Annual Meeting 2020 collageSome 150 community members and individuals working in businesses and organizations that benefit from visitors tuned in on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 3:30 – 5 p.m., for Part 1 of the 2020 Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Annual Meeting.

Hosted by Explore Asheville CVB, the Zoom webinar featured an overview of the state of tourism in Buncombe County by Interim Executive Chris Cavanaugh, the presentation of the 2020 William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award to AIR – Asheville Independent Restaurant Association – and a compelling keynote speech and call to action by Earl B. Hunter, Jr., the founder and president of Black Folks Camp Too.

>>View a recording of Part 1 of the 2020 BCTDA Annual Meeting here. (See highlights below.)

>>UPDATED: Read about Part 2 of the Annual Meeting and view a recording.

>>Download the BCTDA Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2019 – 2020 here.

Highlights: Part 1 of the 2020 BCTDA Annual Meeting


A presentation by Explore Asheville Interim Executive Chris Cavanaugh included the following:

“Tourism Sector” vs. “Tourism Industry”

According to Cavanaugh, the past year has demonstrated that “sector” – a term defined by Investopedia as a larger, general part of the economy – is a more fitting description in Buncombe County than tourism “industry.” “Tourism is not just a single industry in Western North Carolina; it’s made up of multiple industries across numerous product and service categories. When visitors are taken out of the local economy, it’s not just lodging that’s impacted, it’s many different kinds of businesses – almost all of them small businesses – as well as nonprofits.”

Resilience and Innovation

Cavanaugh presented numerous examples of resilience and innovation in response to the pandemic by local businesses, tourism partners, local and state government.

Explore Asheville’s Response to the Pandemic

Some of the actions taken by Explore Asheville include:

    • Creation of a microsite on to help drive online commerce for partners to sell their goods, plus COVID messaging on and COVID resources for partners on
    • Development of public safety initiatives, such as the Asheville Cares Stay Safe Pledge, safety message signage in partnership with the City and County, a social media mask-wearing contest.
    • Investment in new sales tools by the Explore Asheville sales team to allow planners to view and visit meeting spaces virtually, to build future accommodations demand and customers for local businesses (details to be shared at Part Two of the Annual Meeting, Oct. 20).
    • In addition, the BCTDA with Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association and local and state elected officials spearheaded the establishment of the Buncombe Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund, creating a pool of $5 million for 394 grants to local tourism-related businesses and nonprofits – more than half with five or fewer employees – enabling the retention of nearly 4,800 jobs in the community.

Explore Asheville’s Four Strategic Pillars

Cavanaugh reviewed a strategic framework he introduced at the August meeting of the BCTDA for implementing both old and new ideas, adapting to the current circumstances, and inspiring deliberate and urgent action to drive the economic recovery of the community:

    • Safely attract overnight visitation, customers for local businesses, and jobs for residents through destination marketing and sales – in accordance with government health mandates.

“When the time comes, we have the unique means and ability to prepare Asheville for the return of visitors and the associated economic benefits they bring with them,” said Cavanaugh. “Our role is to position Asheville and Buncombe County to rebound safely and faster than other communities.”

    • Broaden outreach to leisure travelers and meeting and event audiences to attract diverse visitors.

Cavanaugh does not expect all visitor segments to immediately return in numbers similar to those seen in the past or at the same rate. Although the core target will remain the same, he believes there are opportunities to reach new audiences to fill gaps and diversify the base of visitors.

    • Enhance support of local tourism businesses.

Explore Asheville is identifying and implementing additional activities that will benefit local tourism businesses, encourage retention of jobs, and sustain economic recovery.

    • Expand engagement and collaboration with local partners.

This includes working closely with local governments and tourism-related partner organizations to encourage compliance with health and safety mandates, and expanding outreach to community segments and non-traditional partners.

Cavanaugh said Explore Asheville will remain agile and flexible, continuing to monitor changes in the marketplace – including consumer sentiment, spread of the virus, and shifts in target audience behavior – while seeking ways to tell Asheville’s story and generate demand for now as well as the future, when the destination can fully reopen.

