The Growth of Asheville Tourism
As Buncombe County residents know, Asheville is no stranger to attention or tourism. The community, culture, and residents have caused the area to experience an exponential growth over the past several years.
With gained notoriety, Asheville has caught the attention of major national publications yet again. This year alone, the city has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, CNN Travel, TripAdvisor, and Forbes Travel Guide.
With the draw of tourism, there are many factors that directly affect the community in a positive way. Yet, some Asheville natives are resisting the growth, wishing for Asheville to remain the quaint, artsy town it has always been. Is it possible for this growth to mirror the true nature of the people rather than alter it? Is Asheville changing too quickly?
Asheville CVB Report
The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau publishes a yearly report that corroborates the relationship between our booming tourism industry and the impact it has on the county. Tourism is the third-largest employer and a key player in Asheville’s economy.
Many jobs in the Buncombe County area are exceptionally dependent on tourism. The unemployment rate rises rise to 15.2% without visitor spending. In fact, visitors support 26,700 county jobs. That is 1-in-7 jobs!
The CVB is also reporting that, on average, almost 30,000 people visit Asheville each day, accounting for $5.2 million in spending daily. This rounds-out the total number of yearly visitors to 10.9 million visitors (in 2016).
Where is this money going? Well, visitors spent $1.9 billion at local businesses. Many assume it is allocated to the lodging and hotel industry. This is not true. In fact, 24% of the revenue was spent on food and beverage, 21% in retail, and less than 20% in lodging.
What is an Occupancy Tax?
Regarding Asheville lodging, the topic has become quite controversial over the past several months. Obviously, an influx of tourism increases the need for lodging. However, the Occupancy Tax is what Asheville residents are discussing.
This means the County charges a 6% room tax in addition to the 7% sales tax. In total, the County charges 13% for every night someone stays in a Buncombe County hotel. According to the latest data, there were 3.8 million overnight visitors in Asheville.
Occupancy Tax History
In the 1980s, Asheville hoteliers voted to voluntarily tax themselves, “knowing that when used for the promotion of tourism, these revenues could stimulate increased visitation to the community.” The room tax was initially two percent, steadily increasing until, in 2015, it rose to six percent.
Many residents assume the money is allocated back into the County. Repairing roads, building sidewalks to increase walkability, improving traffic flow, and paying the salaries of the hardworking County employees adds an element of practicality to this Occupancy Tax.
But what if we said that is not exactly what is happening?
The 16 million dollars acquired via Occupancy Tax (in 2016) goes to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, a governmental department that promotes and markets the city. Some cities with this tax, such as Charleston, SC, do receive a portion of the revenue.
Is this the way it should be? Should we take the revenue and apply it to marketing the city, increasing tourism and ultimately increasing revenue? Or should we be happy with the national attention the city has gained? Should we apply the money to our fellow citizens?
Road roads are crowded, but let us think about how advantageous this development can be! Restaurants, breweries, experimental art shows, coffee shops, and outdoor recreational activities are popping up in the area constantly.
Change is certainly not for everyone. But, if we lean into the change, we can grow with the change, not against it!
So, what do you think? Is tourism a help or a hindrance to Asheville? Is the growth affecting our quality of life? Let us know what you think about this double-edged sword!