“I think we’re failing our community if we don’t get that $3 million out there,” said Andrew Celwyn, a member of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board and owner of downtown Asheville’s Herbiary retail shop, in reference to a pot of money the authority had successfully used to support tourism businesses last year.
Buncombe County logged $53 million in room sales for October, the latest month for which data is available. The figure represents a 6% increase over the $50 million in sales for the same month in 2019 — and an all-time monthly record.
With the area’s formerly booming tourism industry mostly on hold as COVID-19 infection rates in nearby markets remain high, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority faces an uncertain future. Add in a leadership transition, potential changes to the legislation that controls the distribution of local occupancy tax revenues and public hostility to the industry, and more questions than answers emerge.
In the first weekend of March, said Explore Asheville’s Marla Tambellini, hotels throughout the county were at roughly 90% occupancy. By March 27-28, only about 15% of rooms were filled, and the average price for those accommodations was approximately half its usual rate — $80 instead of $160.
Although unaffiliated voters are the second most-populous political group in North Carolina, no members of the state’s Congressional delegation are unaffiliated, nor are any officeholders at the state level. According to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, just seven of 587 total county commission seats were won by independent or third-party candidates in 2018.
Last year, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority contributed $75,000 to Chow Chow through its event development incubator fund. Planning is underway for the festival’s second year, which has a projected budget of $700,000. The event is tentatively scheduled for Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 10-13, with final dates to be confirmed in November.
The four-phase, roughly $440,000 project is set to begin this spring and conclude in April 2020. Those funds will come from occupancy tax revenue in the Tourism Product Development Fund budget. Funding for community projects will then resume at a time yet to be determined after the planning is complete.