It looks like the tourism industry in Asheville is officially back. In a presentation Thursday morning, local tourism officials offered industry statistics and a spring and summer vacation forecast for the Asheville area. The gist of the report from Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Stephanie Brown and Marla Tambellini, vice president of marketing for the CVB: 2014 will set new records for the number of tourists visiting Asheville.
The two talked about some new marketing strategies: namely, that the CVB plans to market Asheville in some new markets, including Charleston, Nashville and Cincinatti. They also noted Asheville’s expected hotel building boom, saying that 1,000 new hotel rooms are planned for Asheville in coming years.
Here’s the script that Brown read from for her report this morning:
Hotel sales and occupancy have steadily climbed during the past six years, since the bottom of the recession.
We’re expecting that 2014 will set new records for the number of visitors to Asheville, and will slightly top the record high occupancy of 66-point-8 percent that was set in 2007.
As we evaluated the spring forecast, it became clear that early indicators point to one of the best spring seasons we’ve had in some time – despite the Dogwood Winter we’ve had the last few days.
Our forecast is based on OCCUPANCY, which is the number of rooms available divided by the number of rooms sold.
We have a supply of about 7,300 rooms in Buncombe County.
So, on an annual basis, we have 2.7-million rooms available to sell. In the last 12 months, 1.8-million rooms were sold in the County for OCCUPANCY of 66.5%.
Let’s take a look at this chart which demonstrates the path that we are following. Last March, occupancy was 60.7%. This March was up a little more than 3.5% to total 62.9% for the month.
Occupancy in Buncombe County was slightly higher than the state’s March occupancy rate of 62.3%.
However, if we look at weekend growth, the picture is even more robust, particularly when compared to the state and national averages.
Asheville’s Weekend occupancy was 81.6%, up from 77.3% the previous year and greatly surpassing the North Carolina weekend occupancy of 69.8% and the U-S average of 72.7%.
We’ve used this information and March results to establish a projection that occupancy will grow at a rate of 4-point-4 percent over last year throughout the spring and early summer.
We project that Weekend Occupancy in Buncombe County will average 93.3% April through June, and TOTAL OCCUPANCY will average about 75% for Spring.
REASONS FOR THE INCREASE — Stephanie
We have also considered national surveys as we look at our forecasting crystal ball.
The travel intentions of U.S. adults are the highest since 2007 according to the latest travelhorizons™ survey – a national study of 1,900 active travelers conducted by MMGY Global.
64% of US adults expect to take at least one leisure trip between now and August 2014 – surpassing the highest percentage previously recorded in the survey from February 2009.
This increase suggests the U.S. travel industry can expect an increase in demand during the upcoming spring and summer travel season.
Another good sign is an uptick in the consumer confidence index reported by the Conference Board. And, Consumer Sentiment also rose to the highest level in April since last summer.
Overall, the surveys concur that consumers expect the economy to continue improving and believe it may even pick up a little steam in the months ahead.
Closer to home, we also have evidence that our increased investment in advertising this year, along with some tweaks to our sales process are contributing to demand growth.
Last year, our Meetings & Conventions Sales Team went through an evaluation of our group sales process. As a result of that, we developed a new set of tools and strategies that would help us improve our efforts in closing the deal and generating more booked group business.
This has allowed us to begin filling the pipeline in a more significant way. This spring we are seeing those efforts lead to significant increases in definite bookings.
On the marketing side, our continued investment in paid advertising, combined with a complementary media relations effort provides a significant return on investment.
We see that, not only in the current occupancy numbers, but in other key performance indicators which signal interest in Asheville vacations.
For example, visits to ExploreAsheville.com since the start of our fiscal year are up nearly 31 percent and we are on track to log nearly 4 million visits to the web site for our fiscal year ending in June.
Our media relations efforts have reached an audience of more than 1.1 BILLION already this year.
The Buncombe County TDA through the work of the CVB dedicated a record amount of more than 3.2 million dollars – to advertise the destination during this fiscal year with approximately half of that dedicated to spring advertising.
Our Asheville Is Calling print campaign has been running in magazines throughout the Southeast. And for the past six years our TV commercials have been focused on our core markets of Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro.
Our job is getting bigger with the expectation of nearly 1,000 new rooms coming onto the market during the next several years.
The Asheville C-V-B and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority recognized the need for market expansion. So I will turn it over now to our Vice President of Marketing Marla Tambellini to talk about our next steps and its contribution to our spring forecast.
With additional dollars dedicated to our spring campaign, we were able to do some further analysis and adjustments in order to broaden our scope in broadcast and add new markets. In addition to our core markets, we have added Columbia and Charleston South Carolina to the mix. All of this is further complemented by a substantial advertising investment in television by Biltmore during the spring.
In addition to the increased occupancy for March, we also saw a 53 percent increase in requests for travel guide and traffic to ExploreAsheville.com was up by nearly nine percent in March.
But this is just the first step in a larger dedicated effort to expand awareness and create stronger familiarity of Asheville on a more national scale. Key to growing demand is driving business within core markets while expanding to new markets to add new visitors.
We also believe that the use of video in a variety of channels – not just traditional TV – is the most effective delivery vehicle for sharing the Asheville experience which is why broadcast is critical to our marketing mix.
As revenues increase, we are earmarking additional funds for that advertising expansion which will allow us to enter three additional markets this summer – Knoxville and Nashville Tennessee and Cincinnati Ohio. Essentially we are going from 4 TV markets to nine in a few short months.
Our hotel occupancy tax is only 4%. Lower than surrounding counties and much lower than markets like ours. It’s a revenue source left on the table for local budgets that continue to struggle…despite all the wealth coming in.
Only $15k comes to the city for every $5 million spent.
Roger, the NCGA down in Raleigh decides the occupancy tax rates…
it is not something that AVL (or Buncombe County) can just increase on a whim…
It’s called colonialism. As in, Asheville is a colony of Buncombe County and Raleigh.
What? Don’t city and county governments collect sales tax on these sales?
Yes, they do.
Actually, the city’s share of sales tax revenue is pitifully small, particularly when you consider the costs city government bears. Asheville has one of the highest daytime-to-resident ratios in the state (folks who drive in to work or other, then go home). City generates something like 75% of sales tax receipts, nets way less than that. City residents do, in fact, subsidize county residents.
The best way to lower the daytime-to-resident ratios is to annex more land into Asheville. There is no reason Candler and Arden cannot be annexed immediately. Asheville has a total area of 45.3 square miles, whereas Charlotte has a total area of 297.68 square miles. Phoenix, AZ covers 517 square miles. They are big cities, yet there are small towns with lots of land. Pittsburg, NH has a population of 869 people and has a total area of 291.2 square miles. Asheville has only a fraction of that amount. Surely, it should annex more. Personally, Asheville would be doing these unincorporated census areas a favor as their land would be in a world class city.
Asheville isn’t allowed to annex land anymore thanks to Sly King Moffitt. Asheville won’t be expanding its boundaries ever again, probably, and wil likely be forced at some point to merge with the county. However, that’s just how it goes when a city dares commit the sin of being progressive. People inside the city tend not to think like people out in the hinterlands, and must be duly punished. Surely you understand.
It is not a Republican or Democrat thing. I am Republican, but I can clearly see Moffitt is a bitter man doing everything in his power to stifle Asheville’s potential. He needs to be taken down.
I don’t think Asheville and Buncombe county could become a consolidated city-county. Black Mountain and Weaverville are too distinct to allow that, though I suppose they could be autonomous jurisdictions apart from the city-wide government like Nashville and Davidson County, TN.
Many peak weekends already sold out downtown. The added supply can’t get here soon enough.