Asheville tourism officials launch marketing push in response to HB2 backlash

Jason Sandford

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

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Asheville tourism officials will begin circulating a new video, a new letter from Stephanie Pace Brown, the head of the city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau and a new social media marketing campaign to counteract tourism losses and negative publicity following the March passage of a controversial state law known as HB2. (Update: here’s the new CVB website page with video and letter.)

HB2 is shorthand for the controversial law that North Carolina lawmakers passed in March that prevents local governments from adopting anti-discrimination ordinances for members of the LGBT community. It is also known as the “bathroom bill” because it requires people to use restrooms of the corresponding sex recorded on their birth certificates.

Details of the response were discussed at a Wednesday morning of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. The board oversees efforts to draw visitors to the mountains.

Brown screened the new video, which includes welcoming messages from Brown, Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Gantt. With pastoral scenes of the mountains (including a glowing rainbow over a green range) and active scenes of people enjoying downtown restaurants and entertainment, the video hammers home the message that Asheville is a “diverse” and “friendly” city that’s home to artists and innovators, all who value self-expression and the visitors who come.

“We assume everyone knows” what Asheville stands for, Brown said, but in fact they don’t. “We want to underscore the kind of community that Asheville is.”

The video, as well as a statement from Brown, will be posted to in the next day or so. It will be part of a package of materials aimed at meeting planners, as well as local tourism partners of the Asheville CVB. In the written statement, Brown said she used the city of Asheville’s strategic operating plan statement that Asheville City Council approved in January as inspiration.

Dianna Pierce, who oversees group sales for the CVB, told the TDA that nine planned meetings/conferences, totaling 2,400 hotel room nights about about $1 million, have been canceled as a direct result of #HB2. Another six events that were considering Asheville have also been lost, Pierce said. Those events total 2,200 hotel room nights and about $600,000, she said.

There are also plans to launch a social media campaign, which will include a separate video, to counteract the HB2 impact, according to Marla Tambellini, vice president of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. The social media campaign and second video will be aimed at the general public. Details of both are still being worked out, Tambellini said, but the goal is the same: to show Asheville as a welcoming city to all.

Tambellini said the CVB’s advertising plans are also being tweaked in response to the HB2 backlash. Some digital ads have been put on hold, and an advertising campaign targeting midweek travelers has been delayed, she said.

Another challenge has been a drop in media interest in doing stories that feature Asheville as a travel destination, Tambellini said. “We’re concerned about that moving forward,” she said.

In the meantime, Asheville and Buncombe County have been enjoying a strong winter and early spring season for hotel room sales. Occupancy rates for January and February have shown strong increases year-over-year, according to Buncombe TDA statistics, and anecdotally, sales have been strong into March and April.

Several leaders of high-profile companies have denounced the new law, and a series of big-name performers have canceled appearances in the Tar Heel state in response.

Update: Here’s the official press release the Asheville CVB issued late Wednesday afternoon:

ASHEVILLE, NC (April 27, 2016) – The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) launched a web page today to provide information and tools to meeting planners and their attendees to retain group bookings and attendance. The site includes a letter from the ACVB, a welcome video, the Asheville brand promise and additional links that could be useful in retaining group business.

”Our intention is to underscore that Asheville is a warm and welcoming community,” said ACVB Executive Director Stephanie Brown, noting that all of the elements of the site are designed to provide a deeper understanding of the destination. “We recognize that many potential visitors and meeting attendees may not know us very well and we wanted to better convey the spirit of Asheville and encourage visitation and meeting attendance.”

The video features welcome messages from Brown, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County Commission Chairman David Gantt. The video and letter will also be shared with tourism partners so they, in turn, can use these to help with their business efforts, Brown said.

A similar effort planned for leisure travelers will include a separate video built around the Asheville destination brand promise and will be accompanied by a social campaign.

Asheville tourism businesses are experiencing some travel and group business cancellations since passage of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, referred to as HB2, but Brown also noted the newly developed pieces are evergreen tools that allow all customers to get to know the region.

An important economic generator for the local economy, the tourism sector supports 25,000 jobs in Buncombe County, according to a study by Tourism Economics, a subsidiary of Oxford Economics. Each year, Buncombe County welcomes 3.3 million overnight guests, providing a customer base that assists in the sustainability of businesses in the community and contributes to tax revenues. Annually, tourism generates $1.7 billion in direct spending and a $2.6 billion economic impact to the region.

Jason Sandford

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

  • 1

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  1. Tim Peck April 30, 2016

    This is interesting:

    Government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina has launched a petition drive to encourage the N.C. Chamber to speak out on the law.

    “I think they cut a deal,” Bob Hall, the group’s executive director, said of the N.C. Chamber.

    State chambers of commerce in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and South Carolina have all come out against similar anti-LGBT legislation, but unlike proposals in other states, House Bill 2 includes provisions that make it much harder for workers to sue for job discrimination and that bans local governments from requiring contractors to pay a certain wage. Both are key priorities for the N.C. Chamber.

  2. Tim Peck April 30, 2016

    “And how much money was poured into NC by ALEC to get HB2 passed?”

    By all accounts: $0.00 (including travel expenses).

    1. Huh April 30, 2016

      When they’ve already bought and paid for everything, sure it seems ‘free’.

  3. Tim Peck April 28, 2016

    “How is … canceled as a direct result of #HB2 manufactured?”

    Because businesses, artists, and progressive dullards are being fooled and used and the rest of us are laughing at you and having, frankly, a pretty good time.

    You see, it’s not a direct result, it’s an indirect result, driven by HRC. They are pouring tens of millions into NC to a manufacture a crisis through to the election. Good luck with that.

    1. Matt April 29, 2016

      And how much money was poured into NC by ALEC to get HB2 passed?
      Seriously, Tim. Not a rhetorical question…

  4. Tim Peck April 28, 2016

    “You know it when you write it. Shill.”

    That seems rather uncharitable.

    1. chris April 28, 2016

      Your politics seems rather uncharitable.

  5. jtroop April 28, 2016

    Why are Asheville tourism officials and the Chamber so afraid to denounce HB2? Their mealy-mouthed statements will not dissuade anyone or group considering dropping their contracts. If you want the business, grow a pair and make a real statement.

  6. Tim Peck April 28, 2016

    “You know a thing or two about manufactured partisan agitation, don’t you, Tex?”

    I know it when I see it.

    1. chris April 28, 2016

      You know it when you write it. Shill.

  7. Big Al April 27, 2016

    Never let a crisis go to waste, eh?

    Speaking of waste, go outside and take a whiff on a Friday or Saturday night downtown and tell me anybody, whatever the junk between their legs or ears, is using a bathroom anywhere.

    Thanks, “Beer City”.

  8. Tim Peck April 27, 2016


  9. Tim Peck April 27, 2016

    I’m glad they made this video to counteract the negative consequences of the manufactured partisan agitation over HB2. It sure has come back to bite progressives in the ass. But they are just acceptable collateral damage on the was to regaining power. Great going guys.

    1. chris April 27, 2016

      “manufactured partisan agitation over HB2”.

      You know a thing or two about manufactured partisan agitation, don’t you, Tex?

    2. Timothy Burgin April 28, 2016

      How is “nine planned meetings/conferences, totaling 2,400 hotel room nights about about $1 million, have been canceled as a direct result of #HB2” manufactured?

  10. Murphy April 27, 2016

    New tagline: Asheville … pee anywhere you’d like!


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