2020 TDA budget approaches $20 million mark

COST TO COMPETE: Nearly 60% of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority's 2020 budget will go to media spending. Included in that amount is a $1.7 million retainer for new ad agency 360i, which is based in Atlanta and New York. Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, presented the 2020 proposed budget on May 29. Photo by Virginia Daffron

In March, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s finance committee faced an enviable dilemma: With actual occupancy tax revenues up 25% over projections, how should the authority adjust its forecasts for the rest of the fiscal year?

Stephanie Brown is president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the arm of the TDA responsible for spending the money generated by the county’s occupancy tax to promote local tourism. She described the finance committee’s conundrum at the May 29 regular meeting of the authority.

Committee members decided to “smooth” the predictions to reflect a 10% increase for March and an 8% increase for each of the following months through the end of June, Brown said. If that best guess comes true, occupancy tax revenues for the year will total $18.8 million — a 9% increase over 2018’s take from hotels and short-term rentals.

Going forward, the TDA estimates revenues for fiscal year 2020 at $19.36 million, a 3% increase over 2019, Brown said.

Those funds will be used to promote the area’s “vitality for the benefit of the people who live in Buncombe County,” increase lodging demand and boost Asheville’s brand profile for group meetings and events, according to Brown. The budget will also fund a yearlong Tourism Management and Investment Plan process and “engage partners and the community” through local paid advertising and outreach.

The biggest 2020 budget bucket will fuel $11.5 million in media spending, up from $10.5 million in 2019. TV and streaming advertising account for $6 million, while the digital budget is $3.7 million. Of interest to print lovers, the TDA’s print advertising budget will plummet from $705,402 in 2019 to $110,000 in 2020; all of that money is slated for publications distributed outside the local area. A local advertising campaign promoting the message “Tourism builds community” is financed by $175,000 in earned revenue from sponsorships on the CVB website.

Salaries and benefits for Explore Asheville employees account for $2.7 million of the total, a 3% increase over 2019. That number includes a new director of finance position, 3% merit-based pay increases and a 4% increase in health insurance costs.

Explore Asheville’s group sales department will have a budget of about $1 million to spend on a consultant who’s completing a “brand refresh,” support for the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission (which accounts for $205,000 of the total, with sports bid fees not included in the budget), 17 trade shows and meeting development. The Explore Asheville office rent and other expenses will run $685,947.

Administering the Tourism Product Development Fund’s existing grants and programs will cost $504,950. The fund has temporarily paused its grantmaking during a yearlong planning process, which will develop a long-term approach to awarding tourism dollars for capital projects with the potential to increase overnight visitation. Brown explained that 25% of occupancy tax revenues flow to this fund.

According to Brown, TDA-sponsored research indicates that every dollar spent on marketing results in $43 of local revenue, including $3 in sales tax and $0.92 in occupancy tax proceeds.The 2020 advertising budget of $11.5 million, she continued, will therefore generate $494 million of local spending.

No member of the public commented on the proposed budget during the May 29 meeting, but the TDA will hold a second public hearing during its next meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, at the Explore Asheville offices, 27 College Place, prior to a vote of the authority board on the proposed budget.

On Wednesday, June 12, 9 a.m.-noon, the TDA’s newly formed Community Leadership Council will hold its first meeting. Composed of representatives from local government agencies, nonprofits and other organizations, the group will provide input into the TDA’s Tourism Management Investment Plan. More information is available at ashevillecvb.com/tmip.

Both meetings are open to the public.



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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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13 thoughts on “2020 TDA budget approaches $20 million mark

  1. jonathan wainscott

    Tourism builds Whitelandia. The TDA has no black employees on its 26 person staff. Twenty million bucks to be spent by 26 people (again, all white), to promote the “Asheville Experience” that they have developed. As this (almost all-white “news” outlet) keeps promoting the TDA as a wonderful institution for community building, the black community is being decimated, falling to 12% of the population over the course of the last generation.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      People of all colors are seeking better opportunities in other cities, and with the lack of upper level jobs here, it’s no wonder! City Council should encourage people to relocate for better opportunity!!! Teach the young people that there is a FAR BIGGER WORLD out there than this slushy mountain town…

  2. Mike R.

    A bit of a logic stretch to conclude that tourism has directly decimated the black population of Asheville. Could you elaborate on that further; I’m struggling with how that occured.

    I’m also not clear how the Mountain Xpress can be denigrated as “almost all white news source”. I think the Xpress does a damn good job of presenting a lot of information / news that no one else seems to pick up. I also like the comments section which give folks a chance to explain their views. I do not sense any racial animosity in their coverage; except perhaps by commenters.

