In response to the article published on Feb. 17 titled, “Stay Awhile: New TDA Boss Sketches Post-pandemic Tourism Plans” [Xpress], I was disappointed not to see any counterargument or opposition represented in response to some of the details mentioned in relation to the Tourism Development Authority money pool. Xpress could have had a voice representing the workers (referred to as protesters in the article) in Buncombe County. Most people I know working in the “hospitality field” are struggling to meet the recently announced $17-plus per hour living wage threshold and facing rising property taxes.
Buncombe County is indebted to the workers for making it a desirable, marketable place.
People sometimes have to work multiple jobs within the industry — waiting tables in the morning, bartending in the afternoon, cleaning STRs, playing a gig (before COVID) at night. Also, people outside the hospitality industry, for example, child care workers and educators, might have to take second/third jobs — catering gigs, cashier at a grocery store, a weekend shift at a brewery or hotel — to make ends meet. The hospitality industry exploits people who are underpaid, working below living wage, expecting tips to balance out their income. Sure, someone can have a good night collecting tips, but that, as COVID has put front and center, is not guaranteed.
A lot of these hard workers are also the artists, musicians, pop-up small-business owners and future political leaders working in restaurants and hotels to pay rent and bills so they can work on their passion projects in their spare time. Workers make Asheville and Buncombe County an interesting place to want to visit for the out-of-towner.
Without advertising, Buncombe County had its “best-ever month.” The article mentions the TDA [almost entirely] paused spending on advertising “in May in light of COVID-19,” but in October of 2020, “Buncombe County recorded its best-ever month of room sales: over $53.7 million.”
I read this to say: Without advertising, Buncombe County still managed to record its best-ever month of room sales, during a pandemic!? My question is why are we spending so much on advertising? [Almost] no money was spent since May, and yet the county had its “best-ever month?” No advertising was done to hit the “best-ever month,” yet Victoria “Vic” Isley is going to be paid a quarter of a million dollar salary?
According to the Feb. 17 article, the occupancy tax collected, by state law, has to be split 75% to pay back into the advertising pool, then 25% for “local capital projects.”
At the very least, this occupancy tax needs to be split 50/50 — giving more money back to the community. Please elaborate on the definition of “local capital projects?” — where does that 25% go? Why, as Sen. Julie Mayfield says, is “affordable housing … off the table?” What else is considered “off the table?”
— Ryan Anderson
Editor’s response: Thank you for your feedback. Although this article focused on the TDA’s plans, an AVL Watchdog article published in Xpress last May included the perspectives of local workers on the TDA’s $5 million contribution to a coronavirus relief bill (avl.mx/927). Previous Xpress articles have delved into the debate around how local occupancy taxes can be spent, including the requirement that 25% go to “tourism-related capital expenditures” (avl.mx/925).