Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher, has named Asheville its top U.S. tourist destination for 2017.
It’s the second time in three years that a high-profile travel guide has named Asheville a top U.S. destination. In a New Year’s Day 2015 appearance on Good Morning America, a Frommer’s travel guide official named the city its top U.S. travel destination for that year. (The description of the River Arts District as “still sketchy” also heated up some folks up.)
All the attention, which has been building up to these spotlight mentions, has triggered an ongoing debate about how to balance tourism’s positive impacts (millions of dollars in spending) with tourism’s negative impacts (the toll on infrastructure, overcrowding).
Other actions have followed. A hotel building boom centered in downtown Asheville is transforming the central business district. Local hoteliers lobbied state lawmakers to pass legislation increasing the county’s hotel room tax, thus bringing in more cash to market Asheville to tourists.
Asheville City Council has tightened city regulations governing private property owners’ ability to rent houses to visitors. City Council also moved this year toward adopting stiff new rules on hotel construction city-wide.
With its bulging budget (the result of the increased room tax and new taxes paid by AirBnB), the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority approved plans to break away from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and operate as an independent entity.
What makes the city a great place to visit? It’s the usual list of attributes. The travel guide cites the beautiful surrounding mountains and accompanying opportunities to hike, mountain bike and kayak; it notes the farm-to-table food movement, the city’s amazing chefs and delicious craft beer and cider; it points to the collection of talented working artists in the River Arts District; it highlights the stunning Biltmore Estate; and it calls out the friendly, welcoming nature of local residents. (The mention of the welcoming nature of locals appears to be aimed at one of this year’s biggest controversies in the Tar Heel state – the N.C. General Assembly’s passage of a law restricting people to use the bathroom of their birth gender, known as “the bathroom bill” and HB2.)
Other destinations on Lonely Planet’s list include Atlanta; Lincoln, Nebraska; California’s southern desert region; New York’s Adirondack Mountains; and Florida’s “Emerald Coast.”