    Also, the fact that TDA has no lack employees doesn’t necessarily “mean” anything. That is a small organization; it’s entirely possible that no black person applied or if they did were qualified for the position. Or do you believe or have evidence that the TDA is racist against blacks and has turned away top black candidates? Or do you believe that every organization should have a perfect racial mix (black, hispanic, asian) in keeping with the surrounding demographics? How does one implement that?

    Now to be quite frank, I am no fan of the TDA. I think the whole thing is crony government wherein hotel customers fund a 20 million promotion campaign that likely only needs a fraction of that amount to sustain tourism interest in our area. If the TDA went away tomorrow, I doubt seriously tourism would drop significantly; might even pick up when the near 10% tax was removed from tourists hotel bills. As far as their community grants, well that is simply bribe money to make their whole project look respectable. Much like a rich sports star that spends $20,000 supplying kids with backpacks and supplies for school and gets big press attention in the process (of course). Compared to a $20M/year contract?

    • jonathan wainscott

      Thanks for the questions Mike. First, I’ll say that tourism exacerbates gentrification. By advertising this town as a perfect place for everything, we have driven up the demand for residential space, commercial space, etc. with a limited supply , prices for space increase and on and on. Evidence? That’s compiled neatly in Augustin Cocola Gant’s chapter “Tourism Gentrification” ( https://www.academia.edu/36138395/Tourism_gentrification ) It’s a good read, an academic publication with a bazillion footnotes to other research. It’s not just some thing written by a blogger.
      As to the importance of diversity in the most powerful institutions in town (BCTDA, Chamber of Commerce, and the Press), I don’t think that perfect racial parity between the staffing of these institutions and the general population is important. It troubles me however that there are no black people at all on the TDA, only a black janitor at the Chamber of Commerce, no African-Americans working at the Citizen times (According to John Boyle), no African-Americans at our NPR station (WCQS/WBPR), and the only African-American working at the Xpress is an office assistant. I don’t think I need to offer evidence that this creates a problem in how our community, because I’m not a sociologist. I’m just a person, living in this community that is bothered by those facts and I’m bothered that in the conversation about the importance of diversity in the Police Department, and classrooms, and City Staff, etc., the press is doing a lousy job shining light on diversity in the other powerful institutions in town including themselves.
      As for how the hotel occupancy tax should be spent, well, that means we have to change the law so we can then discuss where the funds should go. There’s a line out the door for Departments and Agencies and Non-Profits that need money and I hope they start to notice the shining mountain of money that the TDA has and must must must spend on promoting this as a great place to have a wedding and tall cold beer.

  3. TDA is corrupt and must be stopped

    Think of what sort of infrastructure improvements Buncombe/Asheville could make with $20 million/yr. in taxpayer revenue if it weren’t diverted to the awful TDA. Go ahead TDA, spend all the taxpayer revenue on making sure Asheville is one everyone’s top ten list, or keep funding Youtube stars and instagram influencers vacations. Don’t forget to pay yourselves handsome.y in the process.
    Hey voters – 5 years worth of the occupancy tax revenue is worth over $100 million, which Buncombe/Asheville gets none. Vote in candidates that will take a stand against the TDA. As I understand it, the Buncombe county commissioners could vote to repeal the occupancy tax ( effectively shutting down the TDA) and replace it with an equal annual room rental permit and keep all the funds in the county where they belong.

  4. K Smith

    I’d like to be a TDA employee. Those folks are paid VERY VERY VERY WELL. Wow!

  5. NFB

    Twenty million tax dollars in the hands of an un-elected board.

    What other industry has the state collect a tax for it that the state then hands over to said industry for the purpose of said industry to promote itself?

  6. luther blissett

    The Black Mountain general fund is $9 million.

    “TDA-sponsored research indicates that every dollar spent on marketing results in $43 of local revenue”

    Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This is presumably the 2016 “Advertising Effectiveness” report, which looks at “influenced trips”, but the methodological assertion that “any travel above that base by aware households is what is considered influenced” seems… generous.

  7. Mike R.

    The whole TDA program has strong roots in Raleigh. Our state ‘leaders’ want to exploit western NC for “growth”. That’s it in a nutshell.

    • Lulz

      Yawn. The only exploitation going on is the local taxpayer by the local government with their strings controlled by the tourist industry, In no way has any local crony petitioned, brought forth, or even tried to change things. But as long as dimwits continue to tow the lies, nothing will change.

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