Explore Asheville’s Storytelling Foundation is crafted from hundreds of conversations and interviews capturing the collective voice and passions of the local community

Explore Asheville, in partnership with its agency MMGY, earned a Bronze Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) for its Always, Asheville storytelling foundation. The 67th Adrian Awards celebrated in New York City honors excellence in travel marketing. Honorees were selected from more than 800 global entries by advertising, public relations, communications, media, and travel industry leaders.

“We are proud to be recognized by HSMAI for our storytelling foundation that truly captures the essence of our community,” said CEO and President of Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Vic Isley. “This honor is both a testament to the power of travel, and the power of shining a spotlight on genuine stories that originate from diverse voices and experiences in the community. Embracing paradox, these stories highlight this distinct place and her people while extending a genuine invitation to all.”

Launched in 2023, the Always, Asheville storytelling foundation honors the stories of Asheville and Buncombe County residents to build a deeper connection with travelers. Born out of nearly 500 community listening sessions, the framework shines a spotlight on paradoxes within the community and how it remains true to itself. The brand essence, Drawn Together to Stand Out, speaks to the close-knit and independent community that is deeply rooted and ever evolving:

We are both broad-minded and the French Broad River, boldly flowing in our own direction. Our goal wasn’t to be perfect. It was to be perfectly who we are. Thought-leaders and thought-provokers, musicians and storytellers, entrepreneurs and educators, foodies and beer lovers, healers, adventurers, creators and innovators. And through it all, we are always Asheville.

“The almost year-long journey of crafting our new storytelling platform started with hours of community listening. The creative framework that emerged set the stage for the anthem that guides all storytelling. Not only is Always, Asheville the backbone for our creative work at Explore Asheville, it’s become a mantra for our community and a promise that we share in our invitation to visitors of this special place,” said Explore Asheville’s Vice President of Marketing Dodie Stephens.

A video anthem embodying the new storytelling foundation features locals in front of the camera and behind the lens, including artist Jenny Pickens as the narrator. Award-winning documentary film producer Erin Derham later led the production of a one-minute video and subsequent 30-second and 15-second commercials for broadcast and digital, with music by Josh Blake recorded at Echo Mountain Recording. She embraced paradoxical thinking reflected in the storytelling foundation and understood that the community’s voice was paramount in reflecting its ethos. An exciting collaboration between the Grammy Award-winning Steep Canyon Rangers, Explore Asheville, and Citizen Studios led to the soundtrack for Explore Asheville’s latest commercial—also voiced by Graham Sharp, the banjo player for the band.

From producing the video anthem incorporating local talent to developing custom content, MMGY leveraged a full-funnel approach to build awareness of the new brand and encourage bookings. The new platform for storytelling also created more understanding and appreciation between residents and visitors, and how the visitor economy adds to residents’ quality of life, with 88% of surveyed residents agreeing that tourism is beneficial to the community.

The Always, Asheville campaign achieved more than an 8:1 return on investment.