Originally published May 9, 2019 in the Citizen-Times
Stephanie Brown, GUEST COLUMNIST

Tourism has been in the news a lot lately. Here at the culmination of National Tourism Week (May 5-11) and with the start of the summer travel season on the horizon, the timing feels right to shine a light on the public good that we can attribute to tourism and share the ways that lodging tax revenue will be activated to help manage impacts and plan future investments for the benefit of both Asheville area residents and visitors.

National Tourism Week is about the people in tourism—the people in our community. Every day I am inspired by local people who launch and live their dreams here, dreams that are possible because of tourism.

More than $2 billion of revenue from people who visit goes to local families who run local businesses and employ local people. Those dollars help fuel independent business owners, nonprofits and charities and improve overall quality of life for the people who live here.  Bringing in customers through travel has been a successful strategy for our community—a strategy that puts 27,000 people to work in Buncombe County.

However, like any successful community today, we are facing challenges that come with growth, workforce needs and infrastructure strain. We all feel it. And, we want to work toward solutions together.

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) is a public entity that administers the lodging tax revenue with a public purpose that creates economic vitality, jobs and tax revenue, and creates community assets. Visitor spending supports 19 percent of property tax and generates 31 percent of sales tax—revenue that is available for core services and social investments.

Additionally, 25 percent of the lodging tax is dedicated to the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) that has awarded $44 million to community projects that improve the quality of life in the Asheville area—parks, theaters, museums, historic sites, sports fields, arts development, greenways and supporting infrastructure.

This community grant program is undergoing an important evolution with big picture implications. The TPDF will transition from an annual application-based process to a long-range investment strategy with a citizen voice to prioritize the needs and opportunities of the community within the framework of the Fund.

The BCTDA recently launched the Tourism Management and Investment Plan to Develop Community Assets (TMIP). This initiative builds upon the rigorous application-based process established by the BCTDA to evaluate opportunities for TPDF investment. Cornerstones of the TMIP process include community input and collaboration with public entities to find alignment between the legislative mandate of the fund, the priorities of the residential community and opportunities to manage tourism impacts to sustain and enhance quality of place.

Maintaining the quality of our city for residents is maintaining the quality of our city for visitors. We understand that it is critical to preserve, protect and grow sustainably for the mutual benefit of residents and visitors alike.

The Explore Asheville team and our tourism partners are proud of the work we do and the value that it brings to the community we treasure. And, we’re excited about a horizon with more opportunities, more voices and more resources as we work collectively to shape the future of the Asheville area and protect what makes this place truly special.  

Stephanie Brown is the president and CEO of Explore Asheville, the city’s official tourism marketing and sales organization.