Of that, $10.6 million is set aside for advertising and marketing to attract more tourists to Asheville and Buncombe County. (The current fiscal year’s advertising budget is $9.6 million.)
Those amounts are nearly double the TDA’s operating budget and media budget from just three years ago. In May 2015, the TDA approved its 2015-16 fiscal year operating budget of $8.7 million, with $4.4 million set aside on advertising.
The budget’s dramatic increase is due to a an increase in Buncombe County’s hotel room tax, which went from 4 percent to 6 percent (approved by state and local lawmakers in the fall of 2015), as well as increases in the number of visitors and the hotel rooms they’re renting.
The board will hold a public hearing at its June 27 meeting before formally adopting its budget ordinance. Here’s the TDA’s 2018-19 budget ordinance.
TDA board member Andrew Celywn, the co-owner of the downtown Herbiary shop, which sells organic herbs and teas, took issue with an aspect of the budget that offered increased bonuses to the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau sales and marketing team.
The increased bonuses actually hurts the TDA in the eyes of many local residents, Celwyn said. He prefaced his remarks by complimenting the hard-working CVB staff and said all employees should be fairly compensated.
But Celwyn went on to note that a recent consultant’s report showed that the TDA was lacking in an area it termed “community engagement.” Here’s more from Celwyn’s statement (while he read from a written statement in the meeting and emailed me the full statement following the meeting, he did not read the following word-for-word):
However, the expansion of the use of bonuses for members of Explore Asheville is detrimental to Community Engagement. It sets the Tourism industry apart from the rest of our town and creates resentment among many. This, in turn, creates animosity towards community appreciation for tourism.
Our teachers don’t get bonuses for teaching our children well. Our police don’t get bonuses for keeping our community safer. Our sanitation workers don’t get bonuses for making our streets cleaner.
While I know some say that Sales & Marketing organizations typically give out bonuses, I feel the need to point out that Explore Asheville is not a typical organization. This TDA funds Explore Asheville through taxes, not through profits.
Stephanie Brown, the CVB’s president and CEO, said the discretionary incentive program “gives us tools as managers to clearly establish objectives for the year” and said she viewed it as compensation that employees don’t receive if they don’t meet their goals.
TDA Chairman Jim Muth added that bonuses are “ingrained in nature of sales.” Board member Chip Craig chimed in that “I think it is a great way of rewarding people.”
Celwyn was the lone vote against approving the increased bonuses, but the board was unanimous in giving its initial approval to the overall budget.
Other budget highlights:
-Increased funding for the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, from $105,000 to 205,000, an increase aimed at helping the commission hire a third full-time employee; $40,000 will be set aside for bid fees as the commission works to attract new events to Asheville
-Increases in the TDA’s Tourism Product Development Fund, mostly to pay for improvements to signage in downtown Asheville and the Asheville River Arts District.
-Regarding the media and advertising spending: Brown said that the TDA would be conducting an annual review of its advertising agency, New Orleans-based Peter Mayer. Tourism officials began working with Peter Mayer in 2014. The TDA increased its advertising agency retainer budget by 10 percent in advance of the upcoming review, Brown said.