During the Feb. 27 Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board meeting, staff of the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled and approved a new strategy, called the Tourism Management and Investment Plan, that will use data collection and input from community leaders, residents and public entities to develop guidelines for investing hotel occupancy tax revenues over a 10-year period.
The plan was developed by BCTDA members and PGAV, an architectural design and planning firm based in St. Louis, after the BCTDA committee recommended a suspension of its application-based process in October.
While the criteria and legislative mandate for the use of occupancy tax revenue remain unchanged, the ability to plan for Tourism Product Development Fund projects over the long-term will enhance the board’s ability to collaborate with other government entities, Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of Explore Asheville, said.
“We’re making this monumental paradigm shift for the TPDF,” Brown said prior to the meeting. “The outcome will be different in that we’re planning for a longer range so that we can take a more strategic view.”
The four-phase, roughly $440,000 project is set to begin this spring and conclude in April 2020. Those funds will come from occupancy tax revenue in the TPDF budget. Funding for community projects will then resume at a time yet to be determined after the planning is complete.
PGAV Vice President John Kasman says the project will incorporate community input “in every phase” of the work. Residents are encouraged to attend a public forum that will be scheduled for the coming spring, as well as complete an online survey that will help guide the project’s early steps.
While the BCTDA will lead the project, the board will work closely with PGAV, the city of Asheville and Buncombe County government. An additional steering committee, composed of former TPDF and BCTDA board members, and a Community Leadership Council, consisting of appointed leaders from a range of local organizations, will also provide input. Neither the BCTDA nor PGAV outlined any criteria for selecting members of the council.
The initiative generally received approval from the board, but Andrew Celwyn, the only member to dissent, felt “disappointed” with the project, in part because it diverted funds away from future TPDF recipients.
Celwyn also pointed out that, while the process for distributing TPDF funds will change as a result of the new plan, the project won’t examine the original legislation that limits how occupancy taxes may be used.
“For all of the money and resources that are being devoted to this process, I’m disappointed that the scope is so narrow. It’s not looking at the broader picture of what we should do in our community, but only on what we can do under the current legislation,” Celwyn said. “Asheville’s unique place in relation to other tourism boards around the state should be both challenged and changed.”