A new destination app, an upcoming website redesign and the unveiling of the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail highlighted the Jan. 24 meeting of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board. The quarterly progress report from Explore Asheville, the TDA’s marketing agency, aimed to spotlight the authority’s strategic goals and initiatives.
“We agreed to do quarterly updates this year to show the work that the team is doing in an integrated fashion,” said Vic Isley, TDA president and CEO of Explore Asheville. “Our job is to inspire visitors to come here for leisure and to spend money throughout our businesses and our community. The team really thinks about our strategic imperatives to guide their work, and those imperatives ladder up to the broader community goals of delivering balanced and sustainable growth.”
Dodie Stephens, Explore Asheville’s vice president of marketing, said that a big focus of the marketing team last quarter was to refresh the agency’s fall content. She noted that each week of fall 2023, the agency sent out a “color report,” an email blast that featured photographs and insights from local content creators as well as the week’s best events and activities.
“In general, our fall content is some of our highest performing,” Stephens said. “An anchor of that content year over year is our fall color reports. We gave [the color report] a complete overhaul with the addition of content from our ambassador program. This content was important because it was specifically designed to move business around the community and strategically showcased all of the paths that visitors can take to experience the season.”
Data from last year showed that the fall campaign boosted visitor engagement, with clicks on digital fall content increasing by 90% year over year and opt-outs decreasing by 17%.
In addition to the content overhaul, Stephens also gave details on the new Explore Asheville app, which soft-launched in October. Designed in partnership with Austin, Texas-based Visit Widget, the app serves as a mobile compilation of all of Explore Asheville’s preexisting partner listings and includes information on lodging, restaurants, tours and events.
“There are early signs already that this app is going to be a popular tool,” said Stephens. “Within one email we went from 70 to 500 downloads, so it is going really strong.”
Stephens noted that the Explore Asheville website is also up for a redesign, with the team working with Miles Partnership to analyze content and data for the future design. The new website is projected to go live in late summer.
Black Cultural Heritage trail launched
The TDA board also heard a report from Penelope Whitman, Explore Asheville’s vice president of partnership and destination management, regarding her department’s work in the past quarter. Most notably, Whitman discussed the official launch of the Black Cultural Heritage Trail, which was dedicated last December and funded by a $500,000 Tourism Product Development Fund investment in 2018.
“The launch of the Black Cultural Heritage Trail was a huge success. Our Explore Asheville team worked closely with community members, local and regional scholars as well as archival institutions to gather local stories and set them in local and national historical context,” Whitman said.
There are three trail sections in different areas of Asheville, including downtown, Southside and the River Arts District. Each section features a number of informational panels that tell the Black history of the area. Additionally, the panels feature a QR code that can be scanned to play a voice-over narration by local performer Stephanie Hickling Beckman.
Whitman also gave a summary of the projects that were recently approved for investments from the TDA’s Tourism Project Development Fund. Totaling $6.1 million, the three approved projects included upgrades to Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville, an outdoor covered equestrian arena for the WNC Agricultural Center and new turf, lighting and a playground for the Enka Recreation Destination.
Combined with the nearly $23 million committed to McCormick Field last July, the TDA’s Tourism Project Development Fund invested over $29 million in community project awards last year, marking the largest annual investment in the 20-year history of the fund.
“Additionally, the TDA funded 11 events through our sponsorship programs [in the last quarter], disbursing a total of $37,000,” Whitman said. “These investments into these projects and events are a direct result of the hard work that our team and our community partners have put in.”