“The economic recovery from the pandemic will go through tourism and adherence to health and safety measures. This community’s future depends on it.”

– Chris Cavanaugh, Explore Asheville Interim Executive,
speaking at the BCTDA Annual Meeting on Oct. 7, 2020.


For more than two decades, the William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award has honored those who have made a significant contribution to the tourism sector in Asheville and Buncombe County and who have provided exceptional leadership in making the community a special place to live and visit.

The 2020 award was presented to Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, better known as AIR, described by Cavanaugh “an organization and, indeed, an entire community of passionate, dedicated people who have shaped Asheville’s reputation as a unique culinary destination. Independent restaurants are a huge part of the appeal of Asheville and Buncombe County, and they are part of an ecosystem that includes local farms and many different kinds of makers.”

Accepting the award with AIR Executive Director Jane Anderson were Michel Baudouin, of Bouchon and Rendezvous, and Eric Scheffer, of Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian and Jettie Rae’s Oyster House, two of the original four chef-owners who started the membership organization in 2003.


Widely recognized for his ebullient personality, hard work ethic and non-traditional approach to building relationships and closing deals, keynote speaker Earl B. Hunter, Jr., urged attendees to diversify the tourism sector’s customer base. The mission of the marketing-driven business he founded, Black Folks Camp Too, is to increase diversity in the outdoor industry, which he says is currently 90 percent white.

Reminding attendees that “Black folks are going to spend money,” Hunter said 14 percent of the U.S. population is Black and responsible for spending $63 billion on travel annually and some $1.2 trillion in purchases overall. He urged attendees to “ask” for business from Black people.:

“This year, 2020, has taught us that we need one another more than ever – every restaurant, every hotel, every attraction in Asheville – you don’t care where the money comes from, you need people in your doors. When you need people in your doors, you have to attract those folks, you have to ask for their money, you have to make sure they are educated about your location, you have to make sure they have knowledge, and you have to make sure they aren’t afraid to come in because they’re going to get looks and stares because they feel like they aren’t welcome. More important, you have to invite them…we’re not twisting arms, we are twisting hearts.”

— Earl B. Hunter, Jr., Founder & President of Black Folks Camp Too,
speaking at the BCTDA Annual Meeting on Oct. 7, 2020


Remarks by BCTDA Board Chair

Buncombe County TDA Chair Himanshu Karvir paid tribute to several individuals for their efforts, including outgoing board member Chip Craig, of GreyBeard Realty in Black Mountain, and Gary Froeba, of Omni Grove Park Inn, who completed his term as BCTDA Chair in the end of Fiscal Year 2019-2020.

Recognition of Chip Craig

In addition to his role for several years as chair of the Finance Committee, Craig led the committee that oversees the Festivals & Cultural Events Grant Fund, which since 2016 has supported local events from Downtown After 5 to the Blue Ridge Pride Festival, Shindig on the Green, the Mardi Gras Parade, and the Goombay Festival. During FY 2019-20, it was this discretionary, earned income from advertising sales on that enabled the BCTDA to make a $50,000 lead donation to One Buncombe, the community COVID-19 relief fund.

Recognition of Gary Froeba

Froeba has been a BCTDA board member since 2015, and currently serves as vice chair. Over the last year, with other members of the Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association and the support of the local delegation to the N.C. General Assembly, Froeba was instrumental in helping establish the $5 million Buncombe Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund to assist nearly 400 local tourism-related businesses in safely reopening after COVID-related closures.

Froeba also leads the search committee to replace former Explore Asheville President & CEO Stephanie Brown, who left at the end of June for a position in the private sector after eight years of leading unprecedented growth of the destination. A successor to Brown is expected to be announced in the near future.

Preview of Part Two of BCTDA Annual Meeting

The meeting also included a preview of the marketing and sales plans Explore Asheville Deputy Director and Vice President of Marketing Marla Tambellini and Vice President of Sales Dianna Pierce will present at Part Two of the BCTDA Annual Meeting, on Oct. 20.