BCTDA casts wider net with new advertising plan

"Let Your Spirit Run Free" campaign materials
BORN FREE: The new Explore Asheville marketing campaign, developed by Atlanta-based ad agency 360i, encourages visitors to be "spontaneous and open, embracing the small and big surprises that Asheville will offer up." Graphic courtesy of Explore Asheville

“Let your spirit run free.” The tagline for the new $11.5 million marketing campaign by Explore Asheville, the convention and visitors bureau funded by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, is meant to highlight the liberation and spontaneity travelers discover when visiting the region.

But the phrase might equally apply to the campaign itself. Under the direction of 360i, the Atlanta-based agency that took over direction of Explore Asheville marketing efforts in January, promotions for the area are slated to reach a wider audience than ever before — 20 million more people than were included last year, according to 360i representatives speaking during the BCTDA’s Sept. 5 annual meeting at the Omni Grove Park Inn.

Demographically, explained 360i marketer Cindy Stein, Asheville’s primary target has broadened considerably from “elite empty nesters” to encompass all “people who like the finer things in life.” Those visitors may already be familiar with the region, she said, but the new campaign would encourage them to linger over culinary and cultural attractions for longer stays.

Secondary audiences, Stein continued, include tourists seeking a family-friendly experience and a younger cohort whose friends have mentioned Asheville as a “new, cool place to go.” Both of those groups, she emphasized, are more budget conscious than the “prosperous, established … couples living sophisticated lifestyles” listed as the most desired visitors in the BCTDA’s 2018-19 sales and marketing plan.

That shift to target the less wealthy, added 360i’s Ashley Keetle, acknowledges Asheville’s vulnerability to a recession, which local officials, including Council member Vijay Kapoor and City Manager Debra Campbell, have said poses a greater-than-usual threat. “Tourism and travel can be the first things to go, so we’re trying ways to buffer the impact,” Keetle said.

In a press release issued before the meeting, Stephanie Brown, Explore Asheville’s president and CEO, noted that area visitation may be at risk if the national economy falters. “Although key measurements were positive for the fiscal year, the industry is beginning to experience early signs of weakness that may be due to economic factors that appear to be impacting consumer confidence,” she said. “Our role in bringing in customers to local business continues to be critical to the support and sustainability of our small businesses who rely on these visitors.”

The campaign will also reach a broader geographical area. Beyond Explore Asheville’s core markets in large Southeastern cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte, new cities where ads will be shown include New York, Chicago, Birmingham, Ala., and Columbus, Ohio.

Despite this substantial marketing expansion, said Menno Kluin with 360i, Explore Asheville would seek “the right kind of growth” instead of an unchecked increase in tourists. “We have to attract the right travelers, we have to attract the right people, so that we don’t muddle our wonderful destination.”

When Xpress asked for more detail on that remark, Kluin acknowledged the stress that some visitors place on residents. “Imagine Asheville overrun with the wrong traveler. It will lead to resistance from the local community,” he said. He and his 360i colleagues, however, would not give an example of whom such a tourist might be.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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11 thoughts on “BCTDA casts wider net with new advertising plan

  1. luther blissett

    (This is basically a press release.)

    But: which of these demographic groups is going to visit Weaverville greenways or a Swannanoa sports complex?

    It’s almost as if the TDA is talking out of both sides of its mouth. But I suppose you can do that with an ad and PR budget of $11.5 million, a number that is coincidentally the same as the entire Black Mountain budget for 2019-20:


  2. Lulz

    LOL can’t keep your friends pockets in big corporate hotel and brewery industry full without more ads lulz. Hey can my property taxes go down now? Why am I responsible to pay for the sidewalks in Biltmore Village? Hey can I run an Airbnb to make up for the money you crooks steal from me so those that are allowed to be part of the tourist economy can get all their needs met? Of course not. I’m not one of insiders who dictate city policy because I’m told housing would suffer. But we don’t build more of it. Hotels though pop up almost overnight though.

  3. bsummers

    Imagine Asheville overrun with the wrong traveller.

    Okay, now I want to know. What exactly is the “wrong traveller”?

    • luther blissett

      The “so that we don’t muddle our wonderful destination” is fascinating marketese: it implies that Asheville-as-destination is defined by its mix of tourists, not its residents, and that some visitors might be put off by the presence of others. I suspect that it’s a reference to beer-bros and bachelorette parties and similar. (Note that the advert doesn’t show any booze or large groups.) But it also leaves out a lot of other people.

      • Lulz

        LOL residents are what attract tourists? LOL maybe 20 years ago. LOL Lazoom should go through the neighborhoods lulz. Welcome to reality. And why not allowing AirBnBs yet bringing in unchecked hotel growth is blatantly hypocritical. Especially as property owners see only increasing tax bills that are traced directly to the tourism industry. Downtown revitalization occurred under the guise of benefitting the entire city. In reality it created nothing but a wealthy minority of people who owned the properties and got subsidies to boot. And still do to this very day. Bele Chete in no way should’ve been paid with tax money while downtown businesses made thousands. And contributed zilch. Blame that mentality to the current situation of room taxes being used at the discretion of those in the industry. And not the impact it has on the area. No worries as those impacted by them are serfs.

  4. bsummers

    Wow, we’re aiming to attract not just “elite empty nesters”, now we’re going for all “people who like the finer things in life”? Talk about broadening your appeal.

    Let’s hear some possible new TDA slogans for Asheville:

    “Asheville: The Right Crowd, and No Crowding!”

    “Asheville: Snooty, Yet Folksy.”

    “Asheville: None of Those People.”

    “Asheville: Got Money?”

  5. henry

    This is a very odd and vague description as to what type of tourists who would not be desired. But if a net is needed to catch them, that is the first clue and a clear warning sign.

    • bsummers

      I’m irritated enough by the BCTDA spending millions of tax dollars to bring ever-more tourists to Asheville. But the idea that they’re consciously tailoring the campaign to only target people who in the words of our expensive NYC consultant, won’t “muddle our wonderful destination”… Yuck.

      WTF does “muddle” mean? Maybe I’d like the kind of tourists that this guy doesn’t.

      Asheville’s losing its soul, y’all.

      • Lulz

        It’s the same mentality of 20 years ago with the residents of old. Push them out for wealthier classes. Remember the woman that had just moved to west Asheville and complained about cruisers on Patton? And lo and behold suddenly there were time restrictions. Or how about the straight up bigotry when referring to the customers who were going to shop at the proposed Walmart at Bleachery? This is just a natural progression of what a few decades of bringing in gentrification does. But now that same mentality is affecting the tourism industry. And just wait til they really set a boundary in downtown of who is welcomed. Not openly of course. Thing with gentrification is even though today it might not affect you, eventually it will.

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