Asheville tourism officials approve tentative spending plan, don’t mention possible room tax increase

Jason Sandford

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

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vandre_nouveau_hotel_2_asheville_2015Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority officials on Wednesday approved a tentative spending plan for the 2015-16 fiscal year that calls for $4.4 million in spending on advertising to attract more tourists to Asheville and Buncombe County. That’s a 7 percent increase over current spending. The authority’s overall budget plan for the next fiscal year is roughly $8.7 million.

The authority’s money comes from a 4 percent room tax levied by local hotels. In giving initial approval to their new budget, authority members failed to mention a proposal in the N.C. General Assembly to increase that tax, a move that would bring the TDA millions more in funding.

Asheville is experiencing a hotel building boom, and hoteliers are wary that the average daily rate they charge for rooms will plummet once the new rooms are up for rent. There are 7,200 hotel rooms in Buncombe County, with 735 new rooms expected to come online in the next year, and hundreds more to follow for a total increase of about 25 percent, according to Stephanie Brown, head of Asheville’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Mark Barrett of the Asheville Citizen-Times reported Wednesday that a state Senate committee approved a proposal to increase Buncombe County’s room tax to 6 percent, “with three-quarters of the extra revenue going to advertising and other marketing efforts and a quarter to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Agency’s product development fund.” The fund goes to projects aimed at putting “heads in beds,” such as new softball fields to attract youth tournaments and projects to expand local breweries.

Some residents reacted quickly the news by organizing an email campaign to urge state lawmakers to set aside a portion of the new money for projects to improve public transportation, address the city’s lack of affordable housing and other issues. Barrett reported Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer’s reaction:

The plan pushed by local hoteliers and Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, squelches hopes by Asheville officials to have some of the room tax go directly to city government to cover what Mayor Esther Manheimer called “much-needed items like affordable housing and, in our minds, some of the effects of having a tourism economy.”

But Manheimer said the additional money going to product development and a restriction that would be added to the law barring those funds from going to for-profit businesses will increase the city’s chances of winning money for greenways, riverfront improvements and similar projects. That will in turn free up city money to be spent elsewhere, she said.

Barrett’s story goes on to note that Asheville hoteliers are opposed to having room tax money go directly to city government or to private businesses. In recent years, the Buncombe TDA has awarded money to private businesses such as Highland Brewery and Navitat Canopy Adventures through its tourism development product fund. The deadline to apply for money through that fund this year is June 3, with the money awarded later this fall.

Here are other updates from the Buncombe TDA on Wednesday, a meeting that I covered live via Twitter. (I was the only reporter there.) Follow me there for breaking news.

-Last year, Buncombe TDA hired a new advertising agency for its nationwide marketing campaigns. The New Orleans-based agency came up with the tagline “Asheville: Discovery Inside and Out.” This week and next, the agency and local tourism officials are overseeing photography and videography that will flesh out that tagline. The new advertising campaign will be unveiled in about two months.

-TDA officials are working to attract more motor coach tour groups, conventioneers and trade shows.

-TDA officials plan to advertise on the History Channel, YouTube, Travel Channel, The Weather Channel a few other outlets. For print, they plan to advertise with Conde Naste, the New York Times magazine, Saveur, Our State and several other magazines.

-To boost Asheville’s profile as a wedding destination, Asheville tourism officials plan to advertise with Bridal Guide magazine and

-The Buncombe TDA website,, is being redesigned. The site gets about 4 million visits a year, according to Marla Tambellini, spokeswoman for the Asheville CVB. The TDA is working with local freelance writers to create new content for the website. In addition, a new section of the site devoted to promoting Asheville as a music destination is under construction.

-In the public comment portion of the meeting, Sara Legatski, owner of The Honeypot store on Lexington Avenue in downtown, stood to tell Buncombe TDA officials that she felt the tourist economy is not sustainable. She said local artists and others “who built Asheville” are scraping by, and in many cases leaving town. Bob Patel, chairman of the authority, interrupted Legatski to say that the authority works closely with city officials on issues such as affordable housing, but that those are issues that fall outside the purview of the Buncombe TDA.



