While Buncombe County residents generally view tourism as positive for the community, they also associate it with challenges such as parking, traffic, higher housing costs, homelessness and lower wages, according to a new survey report presented during an Oct. 23 forum hosted by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.
The survey, developed by Indianapolis-based Strategic Marketing and Research Insights, contained 42 questions about how local tourism impacts Asheville’s economy, taxes and resident quality of life, as well as attitudes around tourism promotion.
Ed Manning, executive director of Leadership Asheville, called for civility from the group of about 200 people in attendance at A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium to hear the survey’s findings.
“Tourism has kind of become a divisive topic in not just Asheville, but around the nation, around the world,” Manning said. “I want to acknowledge that there are people with lots of different viewpoints here tonight, some of you will agree or disagree. That’s fine. What I ask you to do is do it respectfully… We’re not looking for folks to heckle.”
Over 2,200 area residents volunteered to take the survey online or at one of three public input sessions, which SMARInsights designated the opt-in sample. The researchers also surveyed a targeted random sample of 468 people to provide representative responses from both Asheville and Buncombe County residents. The opt-in respondents were both better educated and wealthier than the random sample.
Denise Miller, SMARInights executive vice president, presented the findings, which showed that approximately 75% of both surveyed groups agreed that tourism was good for the community. Nearly 90% of respondents acknowledged that tourism helps small businesses in Asheville.
However, the survey also found that only 54% of respondents from the opt-in sample believed that tax-funded tourism promotion benefited the community. Roughly 67% of people agreed with that statement in the random sample.
More than 80% of those surveyed said that tourism was to blame for the high cost of housing, as well as increased traffic and parking issues. About half of respondents agreed that occupancy tax revenue has gone to build amenities in Buncombe County, but a slightly higher percentage said that tax dollars mainly provide services to visitors rather than supporting the needs of residents. Over half of respondents also said that the growing number of people visiting the area are a drain on city and county resources.
The survey was completed as part of phase one of the Tourism Management and Investment Plan, a strategy unveiled by the BCTDA earlier this year to shift occupancy tax grant funding from an application-based process to one determined by long-term planning.
Among the top issues noted by residents in the survey were housing affordability, parking, city cleanliness, sidewalks and walkability and transportation. Respondents weighted affordable housing as more than twice as important as any other topic for the BCTDA to address.“I’d like to just say upfront that we recognize that there are impacts to the community from tourism that are negative for the people who live here,” said Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, during a panel discussion that followed Miller’s presentation. “It’s kind of a cornerstone to this approach to recognize that occupancy tax funds through the Tourism Product Development Fund are available to help ease those challenges.”
Watch the full meeting below. Video provided by Sunshine Request.