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.
A bill that would have changed the distribution of Buncombe County’s controversial hotel tax to better benefit local government is likely dead until at least next year. The change would have reduced the share of room tax money to market and advertise Asheville as a tourist destination.
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.
“The good news — if you’re someone who wants to see the hotel tax law changed — is that all parties seem to be in agreement,” Newman told Xpress. “They want to see the law changed, but at this point, we’re not on the same page about how to change it.”
Roughly 1,600 new hotel rooms have opened in Buncombe County since late 2015 — an increase of approximately 15 percent over that period — with 1,900 still planned. “Since the start of this construction cycle, we’ve been able to fully absorb a pretty enormous supply,” said Explore Asheville President and CEO Stephanie Pace Brown. “We just need to do that over again in the next three or four years.”