC, the NC Outdoor Recreation Industry Office and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Jeff Moon

Through a partnership with Matador, the world's largest independent travel publisher and known as the "global media brand for modern adventurers," the messages of safe and responsible travel while visiting Asheville will be amplified by high-level adventurer, expedition photographer, outdoor expert and family man Jacob Moon. Jacob's storytelling via social media and video on his own channels as well as those of Matador will invoke Leave No Trace principles. Outdoor retailer REI is a big supporter of Leave No Trace and through its relationship with Matador, will share Jacob's content further. The Explore Asheville team is already working on the outline for his visit, with content scheduled to start rolling out this summer.

PILLAR: 'Engage & Invite More Diverse Audiences'
Pioneer of the Black Travel Movement will engage with Asheville's cultural experiences

The Matador partnership also means a relationship with Phil Calvert, the larger-than-life personality and pro-basketball-player-turned-adventurer, cultural ambassador and influencer. Again, through video on his own social channels as well as those of Matador and REI – this initiative will be part of Explore Asheville's efforts to amplify the heritage, stories, and people of our Black community.

In addition, digital and video ads are currently running in media properties with Black-focused content, including Essence, (a digital extension of O, the Oprah Magazine), the entertainment and culture site Vibe, and Complex, an online community shaping culture and trends.

And this summer, Explore Asheville will support the Skyview Pro/Am Golf Tournament, which began more than 60 years ago to help Black golfers further develop their skills to compete at the highest levels of golfing. Held at Asheville Municipal Golf Course – the "Muni"– today the event is one of the largest tournaments in the Southeast, with estimated direct spending from visitors and participants in excess of $400,000 annually. The $8,500 sponsorship will come from earned revenue – that is, discretionary revenue derived from advertising on the website.

Photo courtesy Skyview Golf Association

PILLAR: 'Promote & Support Asheville's Creative Spirit'
Performing arts center to receive Tourism Product Development Fund grant from Buncombe County TDA

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 percent of the lodging tax paid by overnight visitors. Among those grant recipients is The Wortham Center for Performing Arts, which was originally awarded $700,000 for renovations completed just months before the pandemic.

The performing arts sector has been one of the hardest hit by pandemic-related business restrictions and state-mandated occupancy limits. In an effort to enable multiple local event organizers and performing arts organizations to use the facility, leaders with The Wortham Center for Performing Arts recently requested a second grant to pay for a camera system for virtual engagements and an air ionization system.

With the TPDF program temporarily paused, last month the BCTDA board directed the TPDF Committee to reconvene and assess this request. The committee recommended funding the air ionization system with a grant of $45,000, consistent with the strategic pillar to "Promote & Support Asheville's Creative Spirit," which the board approved.

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 – among these is "Samantha Brown's Places to Love," the popular PBS program known as an immersive series focused on the passion of people and soul of a place. Producers were in Asheville last week to scout out stories and points of interest for their shoot, scheduled for May. The show will air next winter with an anticipated audience of more than 3 million viewers. Additional content partnerships that will touch on one or more of Explore Asheville's strategic pillars include AFAR, Garden & Gun, Travel + Leisure, and Food & Wine.

MORE ON STRATEGIC PILLARS: Join Us for Community Panels in May
Community leaders & partners to discuss future of tourism at 4-part series of webinars

In May, we “deconstruct” our annual Tourism Summit – a springtime tradition celebrating National Travel & Tourism Week – to host a series of four webinars, “Planning for the Future: DEEP Community Conversations.” Taking place May 10, May 12, May 17, and May 19, 12 noon to 1:15 p.m., each webinar will feature community leaders and partners who will share their ideas and insights around Explore Asheville’s four strategic pillars. Learn more and get a link to register here.

Community Pillars Collage

WELCOME: New VP of Sales Marshall Hilliard
Asheville native & award-winning leader in hospitality sales & marketing has held top positions with major hotel brands

Following a nationwide search, we welcome Asheville native Marshall Hilliard as Explore Asheville's new Vice President of sales, a critical role in the balanced recovery and sustainable growth of travel to Asheville.

Marshall has held leadership positions with major hotel brands in Boston, Atlanta, New Orleans and Charlotte, most recently serving as Area Director of Sales & Marketing for Windsor Hospitality’s Marriott brands, including Renaissance Asheville. He succeeds Dianna Pierce who retired in March after 26 years with Explore Asheville. Read more about Marshall here.

Marshall Hilliard

Find meeting documents and a recording of the April 28 board meeting HERE >>

Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority April Meeting
Wednesday, May 26 | 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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Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau
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