Jason Sandford

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

  • 1

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  1. Most of you are bitching about this being a local issue, when in fact this is how the tax is legislated at the state level. The legislature even has certain guidelines for the use of occupancy tax which were made back in the 90.

    If you want to piss and moan about this, fine. But go complain to Raleigh.

  2. cwaster May 29, 2015

    “hoteliers are wary that the average daily rate they charge for rooms will plummet once the new rooms are up for rent” and ” Asheville hoteliers are opposed to having room tax money go directly to city government or to private businesses” leaves a bad impression in my mind. It appears as if they are self-serving, and want to generate as much revenue for themselves as possible while doing the least to benefit our city and their employees as they can.

    1. indie499 June 2, 2015

      More accurately, the hoteliers are trying to control the revenue stream that their customers generated. Most of that is fine with me, but there should be a slice for the city to provide services directly related to tourist volume, e.g., cleaning.

      1. cwaster June 2, 2015

        Agreed there.

        1. NFB June 2, 2015

          No tax money should ever be collected solely to fund an unelected board that is unaccountable to the public.

          If the hoteliers wish to fund programs that promote more tourism let them do with their own money and not have the state collect it for them in the form of a tax.

          Hotel room taxes should be used, at least in part, to help fund the types of services and infrastructure tourists use while they are here. Tax money should not be collected to solely fund private enterprise operations

          1. So the other taxes those tourists pay and the businesses that benefit from tourism spending don’t already pay for that cost?

            Gimme a break. If tourism costs the city so much, why ever have a single visitor come here?

  3. Ed Brenegar May 29, 2015

    This way of thinking about Asheville is not the primary reason I moved to Jackson Hole, but it did influence me.

    1. indie499 June 2, 2015

      Why you still following us, Ed? Move on.

      I couldn’t possibly care less if or why you moved to Wyoming.

    2. hauntedheadnc June 2, 2015

      When I think of the perfect place to escape gentrification and the .001% coming together in a concretion not unlike a blood clot, Jackson Hole is definitely what comes to mind.

      What you’re telling us when you mention where you went is that you traded Asheville for a place where “gentrification” means the billionaires pushing out the millionaires.

  4. Lauren May 28, 2015

    I can’t get past “New Orleans based agency” or that incredibly horrendous tagline….

    1. Barry Summers May 28, 2015

      No kidding.

      “Asheville: Your Dinner Inside, and Then Out.”

  5. carneyvor May 28, 2015

    These people have to be stopped. They are ruining our sweet little town. Gross, all of it.

    1. TheRealWorld May 28, 2015

      Around 2010 or so, I was living in Atlanta when the BC Tourism Authority decided to spend what had to be an astonishing amount of money promoting AVL as a travel destination to the locals. Let me say this: Atlantans already KNOW about and enjoy visiting Asheville!

      This campaign when on for a month. The agency they used had arranged:
      1 – various restaurant promotions where cheeses, beers, etc. from Asheville were served free.
      2 – once a week a movie that had been filmed in WNC was shown at a large theater for free. I went to 2 of them and, I’m not kidding, a total of about 10 people were in a theater that could hold about 600.
      3 – some other ill-conceived and indirect promos occurred.

      I had a chat with a couple of the agency hacks at the theater about the programs. Just asking questions and listening to their answers. Afterward, I said to my friend, “this is unbelievably stupid and a fantastic waste of money that will produce no tangible results”.

      As a reminder to Atlantans about nearby Asheville as a vacation destination, a direct mail program offering a big hotel discount or free restaurant dinner once here would have provided motivation to come again, visitor’s money would be spent while here AND would have allowed the promos to be tracked.

      Good grief! Who’s running the show and flushing all that money?

      1. RobotDanceMonkey1975 May 29, 2015

        results have been “tangible”, tourism growth in asheville tops everywhere else in the state.

