Letter: Lodging tax supports local people

Graphic by Lori Deaton

The May 8 cover story [“Heartbreak Hotel: Nearly 8,000 Rooms and Counting — How Much Lodging Is Too Much?” Xpress] highlighted growth in lodging tax revenue that now totals $23 million. What was not highlighted is the public good and community impact provided by investing the lodging tax to attract customers to sustain local people.

Every day, I am inspired by local people who launch and live their dreams here, dreams that are possible because of tourism. They are entrepreneurs with businesses of all kinds — comedy bus tours providing work for local artists, and wedding venues keeping family farms alive; literary, wellness and neighborhood tours telling diverse stories of local history; board game cafes and chocolate factories that you wouldn’t find in just any city; zip lines and climbing centers, where we bring our families and friends; and the creative ventures of local chefs, musicians, artists and makers of all types.

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is a public entity that administers the lodging tax revenue with a public purpose that creates economic vitality, jobs and tax revenue. The lodging tax has built community assets with $44 million in grants awarded to 39 projects throughout Buncombe County.

People who visit Buncombe County spend $2 billion each year on restaurants, attractions, entertainment, recreation, the arts and lodging, creating jobs for 27,000 people in our community. Visitors support 19% of property tax and generate 31% of sales tax revenue that goes toward social investments and the core services needed to maintain our community.

The lodging tax has been a successful economic development strategy for Buncombe County. The increased resources to market our community for tourism have doubled visitor spending in the past 10 years — that’s an additional $1 billion in the local economy every year.

This place is incredibly special. And, it is critical to preserve, protect and grow it sustainably for the mutual benefit of residents and visitors alike. We encourage the community to get involved in the recently launched Tourism Management and Investment Plan for Community Assets as we work collectively on a long-range investment strategy to manage tourism impacts and sustain and enhance the quality of our mountain home. Learn more at ExploreAshevilleCVB.com/TMIP.

— Stephanie Brown
President and CEO
Explore Asheville CVB


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8 thoughts on “Letter: Lodging tax supports local people

  1. NFB

    How many other industries have the state collect a tax for it which the state than hands over to said industry for the purpose of promoting itself?

    And oh yes — for years whenever it was suggested that maybe a portion of the room tax should go to help pay for infrastructure needs that tourists use we were told that such an increase would make rooms too expensive and we would thus lose tourists to Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg etc. But as soon as the TDA started freaking out about so many hotels being built they quickly supported and got a raise in the room tax.

    That the TDA is going on a PR blitz that include both this letter and the MX puff piece about their charitable support I guess suggests it is waking up to the fact that it doesn’t have the greatest image among the local serfs. That they think such PR will help, rather than agreeing to get the law changed so that even a small portion of its slush fund can help give locals a bit of a help in footing the bill for the infrastructure tourists use while they are here indicates it, and the inbred membership that controls the room tax money, still have a solid tin ear.

    • SpareChange

      Agree on all counts. Ironically, it is O. Henry (William S. Porter), buried in our own Riverside Cemetery, who is credited with coining the term “Banana Republic.” He used the term to describe the situation in various Central American countries where one crop economies (bananas, coffee, etc.) were promoted by a particular company or industry to the exclusion of other crops and businesses which were important to the locals. The people and governments in these countries became so economically and politically dependent on that one industry that it distorted the local economies and governments in ways which are still evident today.

      Asheville seems well on the way to becoming a new kind of Banana Republic, dependent on tourism to such an extent that other interests just get overwhelmed in the process. The fact that we are seeing now a growing number of development and building renovation projects, where the argument gets made that the “only” economically feasible use of the parcel of land or building in question, is to build or convert it into yet another hotel is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, warning us that we have already become too dependent on this one industry.

      • luther blissett

        To extend the analogy: all of those banana plantations grew one variety (Gros Michel) and when Panama disease struck in the 1950s, it wiped out the crop and the growers had to start over with a different variety, which is also now threatened by disease. This destabilized the economies of those countries.

        The TDA now has almost the same budget as the Asheville Fire Department. I’m not going to call it “corrupt”, but it is unaccountable and its funding model is broken. (It’s like those police departments whose budget comes from fines and citations.) At very least, there should be a hard cap on its annual media spend.

  2. luther blissett

    Whee, Stephanie Brown’s on a tear this week. Always helps when you’re the unelected steward of a $17 million budget.

    In the MountainX’s history, how many writers of letters to the editor have also been quoted in favorable stories in the same week’s edition?

  3. TDA is corrupt and must be stopped

    Heck if I made a quarter million per year (not including benefits and bonus) I would spew the same garbage as Mrs. Brown.

    Mrs. Brown’s letter implies tourists would not visit Asheville if it weren’t for the corrupt BCTDA and therefore our economy would suffer. However what if tourists still visited our fine city but the tax revenue was spent on the sort of infrastructure that supports the tourists. $23 million per year, think of what Buncombe County could do with that sort of taxpayer money! Instead of weak commercials and paid for top ten lists we could entice tourists with greenways, sidewalks, affordable housing, roads that won’t destroy their cars, or water mains that don’t break daily (please pass some more dirty water)?
    I support any candidate that calls for dismantling the BCTDA, it is a corrupt organization that cares nothing for the citizens of this county.

  4. indy499

    Zealots on all sides on this issue.

    Asheville has always been a tourist town. There were more hotel rooms in downtown AVL 80 years ago than there are today.

    On the other hand, it seems perfectly reasonable that a slice of the hotel occupancy tax go to support the government operating budget.

    On the other other hand, the city could make better use of existing budget $ for normal operations.
    Fewer proclamations and more focus on basics like water, roads and policing.

    • SpareChange

      “Asheville has always been a tourist town. There were more hotel rooms in downtown AVL 80 years ago than there are today.”

      Yes, and when the tourist economy crashed everything pretty much came tumbling down, and it took 60 years to recover. I would hope that we might have learned something from that experience, but I freely acknowledge being increasingly worried that we have not.

      Tourism is and can remain an important element of the local economy, but one would be hard pressed to make a case other than that we are too dependent on it, and that as such it puts our future at risk. At a time when public and private sector leadership does not seem to be demonstrating a capacity to steer things in a different direction, and when the hotel industry writ large is exerting more and more influence over the local political economy, I don’t think making that case, and asking the City Council to take an increasingly tough position in resisting that influence is zealotry.

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