ASHEVILLE, N.C. (September 5, 2019) — More than 300 people working in tourism-related businesses that benefit from visitors, including independent retailers, artists and musicians, lodging, hospitality and food and beverage professionals, and representatives from cultural and outdoor attractions and nonprofits, along with elected and appointed officials, gathered today at the Omni Grove Park Inn to celebrate the benefits of tourism to the community and learn what’s ahead for 2020.

The event included the unveiling of the new Explore Asheville advertising spots and other creative elements by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA). More than 75 percent of the cast and crew involved in the production were from the Asheville area and surrounding counties. The campaign features the tagline “Let Your Spirit Run Free.” which captures the desire for spontaneity and an openness to unsurprisingly surprises that await in the Asheville area.

The campaign is designed to attract highly targeted audiences in new markets that include New York City, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio and Birmingham as well as other key cities across North and South Carolina, the Southeast, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Midwest. In addition to traditional TV and radio spots and a mix of streaming video, digital, and paid social media on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, the plan also includes ads on TripAdvisor, Hulu, Spotify and Pandora, to name a few. Details of the plan can be found on

The investment of $11.5 million is expected to generate $494.5 million total in spending by visitors – an infusion of cash that could help sustain a mom ‘n’ pop shop or tourism entrepreneur, outdoor outfitter, artist, chef, musician, craft brewer or a nonprofit attraction such as the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center or Asheville Museum of Science.

“Tourism advertising fuels a powerful economic engine for Buncombe County,” said Denise Miller, executive vice president at the marketing research firm Strategic Marketing & Research Insights (SMARI). “Our study measuring the effectiveness of Explore Asheville’s advertising revealed that every dollar invested generates $43 in spending at local businesses and $3 of sales tax – all within six months of the advertising campaign.”

President & CEO Stephanie Brown reported on the health of the tourism industry. “Although key measurements were positive for the fiscal year, the industry is beginning to experience early signs of weakness that may be due to economic factors that appear to be impacting consumer confidence,” she said. Reports indicate that U.S. consumer sentiment dipped in August. “Our role in bringing in customers to local business continues to be critical to the support and sustainability of our small businesses who rely on these visitors,” she added.

This year’s recipient of the William A.V. Cecil Award, which for 20 years has honored those whose leadership, creativity and commitment has helped guide the tourism industry in Buncombe County, was also cognizant of the economic impact of people who visit the community.

This year’s recipient, Dick Trammell, helped lay the foundation for the growth of the tourism industry that today has a total annual economic impact of $3.1 billion. In 1975 as the newly appointed director of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce Convention Bureau, Trammell’s responsibility was to strengthen the local economy. He did that by spearheading the effort to initiate an occupancy tax, which would then be invested in attracting overnight visitors to Buncombe County who would spend money at local businesses, supporting the livelihoods of local people and generating tax revenue that would benefit the local community.

“We approached the accommodations tax for Buncombe County as an economic development issue, because that’s exactly what it was,” said Trammell. “A small tax on hotel rooms, spent to market the destination, would have a significant impact on general sales tax collections that were on food, on beverages, on retail, on anything that you bought in Buncombe County.”

“Spending by tourists supports 19 percent of property tax and generates 31 percent of sales tax – revenue that is available for core services and social investments,” said BCTDA Board Chair Gary Froeba, area managing director at Omni Hotels and Resorts, including the Omni Grove Park Inn. “In addition, 25 percent of the lodging tax is dedicated to the Tourism Product Development Fund, which has awarded $44 million to 39 community projects, such as parks, theaters, museums, historic sites, sports fields, and greenways that improve the quality of life for residents as well as visitors.”

“All of us in Buncombe County owe a great debt of gratitude to Dick and those he worked with to create a source of funding to promote this area,” said Explore Asheville President and CEO Stephanie Brown. “The tourism industry benefits all of us. Not just those of us in this room or the more than 27,000 total jobs supported by visitors to our area, including business services, finance, insurance and real estate, but also, our friends and family, our neighbors and coworkers, the folks sitting next to you at the ballgame or at church, the kids down the street, the elders across town, the couple enjoying a play or concert, the teens playing soccer, or the groups on a run by the river.”

Brown also shared an update on the Tourism Management and Investment Plan to Develop Community Assets (TMIP), a community engagement process designed to help manage the challenges and maximize the benefits of tourism.  The process, launched earlier this year by BCTDA, represents a monumental shift in the approach to the Tourism Product Development funding process, she noted.

Community input through public workshops and surveys, along with extensive market research and close collaboration with a community leadership council and with staff at the City of Asheville, Buncombe County Government, and other public entities in the county, will result in a 10-year strategic guide for deploying grants through BCTDA’s Tourism Product Development Fund that can work in tandem with local government on a big-picture vision, within TPDF’s legislatively defined purpose.

Each attendee also received a special gift – the recently released single “Be Still Moses,” a collaboration between Steep Canyon Rangers, Boyz II Men and the Asheville Symphony, courtesy of Symphony Executive Director David Whitehill.  “We’re thrilled to have the local premiere of our latest single “Be still Moses” at Explore Asheville’s Annual Meeting,” Whitehill said. “We appreciate the leadership role Explore Asheville has taken to highlight music as a reason to come visit Asheville.”

Presentations from the annual meeting can be found online at


Established by legislation in 1983, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) is a public authority with a public purpose that enhances the economic vitality of Buncombe County. Charged with marketing Buncombe County as a tourism destination and administering its Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF), the BCTDA invests occupancy tax revenue to attract some 3.9 million overnight visitors to Buncombe County who spend $2 billion at local businesses annually, supporting 15 percent of employment in Buncombe and generating $119.1 million in state and local tax revenues, for a total economic impact of $3.1 billion. Under the oversight of the BCTDA, the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) executes an extensive strategic marketing and sales program that inspires visitation and group meetings/travel while showcasing and offering free marketing services to 1,200 businesses that rely on visitors.