By Sally Kestin, Asheville Watchdog
The tab is in: On top of the $1.3 million Asheville paid to sponsor the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the public tourism board spent more than $70,000 in expenses that included catering and travel for their staff, board members and guests, nearly $25,000 on Asheville-branded beer coozies, and more than $1,000 on floral arrangements.
As Asheville Watchdog reported last week, the Tourism Development Authority’s $1.3 million sponsorship agreement included tickets to a luxury suite for two nights and passes to the President’s Suite. The Grand Slam tennis event in New York ended last weekend.
In a news release Monday, the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau listed the names of the suite guests and a summary of expenses paid for with tax money.
On Sept. 7, Asheville Night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, 17 guests watched the men’s and women’s quarterfinals in Asheville’s luxury suite, most of them travel writers or editors from publications such as Travel and Leisure. Also in attendance were Asheville-based Coco Villa, a fashion designer and performance artist, and musician/actor Moses Sumney of Asheville and his manager.
On hand from Explore Asheville were President and CEO Victoria “Vic” Isley, Senior Vice President of Marketing Marla Tambellini, Director of Public Relations Luisa Yen, Group Marketing Manager Carli Adams and TDA board member Matthew Lehman.
The tourism agency used the suite to “engage with media and influencers, build relationships and share the latest news about Asheville to inspire future coverage about the character of the community,” the release said. “It is normal practice for destination marketing organizations to host events for members of the media, frequently in the media capital of NYC.”
Explore Asheville has been working with Sumney on a content partnership, Yen told Asheville Watchdog, noting that he posted from the suite on his Instagram account, which has 284,000 followers. The tourism agency covered airfare, accommodations at The Bowery Hotel, and transportation for Sumney and his manager at a cost of $8,790.43.
Villa was invited after a guest cancelled; she was already in New York for another event, Yen told Asheville Watchdog.
The sponsorship agreement required minimum expenditures of $1,800 in food and beverage plus gratuities and taxes in the suite each night; the tab for Sept. 7 came to $8,913.75.
Lehman, the TDA board member in the suite, said in the news release that the night was “a terrific opportunity to engage with media and clients. Based on conversations, I feel confident that we will be welcoming visitors and conference attendees to Asheville in the near future.”
Fans entering the stadium on Asheville Night received drink coozies with Asheville and US Open logos. Explore Asheville spent $24,466.67 on 15,000 coozies.
The agency also spent $1,099.34 on “suite décor.” Yen told Asheville Watchdog that covered “florals and a plant for the two nights.”
On Sept. 8, Explore Asheville hosted 18 meeting and event planners from the New York area in the luxury suite. Staff members Isley, Adams and Director of Sales Connie Nuckolls Holliday were in attendance, along with TDA board member Brenda Durden.
Food and beverage costs for that night came to $9,747.68.
“One guest is considering Asheville as the location for a conference that would generate more than $415,000 in direct spending in our community,” the release said.
Explore Asheville used its access to the President’s Suite to discuss bringing more tennis events to Asheville with U.S. Tennis Association’s CEO and executive director, Lew Sherr, the release said. Asheville hosted the Billie Jean King Cup in April that generated $8 million for local businesses, according to the tourism agency.
In attendance in the President’s Suite were Isley, Tambellini and Yen, as well as TDA board members Lehman and HP Patel.
Explore Asheville paid $8,289.63 for airfare, hotel, transportation and meals for its five staff, and $1,859.12 for hotel and airfare for Lehman. The other board members paid their own travel expenses.
Lehman and the staff stayed at the Even Hotel Midtown East, which offered preferred rates for event partners, Yen said.
The tourism agency picked up transportation to and from the stadium for its suite guests at a cost of $1,498.97.
The $1.3 million sponsorship and expenses came from occupancy taxes paid by guests staying in Buncombe hotels, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts. By law, the money is to be spent on attracting visitors and events to the Asheville area to support the local economy.
In announcing the sponsorship, the TDA touted benefits including on-court signs promoting Asheville, television spots on ESPN and marketing messages on USOpen.org and U.S. Open Radio.
As Asheville Watchdog previously reported, the only guests mentioned in that announcement were two teens from the Junior Asheville Tennis Association, who escorted the coin-tosser on court on Asheville Night. They were accompanied by a board member from the association and attended one session — but not in either of the suites.
Explore Asheville paid $5,374.55 for their travel expenses.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.