        This “success” is why the program “continues.”

        1. TheRealWorld May 29, 2015

          Robot – you can trust that when there are 10 people in a theater that holds 600 (both of the nights I attended) there has been zero benefit and a huge waste of money.

          The many articles in national magazines/other publications and word of mouth from visitors has had far greater economic impact.

          1. Anna May 29, 2015

            Maybe people had zero interest in seeing whatever type of movie was playing. I personally do not attend movies based on their filming location.

          2. RobotDanceMonkey1975 May 29, 2015

            I’m not following your reasoning in putting so much weight behind a couple of “poorly attended films from 2010?”

            Maybe they ended the film showings because of “low attendance.” Maybe attendance “improved over time.” Trying something and failing isn’t always a huge disaster.

            I agree that magazine write-ups and word of mouth has the strongest economic impact because we put a lot more trust in what a “person” tells us over what a “tourism board” is telling us.

            Still, marketing has a lot of potential to increase tourism revenue and the projects you listed actually sound “smart to me” because they’re trying to do what written and verbal communication can’t do.

            …and maybe the film showing did work? Because “5 years ago you were in Atlanta watching WNC films” and now you’re a prolific commentator on an asheville news and gossip blog.

          3. TheRealWorld May 29, 2015

            Robot – You grew up in the Southeastern USA, am I correct?

          4. TheRealWorld June 2, 2015

            Thank you, Anna. You further proved my point about that particular campaign.

  6. NFB May 28, 2015

    For years whenever the was a call for a room tax to help support much of the infrastructure and services tourists use the local hotel owners maintained that we could not do this because it would increase the cost of a room and thus send tourists to hotels in Hendersonville, Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, etc.

    But hey, now it is perfectly acceptable to raise the room tax to help fund campaigns that aimed and bringing more business in for them and this will NOT cause tourists to go elsewhere.

    The old boy/old gal network of the local Chamber of Commerce and tourist/hotel industry is a totally self serving, incestuous operation and its hypocrisy in the matter is staggering even by its own repugnant standards.

    1. luther blissett May 29, 2015

      Why should it even be called a ‘room tax’ when it’s going straight to another of WNC’s unaccountable boards? It’s a TDA slush fund levy that gets pissed away on indulgent marketing and self-serving grants. The ex officio city and county members have no voting rights, so it’s controlled by another handful of Asheville’s unelected rulers.

  7. Barry Summers May 28, 2015

    “hoteliers are wary that the average daily rate they charge for rooms will plummet once the new rooms are up for rent”

    Heresy!! More more more more more more hotels = Good!

    1. indie499 May 28, 2015

      I would have thought that even you would know that as supply increases, the average room rate would be pressured. Guess not.

      1. Barry Summers May 28, 2015

        I would have thought that even you would recognize sarcasm. Guess not.

        1. indie499 June 2, 2015

          Not as you write it.

          1. Sarcasm Rocks June 2, 2015

            hey indie …his sarcastic remark couldn’t have been any more obvious. I’m thinking only you didn’t get it.

            Funny how that stuff is. For the longest time Black Comedy when right over my head. Now, I get it…..sort of. :o)

  8. b.c.w. May 28, 2015

    Of course Bob Patel would interrupt a local, everyday worker and business owner and say the TDA has no control over ‘those issues’. Sweep it under the rug, out of sight and out of mind. Never mind that Patel is directly involved with erecting many new hotels, and has proposed the 2 new 15-story ‘Motel Towers’ for Patton Avenue. Patel (and other members of the board who are directly involved with the hotel boom as owners or builders) have every reason to ignore the obvious negative effects of the hotel boom they are so much a part of since they have everything to gain, even if it’s by squashing the artists, enterpreneurs, and workers who made Asheville ‘hot’ to begin with.

    1. ICY J May 28, 2015

      THis just goes to show how little the Asheville government cares about local, native born people. They only care when it is property tax time.


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