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)