Historically, July is the second-busiest month for tourism in Buncombe County, superseded only by October’s leaf season.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.”