TDA discusses concerns over the decline in tourism

NUMBERS DOWN: At its Aug. 30 meeting, members of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority discussed concerns over 2023’s drop in tourism. Photo by Chase Davis

Historically, July is the second-busiest month for tourism in Buncombe County, superseded only by October’s leaf season. Yet, this year’s downward trend in overall lodging revenue and occupancy continued into the summer. According to data from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, July lodging sales were down 2.4%, and hotel demand was down 0.9% from June.

Vic Isley, president and CEO of Explore Asheville and the BCTDA, called the decline “very concerning” during the organization’s Aug. 30 meeting.

“We are hearing from local business owners that this decline is negatively impacting their businesses,” she said. “We are very concerned about the trends and will continue to watch them very carefully. In the meantime, [Explore Asheville] is really working on what messaging we put out in the markets and how we’re adjusting markets to make sure that we are out there promoting our community.”

National trends, Isley continued, show a rise in international travel; meanwhile, domestic leisure travel is down.

Asheville Regional Airport, noted board member HP Patel, has been an outlier amid recent trends, with growth up 25% compared with last year. Despite these numbers, Isley explained that many visitors who fly into Asheville stay in surrounding counties due to “the real or perceived safety issues that the community is having to deal with.”

Board member Elizabeth Putnam raised concerns about the city’s downtown safety initiative, which launched May 1 and ended June 30. Among its many features, the initiative increased police presence downtown and implemented a community responder pilot program to support people in crisis. City officials have previously stated that the increased police presence would continue beyond the initiative. But Putnam questioned this claim at the TDA meeting, stating that appearances suggested otherwise.

Isley agreed. “As a frequent user of downtown, both as a guest and a local resident, I can definitely see a decline in safety,” she said. “The city has said that they have continued the 60-day safety initiative, but visibly it doesn’t look like it. We are hearing more from downtown business owners again that they are worried for the safety of their employees as well as their guests.”

Asheville Vice Mayor Sandra Kilgore, who acts as the city’s representative to the TDA, was not at the meeting.

Despite the ongoing public safety concerns, Patel stressed that the TDA and local businesses could do more to make the city appealing to young families.

“Asheville has always been lacking as a family-friendly town, and there are not a lot of places for tourists to take their kids when they come to visit,” Patel said. “Also, if the hotel markets in downtown and Biltmore Village were able to adjust so that the rates go down, it would greatly help the surrounding markets.”

In other news

The BCTDA also recognized board member Andrew Celwyn as his term on the board ended. Celwyn, who has been on the board since 2017, will be replaced by Lucious Wilson, general manager of Wedge Brewing Co.

“It has been an honor to get to know all of you and to work with all of you,” Celwyn said. “I have been coming to the meetings long before I sat on the board, and I enjoyed my time here. Thank you all for listening and for everything that you all do, both on this board and off in the community. I am looking forward to seeing what the TDA does in the future.”


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About Chase Davis
Chase Davis is an Asheville-based reporter working for Mountain Xpress. He was born and raised in Georgia and holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from LaGrange College. Follow me @ChaseDavis0913

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18 thoughts on “TDA discusses concerns over the decline in tourism

  1. jenie

    Asheville needs to choose between the tourist industry or the homeless industry. Obviously the city can’t have both.

  2. Bright

    Woooo…what’s going to happen to Asheville if tourists smarten up and go elsewhere. Asheville has been a one trick pony, and in the process has destroyed its environment. The inept have provided no other foundation for the city to rely upon. That’s what happens when you lean on a shaky foundation. Perhaps a cute little theme park, with beer of course, would work for a few more years…till the infrastructure craps out.

  3. Mike R.

    Lot’s of hand-wringing going on here. As if they can do anything about the decline. Get ready for further drops.

  4. think critically

    Why is a reduction in tourism automatically considered to be a bad thing?

    • NFB

      Because it is a major portion of the local economy and too much of a reduction will result in lost jobs for people already struggling in an overpriced housing market (which is one of the results of having tourism as an outsized portion of the local economy.)

      I agree that there are many, many, negative aspects of being so overly dependent on tourism and I agree even more that the TDA has nothing but disdain and contempt for the local yokels who carry all the water for tourism, but jumping up for joy when people who rely on it to pay the overpriced rent isn’t a great idea either.

    • NFB

      Curate caters to tons of tourists. That’s the biggest reason for its existence. That you are so glad that people losing their jobs in an already woefully overpriced housing market is a good thin say a lot more about you than you seem aware of.

