Explore Asheville and Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Release Findings from 2023 Resident Perspectives on Tourism Report
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (April 3, 2023) — An overwhelming majority of Asheville and Buncombe County residents (84%) agree that tourism benefits their community according to recent survey findings shared during the March 24 Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) annual planning session.
Building on a 2019 and subsequent 2022 study, market research firm MMGY Travel Intelligence surveyed a representative sample of Buncombe County and Asheville residents on their awareness and perceptions of tourism and its impact on the community. (Note: The sample size was similar to the County’s recent Bond referendum poll of County residents.)
Resident respondents to the survey understand and appreciate the broader economic impacts of tourism. However not all agree that the industry has a positive impact specifically on their families. While respondents believe tourism still poses some challenges, they also agree that Explore Asheville’s strategic imperatives are aligned to address these concerns.
“Explore Asheville is committed to surveying Buncombe County and Asheville residents each year to gauge their perspectives on travel and tourism,” said Vic Isley, President & CEO of Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. “The findings reveal the complexity behind local perceptions and the importance of our continued efforts to invest in our community, balancing resident quality of life and the quality of visits of our guests.”
Chris Davidson, executive vice president at MMGY Travel Intelligence, provided the following key insights from the survey, which was fielded in February:
Key Insight No. 1: While residents agree that tourism poses some challenges, they clearly believe it also provides immense value to the community. An overwhelming majority (84%) agree that tourism benefits their community.
- Seven out of 10 resident respondents agree that investment in tourism via the lodging tax collected by overnight visitors fuels the local economy.
More than half of resident respondents agree that tourism positively impacts their families.
Key Insight No. 2: Asheville residents are proud of their community, the emphasis on inclusivity and diversity, and the culture and character of Asheville.
- 88% agree that visitors help support the number and variety of independent businesses, including restaurants, retail shops, and entertainment opportunities. Only 38% of resident respondents believe that visitors detract from the culture and character of our community.
- In alignment with Explore Asheville’s strategic priority to promote and support Asheville’s creative spirit, nearly 9 in 10 resident respondents agree that sharing stories of Asheville’s creative spirit is an important initiative for managing visitors.
Key Insight No. 3: Parking and traffic congestion problems are primary concerns Asheville residents have for their quality of life. Dispersing visitors to areas outside of downtown Asheville and shifting the concentration of visitors to fewer peak times of the year are important initiatives for Asheville residents.
- In alignment with Explore Asheville’s strategic imperative to deliver balanced and sustainable growth, resident respondents agree that dispersing visitors throughout the county (70%) and throughout the year (76%) are important initiatives.
Key Insight No. 4: Residents are proud of the natural beauty and greenspaces of Asheville. Around half are concerned that tourism may impact these natural amenities and emphasize that participating in sustainable tourism is important for visitors.
- Nearly eight out of 10 resident respondents agree that our visitor economy helps support natural and cultural amenities such as parks, greenways, performing arts, and museums that residents enjoy. Less than half of resident respondents believe that tourism reduces available public green space in the community.
- In alignment with Explore Asheville’s strategic imperative to encourage safe and responsible travel, a strong majority of resident respondents (93%) agree that encouraging visitors to practice responsible tourism and respect and protect cultural and natural assets is important.
Key Insight No. 5: Supporting local businesses is important to Asheville residents, and most expect the same of visitors to Asheville.
- Half of resident respondents say they always buy from local shops when they travel for vacation, while three-quarters believe it’s “very important” for Buncombe County visitors to buy from local shops when they visit.
Key Insight No. 6: City of Asheville residents view the economic impact of tourism and its support of natural and community amenities in a more positive light than residents outside of the city.
- 90% of respondents who live in Asheville compared to 82% of respondents who live outside of Asheville agree that tourism is an economic driver for Buncombe County and provides an important part of the tax base.
- Significantly more Asheville respondents (73%) than outside of Asheville respondents (61%) believe it is important to engage and invite more diverse visitors.
Key Insight No. 7: Length of residency has a significant impact on how residents feel about tourism in Buncombe County and Asheville.
- Three-quarters of resident respondents (76%) who have resided in Buncombe County and Asheville for more than 20 years agree that tourism benefits their community, compared to more than nine out of 10 newer residents (93%).
Key Insight No. 8: There is still an opportunity to educate Asheville residents on how taxes paid by visitors are used to benefit residents.
- Only one-third of resident respondents knew that occupancy tax dollars could only be used for tourism promotion and community capital projects that benefit both visitors and residents.
- Nearly three-quarters of resident respondents felt more positive about the contribution of visitors knowing that taxes paid by visitors helped fund community amenities.
About the Survey: Several online panel companies reached a representative, random sample of residents of Buncombe County and Asheville. A total of 400 surveys were completed, yielding an error range of +/- 5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The vast majority of respondents are full-time Buncombe County residents (96%), the average length of residency is 20.5 years, and among those who are employed, about half indicate that their job doesn’t receive any benefit from tourism, while a quarter (25%) indicate they receive a great deal of benefit from tourism.