“Oh, another hotel” isn’t an uncommon refrain heard around Asheville. But for every occupant of those hotels, there’s a tax — one that brings in $7 million a year — and goes not to any government, but to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.
The hotel occupancy tax is four cents on the dollar in Buncombe. When first passed in 1983 (as a two cents on the dollar tax), it brought in less than $400,000. By last year, however, that amount had grown to about $7 million.
By state statute, the hotel tax goes to the TDA, who spend the lion’s share — $5.2 million — on marketing Asheville. To hear Kelly Miller, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, tell it, it’s a major reason the area has become better known.
“It’s used to promoted and market Asheville globally,” Miller tells Xpress, claiming that events like Asheville making a Fodor’s list and winning Beer City USA are due to occupancy tax funds going to the TDA. “This is the reason we are on those lists. We just got back from New York, where we called on the major publishing houses and media outlets, to tell the Asheville story. With Beer City USA, it was our staff helping to drive that and jump-starting the online voting.”
The remainder of the funds has, over the years, gone to a variety of projects, including the Orange Peel’s expansion, Pack Square Park, and the wayfinding signs.
While the vast majority of the county’s hotels are in Asheville, the tax is technically Buncombe’s. To receive its own hotel tax — something that has been suggested over the years as a source of much-needed revenue for the city’s coffers — Asheville would need to go through the General Assembly. Such a step isn’t entirely uncommon, municipalities from Boone to Wilmington have their own occupancy tax, but smooth passage does require the whole local delegation acting in agreement.
Buncombe’s hotel tax is relatively low. According to information from the North Carolina Department of Revenue, Wake County has a 6 cents tax and Mecklenburg an 8 cents tax, for example.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter