A profile of Asheville tourists and their economic impact, by the numbers

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 is wrapping up its fiscal year, and what a year its been. The number of visitors to Asheville and Buncombe County, the amount they spend, hotel occupancy rates and hotel room rates are at or above record highs. Outside investment is pouring in, sparking a new hotel building boom that will bring more than 1,600 new hotel rooms online over the next three years

At the same time, the TDA and the New Orleans advertising agency it hired to sell the area just wrapped photo and video shoots that will show off Asheville and its surroundings to the next generation of area tourists. And on Wednesday, Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, offered a sneak peek at the contents of two new impressive reports that offer insight into just who all these tourists are, why they’re coming here and how their spending their cash.

Tourism officials will celebrate this all with a big party at the Omni Grove Park Inn on July 30. They’ll unveil the new television commercial that’s been produced, and celebrate their unprecedented success in attracting visitors. At the Buncombe TDA’s annual meeting at Biltmore Lioncrest on Aug. 17. The keynote speaker for the event is Adam Sacks, the founder and president of Tourism Economics, a tourism-sector consultant. Sacks’ company produced the economic impact study for the Buncombe TDA. Brown, an avowed stats geek, said Sacks and his company are the “gold standard” when it comes to collecting an analyzing tourism-related data.

Standing before a group of about 100 people from Asheville-area hotels and tourist destinations, Brown blazed through highlights of the visitor profile report and economic impact report. Both will be posted on the Buncombe TDA’s website in coming weeks, she said, while reiterating Sacks’ August talk in Asheville, which she urged everyone to attend. What follows are bulleted highlights I took note of as she talked. Brown forwarded me he slideshow presentation, and I’ve included a few of those slides here.

Visitor profile data

-The visitor profile data is information collected from 2012-2014 from a couple of different sources, including an online survey of households, so the Asheville data has to be extrapolated or pulled out in some cases. The visitor profile looks at a leisure traveler on a trip to the area.asheville_tourism_generation_2015

-The majority of tourists to Asheville are age 55 and over (56 percent.) The rest break down like this: 18 percent Millenials; 43 percent Baby Boomers; 28 percent GenXers.

-90 percent of visitors to Asheville are leisure-based, meaning there’s a huge opportunity for growth in attracting mid-week travelers visiting for business/conventions.

-26 percent of our tourists to Asheville have children in their households.

-The vast majority of visitors drive to Asheville (95 percent), versus arriving by airplane (3 percent).asheville_tourism_stats_2015

-68 percent of visitors come from the South Atlantic states, including South Carolina, Virgina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

-Looking more closely at states of origin, 24 percent of visitors to Asheville are coming from North Carolina; 17 percent are coming from South Carolina.

-22 percent of visitors are coming from within 100 miles of Asheville

-27 percent of Asheville visitors are here for a weekend getaway; 22 percent are here for a general vacation; and 24 percent visiting friends/relatives.

-Asheville has done a good job of smoothing out seasonality in recent years, Brown said.

-Length of stay: 2.44 nights is the average, with 36 percent staying one night and 27 percent staying two nights.asheville_tourism_activities_2015

-Tourists visiting Asheville are more active than your average visitor. “They’re really participating,” Brown said, adding that one challenge is educating visitors about all there is to do in the area. Some 40 percent of tourists take historic tours; 38 percent are interested in culinary destinations; 36 percent say they take general sightseeing tours.

-When you ask visitors to Asheville about their activities, the city ranks off the charts when it comes to brewery/winery/distillery tours

-Where tourists stay: 57 percent ing a hotel; 15 percent are other paid, non-hotel locations; 27 percent stay with a friend or relative. (Good data about Air BnB stays is still being assembled, according to Brown.)

Economic impact of tourism in Asheville/Buncombe County

-The economic impact data includes visitors who stayed overnight and who visited from 50 miles or more. It includes direct spending, indirect spending and induced spending. The impact is measured in terms of employment, income and business sales tax and other tax revenues.

