Between the nine group events that have canceled planned stays in Asheville since the state General Assembly passed House Bill 2 on March 23, and the six others that have withdrawn proposals to come to town, local lodging businesses have lost nearly 5,000 room nights of bookings and at least $1.6 million in direct revenues. That was the assessment the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Dianna Pierce presented to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority at its regular monthly meeting on April 27.
Those losses, Pierce explained, don’t include indirect revenues like outside meals, transportation, taxes and retail sales. And they don’t capture groups that may have crossed Asheville off a list of potential venues without notifying the CVB.
The CVB, she continued, is working with about eight groups who are questioning whether to go ahead with plans to meet in Asheville. To aid in the effort to retain those visitors and others, the CVB is creating a new webpage, messaging and a promotional video that the bureau can provide to meeting organizers and individuals.
The new video, which does not specifically mention HB2, is “consistent with Asheville’s brand promise” as a community which embraces all visitors, CVB Executive Director Stephanie Pace Brown explained. Local leaders including Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt are featured alongside local scenes and attractions. Brown, along with Vice President of Marketing Marla Tambellini, stressed that the video was designed to be “evergreen,” meaning it will be a useful tool regardless of the fate of HB2.
Tambellini outlined the impact of HB2-related concerns on the CVB’s marketing plans. Online, she said, some targeted advertising has been reallocated to make sure it doesn’t appear in conjunction with editorial coverage of the controversial law. Planned movie theater ads slated to appear in Atlanta-area theaters have been delayed to give media coverage “a chance to die down,” she said.
Public relations efforts directed toward media outlets have been affected by HB2, Tambellini continued. An upcoming media tour in Ohio was scaled back when publications which had shown interest in Asheville stories stopped responding to calls. It’s not surprising, she said, that “the media is reluctant to showcase a destination in a state that is getting so much negative media attention.”
A version of the new “welcome” video targeted toward individual travelers is also in the works, Tambellini reported.
Update, April 27, 2016 at 5:18 p.m.
The CVB announced the launch of the new website and video in a press release:
ASHEVILLE, NC (April 27, 2016) – The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) launched a web page today to provide information and tools to meeting planners and their attendees to retain group bookings and attendance. The site includes a letter from the ACVB, a welcome video, the Asheville brand promise and additional links that could be useful in retaining group business.
”Our intention is to underscore that Asheville is a warm and welcoming community,” said ACVB Executive Director Stephanie Brown, noting that all of the elements of the site are designed to provide a deeper understanding of the destination. “We recognize that many potential visitors and meeting attendees may not know us very well and we wanted to better convey the spirit of Asheville and encourage visitation and meeting attendance.”
The video features welcome messages from Brown, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County Commission Chairman David Gantt. The video and letter will also be shared with tourism partners so they, in turn, can use these to help with their business efforts, Brown said.
A similar effort planned for leisure travelers will include a separate video built around the Asheville destination brand promise and will be accompanied by a social campaign.
Asheville tourism businesses are experiencing some travel and group business cancellations since passage of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, referred to as HB2, but Brown also noted the newly developed pieces are evergreen tools that allow all customers to get to know the region.
An important economic generator for the local economy, the tourism sector supports 25,000 jobs in Buncombe County, according to a study by Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of Oxford Economics. Each year, Buncombe County welcomes 3.3 million overnight guests, providing a customer base that assists in the sustainability of businesses in the community and contributes to tax revenues. Annually, tourism generates $1.7 billion in direct spending and a $2.6 billion economic impact to the region.