Letter: We can’t kick tourism problems down the road

Graphic by Lori Deaton

According to Stephanie Pace Brown — president and CEO of Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau and aligned with the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority — tourism in Asheville is all rosy and glad tidings.

Locals should be grateful for the $3.1 billion economic impact tourism brings to our fair city. And we are grateful. Some of us have jobs because of the tourism. Some of us feel a sense of pride from living in a place so many others want to visit. It’s nice seeing the new museum. It’s nice being able to window-shop downtown on a sunny day. Locals like living here.

But the other side of the tourism industry includes low-paying jobs among those 27,000 tourism-based employees (lower wages than subsistence, given Asheville’s rising cost of living). I’m sure locals like keeping busy with two jobs. It makes the time go by. Plus the whole issue of the BCTDA gaining millions of spending dollars from hotel fees, while not helping the city maintain its infrastructure. How long will tourists keep coming if crime rates rise and streets fall apart in disrepair?

Then there’s the whole issue involving the number of downtown hotels we have, the parking nightmare, the associated traffic and the lack of truly affordable housing. In one sense, these are all good problems to have (compared to where Asheville was in the 1990s). But the city and the BCTDA are still favoring more hotels and ignoring the infrastructure and other economic issues.

It’s one thing to celebrate Asheville’s booming tourism trade and quite another to throw locals under the bus in an attempt to sing its praises. All problems can be solved, but not by kicking the can down the road. Apparently, if locals want answers, they should demand them at the next election, which, I understand has been put off for another year.

I’ve only been here for 15 years, so I can’t consider myself a local, but I’m adding my voice to those who are being ignored. I speak from my heart as an ultraliberal who doesn’t seek to stop progress, only to direct it in a mindful way. Am I preaching to the choir or singing alone in the forest?

— Mark Bloom (a local business owner who doesn’t benefit from the tourism industry, but still lives in the city)
Asheville

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7 thoughts on “Letter: We can’t kick tourism problems down the road

  1. Shultz!

    BCTDA in its current form needs overhauled – mission change from eternal growth to sustainability. Unsure of how it’s all legally put together – for this to happen, anyone know what the process would be?

    • NFB

      That would entail action by the state legislature. The TDA has been hiding behind the law not allowing any room tax money to go for anything but marketing and funding projects that will attract more tourism for some time. Trust me — any attempt to cut into their slush fund (or the part of the law that states a majority of the TDA must be hotel owners, thus continuing the inbreeding it suffers from) will be fought by them tooth and nail in hand to hand combat. The TDA has nothing but contempt for the rest of us and will not let one dime go to anything that cuts into their fun.

  2. K Smith

    Buncombe County Commissioners, if they were so inclined, could reduce the hotel tax and clip TDA’s wings. If they wanted to.

    • James Cassara

      I beleive the hotel tax rate is set by the General Assembly and is out of local control. This has been a bone of contention for years.

      • NFB

        The rate is indeed set by the GA, but local counties can decide whether or not to implement it in all or in part. I neglected to mention that in my previous post.

        • James Cassara

          So local municipalities can lower, but not raise the rate? Am I reading that correctly? Interesting to know.

          • NFB

            In 2015 the TDA got the General Assembly to raise the room tax. But Buncombe County Commission had to approve it for Buncombe County.

            https://mountainx.com/news/buncombe-commissioners-approve-hotel-tax-increase/

            It should be noted that before this increase there was some discussion of the possibility of raising the room tax and having the increase go to help pay for infrastructure and other services tourists use while they are here rather than having residents carry so much of the burden of costs.

            The TDA was adamant against that proposal saying that it would make rooms too expensive and thus we would lose tourism to Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg, and Charleston (as if any of those places have the Biltmore House and downtown Asheville.) But when so many new hotels were going up and they were panicking about whether or not we could get enoughs “heads in beds” to fill them, they got the GA to raise the room tax, and county commission to approve it for Asheville and Buncombe County.

            The TDA has nothing but contempt for local residents and time and time again they show it with actions like this. They got their slush fund and are bound and determined to get more tourists here to increase that slush fund. Then they hide behind the law that says the room tax money can only go to marketing and projects that will attract MORE tourists here to increase their slush fund, never acknowledging the burden locals face in paying for the infrastructure tourists use, and by extension never offering to support any changes to the law that would allow a portion of that money to go to help pay for services that tourists use when they are here.

            What other industry has the state collect a special tax that the state then hands over to that industry for the purposes of said industry promoting itself? Tax money in the hands of an
            un-elected entity, an entity that, by law, MUST be made up of a majority who are hotel owners — its inbreeding with more that a whiff of corruption.

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