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Posts published in “Tourism / Hospitality”

TDA Expenses for US Open: $70k for Travel, Food, Coozies

Guests wined and dined in suites

The tab is in: On top of the $1.3 million Asheville paid to sponsor the US Open tennis tournament, the public tourism board spent more than $70,000 in expenses that included catering and travel for their staff, board members and guests, nearly $25,000 on Asheville-branded beer coozies, and more than $1,000 on floral arrangements.

As Asheville Watchdog reported last week, the Tourism Development Authority’s $1.3 million sponsorship agreement included tickets to a luxury suite for two nights and passes to the President’s Suite. The Grand Slam tennis event in New York ended last weekend.

In a news release Monday, Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau listed the names of the suite guests and a summary of expenses paid for with tax money.

On Sept. 7, Asheville Night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, 17 guests watched the men’s and women’s quarterfinals in Asheville’s luxury suite,


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Luxury Suites, Perks for Local V.I.P.s in $1.3 Million US Open Deal

Tennis-see? Asheville is "Official Sponsor of the US Open"

The US Open winds to a close this weekend in New York, and among those attending in the luxury suites at the tennis Grand Slam event will be more than two dozen Buncombe County VIPS – courtesy of the public tourism board and $1.3 million in local tax money.

The Tourist Development Authority announced last month that it had paid $1.3 million to become an official sponsor of the US Open and touted benefits, including signs promoting Asheville, television spots, and an Asheville Night on Sept. 7.

Not mentioned were some of the other benefits the TDA received, according to the sponsorship agreement:

–  A luxury suite in Arthur Ashe Stadium for two sessions to be selected by the TDA. “With the suite will be included 20 suite admission tickets, two host passes and three VIP parking passes.” The TDA also agreed to purchase a minimum of 


Come Back Tourists; Oops, Never Mind

TDA ads start, stop as virus surges

Buncombe County’s Tourist Development Authority began advertising for tourists to visit Asheville again – on the same day that the county’s top public health official said coronavirus cases were “rising at an alarming rate.”

The ad campaign, designed to promote “the safe and responsible return of visitation,” featured social media posts like one picturing a young couple picnicking on the bank of a river. “We invite you to pack your bags and masks, and safely experience our mountain oasis.”

On July 14, just five days after the ads began, the TDA pulled the plug. The reason: a viral surge – both of the pandemic kind, and of a social media variety.

The TDA had planned for the first scenario, monitoring Covid-19 trends in the target area, a 300-mile radius considered drivable to Asheville. When the campaign launched,


Travel industry controls North Carolina’s room tax laws

Buncombe’s share less than other NC counties, neighboring states

Funds from the Buncombe County room tax have been used for renovations of Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville.

A bill that would have changed the distribution of Buncombe County’s controversial hotel tax to better benefit local government is likely dead until at least next year.

The change would have reduced the share of room tax money to market and advertise Asheville as a tourist destination and increase the amount that could be used for local projects benefitting visitors and residents – a hot-button issue before Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter protests.

As it is, the local share of the tax revenue is smaller in Buncombe than most other North Carolina places that levy a tax and tourist destinations like Charleston, S.C., Charlottesville, Va. and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. And unlike in the neighboring states, no hotel tax money is available to pay for indirect costs of tourism, such as increased policing and maintenance of streets and sidewalks. 



$5M TDA relief bill for small businesses helps hotels too

Area restaurants have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

When the Rev. Tami Forte Logan learned that the Buncombe County Tourist Development Authority and allies won legislative approval to offer $5 million to small businesses crushed by the pandemic, she didn’t join the chorus of congratulations.

“This bill is making sure that the hoteliers don’t fall, making sure that they will be OK,” said Forte Logan, a leader in Faith 4 Justice Asheville, which advocates for racial equity. “But what about the people? I don’t see how this will trickle down to the workers who are being hit the hardest.”

The grant money is available to restaurants, retailers, breweries, art galleries and other small businesses that in the judgement of the TDA will “significantly increase patronage of lodging facilities in Buncombe County” when they reopen, the legislation says.

Mark Barrett

Area restaurants have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.


Asheville’s Restaurant Newcomers: What’s Still Coming and When

Meherwan Irani

Restaurateur and chef Meherwan Irani is no stranger to hard times. 

He opened Chai Pani Asheville in 2009 in the heart of the Great Recession. “I knew that it would actually work in an economy where people were looking for great food at a good value, something different from what else was out there.” 

Now, Irani faces a similar challenge – bringing to life his plans for two new additions to Asheville’s food scene, including the highly anticipated S&W Market and a still-under-wraps concept for the Grove Arcade’s “Restaurant Row.” Both are on hold for now.

Meherwan Irani

The coronavirus pandemic that crippled existing restaurants has caused delays and altered plans for new ones that had been scheduled to open in the spring and summer. The climate is tough for all businesses, let alone projects that were still in development.


Scared of Losing Everything

Asheville’s celebrity chef Katie Button describes the challenges and stark realities facing her industry and business since closing her renowned restaurants Cúrate and Button & Co. Bagels on March 16.

Asheville’s celebrity chef Katie Button describes the challenges and stark realities facing her industry and business since closing her renowned restaurants Cúrate and Button & Co. Bagels on March 16.

It’s really surreal, and I think that on a day-to-day basis I feel differently about it, whether that’s sadness or anger or hope. We have spent the past nine years working really hard to create a restaurant and hospitality group that functioned, that was able to support a team of 140 employees, was able to offer that team unprecedented benefits like novel ideas around health insurance and direct primary care and paid time off and sick days and wages that were a living wage to everybody. It felt so good to be able to have a business that was operating, that was generating enough revenue that allowed us to explore other new businesses like the bagel shop and an events space.


The Long Road Back

A post-pandemic Asheville faces a daunting return

Asheville’s thrumming downtown, a darling of the “best of” list makers and an economic hub for Western North Carolina, stands quiet as its once harried restaurant owners, beer-thirsty tourists and Millennial workers hunker down to avoid the health threat posed by a deadly coronavirus.

Boarded-up storefronts warn off patrons in scenes reminiscent of the 1970s and ’80s. Visitors who just a few weeks ago poured into town by the thousands have vanished, and gleaming new hotels stand empty. But talk is gradually shifting toward a restart.

Asheville’s storefronts remain boarded up in scenes reminiscent of downtown in the 1970s and ’80s.
Photo credit: Jason Sandford

What might a post-pandemic Asheville look like? AVL Watchdog asked nearly two dozen elected officials, business owners and leaders in the arts,