-Tourism is an integral part of the Asheville economy, with $1.7 billion in direct spending in 2014 and $2.6 billion in total sales, which generated $287 million in tax revenue

-State and local tax proceeds of $144 million reduced the tax burden in Buncombe County by $1,232 per household.

-25,000 jobs were supported by visitor spending, or 1 in 7 jobs.

-The unemployment rate in Buncombe County would be 15.9 percent without visitor spending.

-Of those tourism-related jobs, 25 percent are in food/beverage, 18 percent in lodging, 13 percent in retail and 12 percent in recreation, with 32 percent in other sectors.

-Average wages in Buncombe County accommodations are 17 percent higher than the North Carolina average, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 data.

-9.8 million people visited Buncombe County in 2014, including 3.3 million overnight visitors

-Average visitor spending was $104 per person per day, up .4 percent over 2013.

-Food and beverage accounted for most visitor spending with $449 million, followed by retail at $399 million and $329 in lodging.

-Gasoline prices have been on a two-year slide, freeing up more money for tourists to spend and encouraging more driving trips and overall consumer confidence. Fuel prices are expected to remain under $3 a gallon through 2018, according to Oxford Economics.

-Local taxes generated included property and sales tax revenues, and amounted to $67 million in 2014.

Jason Sandford

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

  • 1

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  1. Henry June 26, 2015


    Rep. John Ager (D, NC-115) voted to for a tax increase that will give more money to an un-elected board, which may in turn give money to his Ager’s farm!

    Progressives and Democrats, ATTACK!

    Oh, right – we must protect the party above all else.

    Let’s focus on Jack Cecil and Bob Patel instead.


    1. NFB June 28, 2015

      I was disappointed to see Reps. Ager, Fisher, and Turner all vote for this bill. However, Rep. Fisher (and perahps Ager and Turner, I don’t know for certain) has expressed support for allowing a portion of the room tax go to support maintaining the infrastructure and services tourists use.

      Cecil and Patel have been steadfast in their complete and total opposition to that.

  2. Artist Lover June 26, 2015

    Ditto to Art Lover’s comment, and would like to add the Southern Highland Craft Guild’s locations and events. Two craft fairs at the U.S. Cellular Center, plus the Folk Art Center and other two local shops (Guild Crafts on Tunnel Road and the Gallery in Biltmore Village).

    1. Arts Lover June 28, 2015

      The Folk Art Center on the Parkway, as well as the two Guild Craft Fairs, are probably strong draws for out-of-town visitors. It would be interesting to see their geographic demographics and compare those to, say, the Asheville Art Museum. This Arts Lover is making no case one way or the other, just wants to see the data that document we are an “arts destination,” that is, that people are coming here specifically for the arts. If they partake of the arts while they are here for other reasons, that’s fine, but do arts tourists choose Asheville and focus on the arts. Let the data speak.

  3. Arts Lover June 26, 2015

    Asheville likes to label itself an “arts destination,” but the report’s “Top Activities at the Destination” section doesn’t seem to bear this out.
    The arts community sometimes markets itself as an economic driver. Can the report be further broken out to show tourist/out-of-town visitors for:
    Asheville Art Museum
    Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design
    Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
    Asheville Symphony
    Other musical venues (Orange Peel, New Mountain, Gray Eagle, etc, U.S. Cellular Center)
    River Arts District/Artist Studios
    Art and Craft Galleries (downtown, Biltmore Village, etc.)
    NC Stage and other theatre groups (Asheville Community Theatre, Magnetic Theatre, etc)
    Dance groups (Asheville Ballet, Terpsichore, Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre)

    It would also be useful, if the report hasn’t already done so, to break out visitors who come primarily for restaurants (culinary tourists) and beer (brewery/pub tourists).

    1. Sean June 26, 2015

      The data doesn’t bear it out because it’s a fact. Asheville can label itself an “arts destination” all it wants, but that’s not why people are coming here.

      They come for the show downtown, the Biltmore Estate, and to drive/hike the Parkway.

      That’s all, folks. I don’t say these things to begrudge the artists in this town, and there are surely tourists paying visits to the galleries, etc. But I am reminded of a saying….

      “If you tell a big lie often enough, eventually people will come to believe it.”


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