There’s a caveat to the number above. The total collections shown for last November include tax money remitted to Buncombe County from AirBnB, which started paying taxes to the county in June 2015. So the big jump isn’t just from the 2-cent increase in the hotel tax, which last year went from 4 percent to 6 percent.
The occupancy tax money goes to fund the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which works to market Asheville and the county to visitors. (Here’s a look at their spring marketing plan.) The TDA also sets aside 25 percent of that money for what it calls the tourism development product fund. Through the fund, the TDA makes grants to support specific projects aimed at driving tourism.
Local tourism officials are banking on the increase revenue from the occupancy tax increase, a controversial move when it was approved last year. Some residents wanted a portion of the new occupancy tax dedicated to making infrastructure improvements around the city, noting that increased visitation is taking its toll. Local hoteliers pushed for the tax increase because they’re worried about decreasing occupancy rates and room rates as a wave of new hotel rooms open this year as part of a hotel building boom. (The TDA estimates that 1,700 new hotel rooms will become available over the next two to three years, a 25 percent increase over what’s currently available. Some 600 new rooms are expected to open this year.)
Meantime, hotel occupancy in November 2015 showed a 3 percent increase compared to the previous November, according to the TDA’s latest numbers. That’s good news for local tourism officials, who saw hotel occupancy dip in October 2015, a month that’s typically the biggest for visitors who come to the mountains to see the fall colors.
Other key numbers:
-The average daily room rate for November 2015 showed a 7.2 percent increase over the previous year, from $135.51 to $145.26.
-Total airport passengers going through the Asheville Regional Airport remained virtually flat at 62,038.
-Visits to exploreasheville.com, the Buncombe TDA/Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website, dropped 18.1 percent, from 285,947 to 234,142. Marla Tambellini, vice president of marketing and deputy director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, attributed the decline to an overhaul of the exploreasheville website last year, which required some URL updatating that can take awhile for Google to pick up.