The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority held its monthly meeting on Wednesday. Here are a few highlights. In addition, tourism officials announced a music marketing partnership with the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Julie Mayfield on new hotel regulations
Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield, the council’s liaison to the TDA, spoke up at the end of the meeting to deliver her usual monthly report about what City Council’s been working on – namely, approving new regulations aimed at increasing the development oversight of new hotel construction. It’s an issue that the board full of hoteliers isn’t exactly fond of, to say the least.
Mayfield said she wanted to her offer her thoughts on the decision.
“I think the city is just in a different place in terms of big things that happen in the city,” Mayfield said, whether it’s hotel development, the construction of several new Duke Energy substations, the expansion of Interstate 26 through the city, or anything else.
“The city is demanding that third parties work with us in a different way. I think that’s part of the theme here,” she said.
“We’re still in this place of people being resentful” of the tourism industry in general, and the Tourism Development Authority in particular, Mayfield continued. (That was a two-fold reference. The first was noting increasingly vocal residents who want the TDA to spend more money on city infrastructure to offset the impacts of increasing tourism. The second was a reference to local hoteliers bypassing Asheville City Council and going directly to Buncombe County lawmakers to seek an increase in the county’s hotel room tax a couple of years ago, an increase that was approved. The move incensed City Council members.)
“We haven’t moved past that,” Mayfield said.
“What I would say about that is we have work to do and we need to do it and we need to get past this. It is not helpful for elected officials to be at odds with one of our major industries,” she added. Tourism officials celebrate the city, “and it is unfortunate that there is not an alignment” between city officials and tourism officials.
Mayfield said she specifically requested to serve as City Council’s liaison with the TDA to work on relations, and she apologized for not being as attentive as she wanted. She joked that some could call it “the eye of Sauron,” but said she would be turning her “attention to this in a much more intentional way.”
There are good reasons on both sides to be upset, she added, but reiterated again that “we’ve got to get past this. It’s ridiculous. It’s silly, frankly.”
TDA officials did not respond to Mayfield’s comments in the meeting.
January was slow
January was a slow month for the local tourism trade, according to Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. There was one less weekend on the calendar for January this year, and the month didn’t get a boost from a big event like the U.S. Cyclocross championships of last year, which attracted 2,000 people over a 10-day period.
Still, Brown said the CVB’s sales and marketing team had been working hard, and she noted that its workforce development task force had secured a $150,000 grant. The money has to be used to help develop career paths that have higher-than-average wages, she said. A team of hoteliers and service providers came together and awarded a contract to Amplified Media in Asheville to develop a website and produce videos to help connect people to those careers, she said.
TDA’s new offices
Last year, the Buncombe County TDA to voted to break away from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. That resulted in the TDA having to find new office space, as well, which it did.
A lease is in place, Brown said, with “a June 23 delivery date.” She noted again that the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association and the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission will both relocate its offices to the same office complex. In addition, the Asheville Symphony is building a box office in the complex. (One of the TDA’s board members is also building a new boutique hotel nearby.)
Brown added that Buncombe County government has agreed to be the contractor for IT and payroll services for the TDA.
The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s annual planning retreat is set for March 23-24 at Lioncrest on Biltmore Estate.