Explore Asheville, North Carolina, has joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) as a destination member
Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, on behalf of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, executes an extensive strategic marketing and sales program that contributes $2.2 billion to the economic vitality of the community while showcasing and providing free marketing opportunities to 1,300 local tourism partners – many of them small and micro-sized operations.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a thriving mountain city featuring a funky and eclectic downtown, rich culture, culinary creativity, bustling breweries, unique local shops, a booming music scene and a reputation as a haven for artists and makers. Surrounded by the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S., Asheville is steeped in natural history, outdoor adventure, wellness traditions and cultural legacies, including America’s Largest Home, Biltmore.
Cradled by the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the National Park Service’s first and third most visited units in the United States), people have been drawn to live and visit this very distinct mountain community for generations. Therefore, Asheville and surrounding Buncombe County are committed to protect the natural, cultural and human resources so important to its residents and visitors for years to come.
Encouraging Safe & Responsible Travel
To help guide its efforts going forward, Explore Asheville recently adopted four strategic imperatives tied to broader community goals, one of which is Encourage Safe & Responsible Travel. Joining the Global Sustainable Tourism Council was one of Explore Asheville’s first actions upon adopting this strategic pillar.
“Knowing that we must work together for long-term success, we invited GSTC CEO Randy Durband to speak at the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s annual planning retreat last spring,” says Victoria “Vic” Isley, president and CEO of Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County TDA. “His words of inspiration and encouragement are helping us shape our efforts, focusing on the quality of each visit for the visitor, as well as for our own community.”
Asheville’s Sustainability Journey
Operationally, Explore Asheville’s sustainability journey has begun with small but meaningful measures, says Isley. “While we’ve always endeavored to support our local businesses, we’re taking small intentional steps internally – for example, we’ve committed to locally-sourced coffee in our breakroom and ordering only from locally-owned businesses for catering partner events and board meetings.
Explore Asheville’s other actions include:
- Leave No Trace Campaign: Explore Asheville is partnering with Visit NC, the North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics on a statewide campaign to encourage, educate and inspire travelers to recreate responsibly.
- Fundraising through Pledge for the Wild: Asheville is the first destination on the East coast to join other mountain locations in the U.S. in signing onto this platform that not only educates visitors about responsible tourism in wild places but provides a direct channel for supporting those places financially. The recipient of donations in Asheville through Pledge for the Wild is the nonprofit Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.
Sustainability Messaging: The Explore Asheville marketing team is working on a deeper evaluation of target audiences to shape persuasive and inspiring messages that communicate Asheville’s values related to safe and responsible travel.
- Attracting Like-Minded Brands: The Explore Asheville group sales team has expanded its strategy to focus on attracting Certified B-Corporations and other like-minded brands to Asheville, including groups from the outdoor industry. In alignment with local economic developers and Asheville’s reputation as “Climate City” – a nod to the growing sector of businesses focused on solutions for climate change anchored by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information downtown – the sales team is also targeting climate technology companies.
- Encouraging Corporate Social Responsibility: The sales team is also actively encouraging event planners for conferences, retreats and business meetings to add community service projects to their Asheville agendas – and even engaging planners of weddings, reunions and social gatherings to do the same.
- Product Development: Explore Asheville is funded by revenue from an occupancy tax paid by overnight visitors. As legislated by the state, a quarter of that revenue is dedicated to grants for community projects that will increase visitation. Even before adopting the Encourage Safe & Responsible Travel strategic pillar, the organization supported some of the area’s most beloved outdoor spaces including $7.125 million toward a new greenway and bikeway running along two miles of the iconic French Broad River (the third-oldest river in the world according to geologists), complete with sidewalks, public art, and landscaping.
- Stakeholder Events: As part of National Tourism & Travel Week, Explore Asheville hosted virtual community discussion to gather ideas and inspiration for ways to Encourage Safe & Responsible Travel. A more recent Explore Asheville webinar featured a panel of tourism partners who shared ways they are embracing sustainability in their businesses – everything from adding a “voluntourism” component to sourcing locally for product packaging to, yes, changing light bulbs. A subsequent Sustainability Resource Fair held at the home of the 6th largest solar array among craft breweries in the U.S. helped connect tourism partners with local environmental nonprofits.
GSTC Welcomes Asheville
“GSTC is pleased to welcome Explore Asheville as a member. When meeting with the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, we were impressed with their commitment to excellence, economic growth in sustainable ways, and commitment to stakeholder engagement,” says Randy Durband, CEO of GSTC.
GSTC encourages destinations pursuing sustainability practices in development and management of tourism, to join as GSTC members and apply the GSTC Destination Criteria (which eventually can lead to achieving certification by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body) and support local business to apply the GSTC Industry Criteria.
MEDIA CONTACT FOR EXPLORE ASHEVILLE
Kathi M. Petersen, Director of Public Information
MEDIA CONTACT FOR GSTC
Roi Ariel, General Manager