Tourism survey reveals changing attitudes, long-standing issues

TDA survey results
LEAVING NO TRACE? The results of a recent survey conducted by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority indicate that more than half of county residents believe visitors damage the natural environment. Graphic courtesy of the BCTDA

The mood toward tourism in Asheville may be shifting toward the positive, according to a new survey presented at the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s annual planning session March 25.

The daylong event brought together members of the BCTDA, the Tourism Product Development Fund Committee and other tourism leaders at the Inn on Biltmore to discuss the upcoming fiscal year. Presenters included Explore Asheville President and CEO Vic Isley and Wendy Smith, a professor of management at the University of Delaware.

The survey, conducted in January and February, asked a random sample of 382 people living in Asheville and Buncombe County — a smaller sample than the 468 people who completed a similar survey in 2019 — to share their views on local tourism and its impact on the community. The majority of respondents were full-time residents who had lived in the area an average of 18 years. (Full survey results are available at

The results were presented by Chris Davidson, who ​​oversees the travel insights and strategy division at Missouri-based tourism marketing company MMGY Global. “The first point I would make is that there’s a lot of good news,” he said.

Of those surveyed, 69% agreed that the positives of local tourism outweighed the negatives. Roughly 83% of people agreed or somewhat agreed that tourism was beneficial to the community. And 80% of respondents said that they believe that tourism advertising dollars fuel the local economy.

Moreover, negative sentiments regarding area tourism appear to have ebbed since 2019. While 88% of respondents in 2019 agreed that the area’s parking problems were caused by visitors, just 76% agreed with the same claim this year. Another 74% agreed that Asheville’s traffic problems were due to the number of people visiting the area, down from 85% in 2019. And while 65% of residents in 2019 believed that they couldn’t enjoy the city and its amenities because of visitors, only 45% said that they agreed with that viewpoint in 2022. Davidson suggested those results may reflect a reduction in people visiting Asheville during the pandemic.

Some questions that were asked only in this year’s survey revealed that some negative attitudes remain. About 68% of respondents said that they believed Buncombe County’s economy is too dependent upon tourism, the same percentage that felt short-term rentals for visitors leave fewer housing options for year-round residents. And 53% of those surveyed said that tourism contributes to the loss of green space and damages the environment.

“There’s a natural tension that exists in this idea of serving the needs of visitors to our community and serving the needs of its residents in terms of quality of life and other factors,” Davidson explained.

While respondents may have become more tolerant of tourism, they were less convinced of the need for the TDA itself. Around 80% of survey respondents said they believed that visitors would continue to come to Buncombe County even if the area stopped all tourism advertising, up from 73% in 2019.

That change in opinion may be driven by recent experience: While the TDA’s marketing expenses for the last six months of 2020 were over 55% lower than those for the same period in 2019, year-over-year room sales for those months decreased just 11%. But Davidson said that states that had reduced or stopped their tourism advertising, such as Colorado and Connecticut, had experienced dramatic losses in revenue and visitation.

Occupancy tax revenue expected to reach record high

Attitudes toward the local tourism business may be changing, but business itself continues to grow apace. During a board meeting held March 24, the BCTDA Finance Committee forecast occupancy tax revenues of $40.8 million for fiscal year 2022-23 — 12% over the $36.4 million projected for the current fiscal year.

That projection is itself about 34% higher than the roughly $27.2 million in occupancy tax revenue the TDA expected at the start of the fiscal year. Vacation rentals, which have experienced ​​180% growth since fiscal year 2018-19, make up roughly 34% of all revenues.

By law, the BCTDA must spend 75% of its occupancy tax revenues on tourism marketing and 25% on its Tourism Product Development Fund, which provides grants to capital projects that drive new overnight visits. BCTDA spokesperson Kathi Peterson says the authority plans to reopen applications for grants from the fund, which currently sits at $11.6 million.

The first round of grant applications is due Wednesday, June 1. Materials will be available at the end of April, and an information session will be held Wednesday, May 4. The TDA will make funding decisions at its October 2022 board meeting, with grant contracts going out in November and December.


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9 thoughts on “Tourism survey reveals changing attitudes, long-standing issues

  1. Bright

    Buncombe county needs to better manage the revenue and funds that they are responsible for using…but appears that they’re far from responsible. Depending on tourists to make up for their misuse of finances is a debilitating problem. Additionally, it’s quite embarrassing to be a resident subject to this stupidity.

  2. Carol Marty

    Can we please have a survey created by a party that is not the beneficiary of said “positive” survey results. Anyone who knows anything about surveys knows that it’s very easy to lead the witness and get the results that you want in how you word questions and how you select your sample.

  3. avlsouth

    I wonder who the sample pool was, how it was derived. To the person above who says we depend on tourism to cover short falls in our budget does not realize we barely get any money into Buncombe county from tourism. The taxes collected on basic sales tax is divided up at a state level, it does not stay at home. (note Haywood county has a beautiful indoor public pool, while Buncombe has none). and then the tourism tax is joke as well. 75% of the tourism tax goes to promoting Asheville. We are too heavy on the promotion of Asheville while we could really benefit and beautify the city if we could even get half of the tourist tax. Right now it is a burden of the city residents. So the pool of people answering the survey may not even be city residents. Anywhere you go in the USA, they have heard of Asheville. We need to give the marketing a rest as well as the construction of more hotels that collect the tourism tax. And start putting some of the tourism tax into keeping our city safe, clean and attractive to residents as well as tourists.

  4. Robert

    Surveys and polls are so often and so easily manipulated. This one, like so many others recently, seems to have been.

  5. Lou

    You know what is going to really damage the environment? and water supply? and wildlife? The gigantic warplane parts factory going up on the edge of the beloved BRP and near the once pristine French Broad river. (Of course I mean when indigenous peoples were caretakers for our natural resources, before colonizers charged in and began their destruction that continues to this day.) But hey, lots of money lining local officials’ pockets so it’s all good right? Oh and crime up 31% Aren’t we all so lucky to live in trAsheville? UGH.

  6. Jonny D

    Again, the news just shows how biased they are. You are asking the wrong people or just making it up. Tourism just drives up prices, destroys the environment, and keeps the poorer people in a hole. Start respecting this place by not filling your pockets every chance you get.. I am sure the wealthy love tourism, they just keep getting richer and filling the headlines with BS. This paper has drank the coolaid.
    Jonny D

  7. Richard B.

    Couldn’t help but chuckle as I saw the headline and read the article. Strikes me as ironic that the issue really is not how do locals view tourists, but how do actual – and potential – visitors view Asheville.
    That answer is getting increasingly sad, foreboding even. Also ironic that the conference was held far from downtown, at the beautiful and serene local of Biltmore Estate, – far from the garbage, dirty streets and sidewalks, suspicious looking folks meandering, obvious drug sales going down, and nary a law enforcement type in sight.
    This mayor, city council, and administration are doing to Asheville what has been and is happening is so many Democrat managed cities across the nation.
    With reparations, green space, equity and diversity programs the top agenda items, and with policing and traditional prosecutorial processes under constant and unfounded attack, – we will not have to do such surveys as above in the near future. The problem will be resolved as word gets around, as it already is, that Asheville is not the city to visit it was ten, even five years ago.
    It is dirty, dangerous, and rapidly going down the drain. So sad. So unnecessary.

  8. MV

    City/County/State leaders need a crash course on personal finance and how to build frugality muscles. Just constantly pissing money down all the wrong drains.

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