  5. Tothedogs

    Asheville is no doubt experiencing growing pains, and as someone who’s observed its evolution since the late ’90s I’d say it’s probably time for a pause on the city’s push for growth and continued scaling up of tourism. I no longer live in Asheville, and have been in Savannah for 4 years now. On my last visit, I couldn’t help but notice the tremendous contrast between the older Asheville with its established downtown businesses, and the newer Asheville, particularly the South Slope. The two seem incongruous, with one being all about beer and drinking, the other more of a mix of businesses. South Slope felt overbuilt and not a part of the rest of the city. The downtown area felt kind of shabby and worn down. West Asheville was a combo of the two. I guess my main observation is that all of the older establishments are being overlooked and passed by for all of the newer places. There is nothing wrong with growth, but it will usually supplant what’s there now. Asheville no longer feels like that quaint and weird mountain town, all of the growth feels too much for me. I guess that’s how it goes, but you can no longer market Asheville in the same manner.

    • kw

      Thank you for the balanced and well-stated perspective. Many of us concur and have been raising caution flags for a while!!

  6. C Heil

    What kind of tourists were visiting…many appeared affluent, and now we see they can afford to go to even more costly destinations. Working families couldn’t afford to visit anymore than live here. Perhaps the TDA and all those boutique and high-end hotels, foodie joints, etc., should come down to earth and market to real people with affordable rates…or is it better to end up shuttered and closed— though all those vacant rooms would provide much needed housing.

  7. Kristin

    “In the meantime, [Explore Asheville] is really working on what messaging we put out in the markets and how we’re adjusting markets to make sure that we are out there promoting our community.”

    This sentiment perfectly encapsulates what’s wrong with the TDA! What a clueless perspective. Really, you’re going to focus on marketing instead of investing in initiatives and partnerships that will make our town cleaner, safer, more welcoming, and a better place for the millions on visitors and locals who love it already? I really don’t feel like we have the right leadership in place at the TDA. We need TDA leaders who are focused on all the things that make Asheville a great place to visit for the ALREADY ample tourists we have coming here (which in turn makes it better for locals) — not people spending time and money on tennis sponsorships and more marketing. Ugh.

  8. Charlie Broster

    Tourism may very well be declining. As Mr Patel mentioned, if all these hotels would lower their rates, it would benefit many. A bigger issue than the lack of perceived safety in downtown is the unaffordabllity of lodging downtown. It is simply unaffordable for many though you will never hear that from the TDA.

      • NFB

        That would take away. The state late mandates that 2/3 of the room tax funds must go to advertising. If tourism is down, then the room tax is down which means less money for advertising. To increase advertising there either needs to be an increase in tourism or the law needs to be changed to allow more than 2/3 of the room tax funds to go to marketing.

  9. Voirdire

    maybe the word has gotten out that Asheville is what it is…. provincially droll. And over-priced. Just saying.

  10. Curious

    Because the tourism industry is so visible and gets so much attention in the media (and complaints from the public), it appears to play an outsized role in Asheville in Asheville’s economy. However, a look a the data (
    shows that Leisure and Hospitality account for only 16% of Asheville’s economy. Health Services and Education are larger at 18%. Other large areas combined (government, 12%, manufacturing, 11%, retail 13%, professional and business services, 10%) easily overtake Leisure and Hospitality at 46%.

    Should Asheville focus more on growing its other economic sectors? Should the media give more coverage to the economic impact of the other sectors? Will people complain when large manufacturing operations, such as the recent aircraft industry operation, come to Asheville?

  11. Taxpayer

    Apparently what the TDA thinks of Asheville is the only thing that matters. Residents who foot the infrastructure bill are already tired of supporting the golden goose. The easiest way out for them is to move. Residents will always be the last thing considered in Asheville.

  12. Justin Reid

    The fact that the TDA is out of touch, and doesn’t give a single toss about locals doesn’t need to be stated here, but here’s some context to how absurd the Asheville tourism and hotel industry is. The current rate to stay at the Arras downtown is $239 a night. In Tokyo Japan right next to the Tokyo Skytree (a major tourist site there) I can currently stay at a comparable hotel there for $157 a night. I hate to burst the TDA’s marketing bubble, but Asheville isn’t a major world capital like Tokyo, and what you get for the prices you pay for in Asheville simply ain’t worth it. And yes that includes the Blue Ridge Parkway, Biltmore, and the Smokies. Like someone else said in this thread I feel like I live in a theme park rather than a real city, and honestly Asheville is one of if not the biggest tourist trap scam I’ve ever come across and that’s saying something. The only thing I can compare it’s price gouging to is Disney World. The only reason that I can make living in this city work is that I’m currently a remote worker. The rents here are almost as high as some Washington, DC suburbs and forget about buying a house unless you think that paying north of $400K for some one level starter home or townhome where there are no good jobs available isn’t insane & stupid. And the politicians and other pearl clutchers want to know why Asheville has homelessness and drug problems when wages are *NOWHERE NEAR* DC levels and things like the Canton Paper Mill shut down? If our so called “leaders of the community” are unable, or are unwilling, to actually resolve the fundamental problems then this fake city will continue to remain what it is, a fake city. You either do rent control, stop handing out tax breaks you can’t afford, abolish single use zoning, and stop blaming the most vulnerable for your problems, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. Otherwise this city will finally decay into what it truly is, a tacky overpriced tourist trap on I-40 that people should pass by in order to save their money.

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