“Isn’t this like telling a family of eight living in a two-room house that you’re persuading a couple of baseball teams to move in with them?”
At a June 10 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards said he had “come around to the way of thinking of the folks in the county” who want less of the tax to go toward tourism marketing.
The TDA would spend at least $10.6 million on advertising buys, an 8% increase over its last pre-pandemic fiscal year. Just over $3 million would go toward the production of new content, with the remainder of the marketing budget spent on research.
2020 was the year of the nurse, proclaimed Greg Lowe, the president of HCA Healthcare’s North Carolina division. But Mission’s eight hospitals are now gearing up for a major nursing shortage, he told members of Asheville’s Council of Independent Business Owners.
County leaders say establishing the holiday, which commemorates the 1865 announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by Union soldiers to enslaved people in Texas, is supported by the county’s Equity and Inclusion Workgroup and would “represent an authentic and more inclusive history of freedom in America.”
The move drew mixed feelings from some board members, driven not by the project itself but by what they suggested was an unclear process for distributing funds.
At its March 25 regular meeting, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board unanimously approved a projection that occupancy tax revenue would exceed $27 million for fiscal year 2021-22 — 15% more than projected for the current fiscal year, which ends in June, and 9% more than the year before the pandemic.
“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.”
“This is not the time to talk about redistribution in any manner,” Republican Sen. Edwards told the Council of Independent Business owners regarding changes to the allocation of Buncombe County’s occupancy tax revenue. “The tourism industry has just been destroyed.”
Victoria “Vic” Isley, the new president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, says new paid advertising for Asheville, an expansion of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board to include short-term rental owners and changes to occupancy tax allocation are all on the table in 2021.
“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.
If Asheville City Council wants to bring any legislation before the state General Assembly this year — including the creation of an elected board for Asheville City Schools or changes to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s room tax allocation — its members need to make those decisions in the coming weeks.
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.
While overall hotel revenue was down more than 27% year-over-year in September, the latest month for which data is available, overall vacation rental sales that month increased by about 55% year-over-year, according to Explore Asheville interim CEO Chris Cavanaugh.
According to a presentation available before Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, 67 lodging businesses have been delinquent in reporting or remitting occupancy taxes due March through September, with an additional 29 establishments yet to report at least one month of taxes during that period.
The organization has been forced to cancel it’s two biggest annual fundraisers, but it continues to support the city’s local restaurant industry.
Marla Tambellini, Explore Asheville’s vice president of marketing, shared an industry consultant’s view that “recovery is inevitable” during the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s annual meeting on Oct. 20.
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.
Buncombe County’s Tourist Development Authority began advertising for tourists to visit Asheville again — on the same day that the county’s top public health official said coronavirus cases were “rising at an alarming rate.”
Restaurants, brewers, hoteliers, tour companies and retailers were all among the 449 named Paycheck Protection Program beneficiaries with headquarters in Asheville. At least 46 of those entities also received help from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to fill needs unmet by the federal loan effort.