The economic growth and development of the Asheville area over the past four decades can, in many ways, be attributed to recognition of the potential offered by tourism, recreation and hospitality.
In 1983, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified Occupancy Tax House Bill 426 for Buncombe, New Hanover, Forsyth, Haywood and Mecklenburg counties. The bill created a two-percent room tax in Buncombe County on accommodation rentals with five or more units to be used directly for travel and tourism promotion. The tax was added to the sales tax that properties also charge their customers.
It also established a new public body – the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA), which brought Buncombe County hoteliers and local industry leaders together to create a comprehensive destination marketing strategy – a strategy that would ultimately expand the customer base for locals businesses, provide jobs, and generate state and local taxes.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the closing of some of the city’s oldest convention hotels played an important role in the decline of downtown Asheville. In 1973, local leaders were depending on the new Asheville Civic Center complex to fill Asheville area hotels. With the closing of the city’s downtown Landmark Hotel, reversal of the decline became an even greater critical issue.
Pioneers of BCTDA
The mid-1970s brought new Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce Chamber leadership who recognized the potential of travel and tourism to resurrect the declining downtown and showcase the city for other forms of economic development. They also recognized competing destinations in other states were already realizing the results of promotional campaigns executed with revenues derived from hotel-motel taxes.
Buncombe County hoteliers recognized the need to create a self-imposed tax that would ensure the region would not see a drain of its visitors and the economic impact they created each year.
After research and deliberation, the Chamber’s board of directors endorsed the pursuit of a dedicated accommodations tax to fund a full-service destination marketing organization and create a comprehensive strategy to market Asheville and Buncombe County.
The Chamber, working in cooperation with an all Democratic Buncombe County Legislative delegation, and with the blessing of a forward-thinking Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commission, drafted what would become the first accommodation tax legislation passed in North Carolina.
This new source of marketing funds generated the increase in visitation necessary to create and sustain independent shops, restaurants, cultural experiences, events, attractions and accommodations benefitting Asheville area visitors and local residents.
Highlights of the Buncombe County Occupancy Tax
- In 1983, state legislation created a two percent room occupancy tax on accommodation rentals with five or more units and created the BCTDA.
- In 1985, an additional one percent was added and the tourism economic effort began to grow the community.
- In 2001, an additional one percent was added to create the Tourism Product Development Fund, dedicated to funding new tourism products to generate more overnight hotel stays to create a an even stronger economic impact for the community.
- In 2015, the occupancy tax was increased from four to six percent with one and a half percent dedicated to funding the Tourism Product Development Fund, awarding $44 million of occupancy tax revenue to 39 projects since its inception in 2001 — about half of that awarded to City of Asheville-owned projects.
- In 2019, the tourism industry provided jobs for nearly 18,900 people in Buncombe County. And, in total, tourism supported almost 28,000 jobs – about 15% of employment in the county, including 4,861 people working in lodging, 2,675 in retail, 6,270 in food and beverage operations, 3,180 in entertainment and recreation, plus nearly 11,000 jobs in other categories.
- Visitors spend $2.2 billion at local businesses in Buncombe County each year. In turn, those businesses buy goods and services from other local businesses resulting in a total economic impact of $3.3 billion.