Asheville tourism officials give initial approval to $17.4 million operating budget

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority gave its initial approval to its 2018-19 fiscal year budget during its monthly meeting last week, a $17.4 million spending plan.

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.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. NFB June 6, 2018

    Anyone else remember when John McKibbon promised to work and advocate for some of the TDA money to go to the city to help pay for some of the services tourists use when they are here in exchange for City Council approval for his plans for the BB&T building?

  2. BMacAVL June 5, 2018

    @CHCollins – I could not agree more and I find it insulting the BCTDA continues to give these hoteliers on the board more money each year to drive folks to town which essentially makes them more profits.

    One may also argue that the ban on short-term rentals(STR’s) is directly related to kick backs to our elected and appointed government decision makers from the same hoteliers who are given more of our taxpayer money to make sure ALL visitors in town are forced stay in small very expensive hotel rooms.

    Will we ever have elected and appointed government decision makers with backbones that refuse to bend over to corporate interest…oh wait…same sh*t is going on in DC and literally every state capital in our country. We as taxpayers basically fronting the bill for our government officials to pass laws to help themselves and corporate “friends.” We need to demand more of these people…call them out on the BS and rally for change of our government as a whole. Not to far away in time we will see consumers unable to consume goods because they don’t make enough money to do so…this disruption in the macro economic cycle will have “HUGE” impact on all our lives and we can only hope our cultures view of the powers at be as a whole will change and reform will ensue over the entire political system!

    The two party system which is and has always been the same political machine that is ONLY in place to separate the population over very minor and petty differences within policy. Remember, media is regulated by the
    Federal Communications Commission(FCC) which is an independent agency of the United States government created to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security, and modernizing itself.

    You see how well they are doing at keeping “competition” and preventing monopolies seeing as how 6 media conglomerates control almost all sources; Comcast(worth Est. $148.2 billion)/Brian L. Roberts, Disney(worth Est. $88.1 billion)/Bob Iger, TimeWarner(worth Est. $60.6 billion)/Jeff Bewkes, NewsCorp(worth Est. $56 billion)/Repert Murdoch, NationalAmusments(worth Est. $43 billion)/Owner:Summer Redstone, & Sony(worth Est. $34.1 billion)/Kazuo Hirai.

    1. luther blissett June 7, 2018

      “One may also argue that the ban on short-term rentals(STR’s) is directly related to kick backs to our elected and appointed government decision makers from the same hoteliers ”

      One may also argue that the ban on STRs is directly related to the desire not to drive out long-term renters and/or add pressure to residential neighborhoods.

      There are plenty of criticisms to be made of the TDA and its controlling statute, but (legal) short-term renters pay the occupancy tax.

    2. Barry Summers June 8, 2018

      Also, the term “kick backs” implies corruption. If you have evidence that any govt. officials are personally being bribed by hotel owners, we’d all love to see it.

      And sure, they get campaign contributions to varying degrees. But those are out in the open, and it’s worth noting that the TDA’s favored candidates all lost in the last Council election.

      It would be great to blame this on certain politicians, but the truth is that this happens everywhere that is a cool place to live. When I first visited Asheville 20 years ago, I was sitting behind a car at a stoplight with a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t Move Here.” That didn’t stop me.

      What’s the solution? I don’t know.

  3. CHCollins June 4, 2018

    Spending money to attract tourists without spending a commensurate amount on infrastructure to handle tourists is shortsighted, yet that seems to be what the city is doing. Our streets become more and more congested, both with cars and pedestrians, and the city’s solution is to add another quarter to the hourly parking rate and discouraging locals from venturing downtown unless it is a Monday in February during Restaurant Week. We make a conscious decision not to go downtown on weekends. We have ceded the city to tourism on weekends. Is that what our Chamber of Commerce and City Government wants?

    1. Barry Summers June 5, 2018

      It’s important to note that it’s not “the city”, ie. City Government etc. that is pushing this. The TDA is a separate quasi-governmental body made up primarily of hotel owners & others involved in tourism. The legislature in Raleigh grants them the tax dollars they operate with, and “the city” per se, has no say on what they spend it on. They would love it if the TDA would chip in commensurate amounts to infrastructure. But the TDA is only concerned with bringing more & more & more tourists here, and the City has to pay for infrastructure. Local taxpayers are essentially being forced to subsidize the hotel owners profit margins, while at the same time making the town less pleasant for themselves to live in.


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