Asheville service workers and others held a rally outside the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board meeting May 31, urging the TDA to fund affordable housing. // Credit: Jen Hampton

In Colorado, occupancy taxes charged on overnight visitor stays pay for first responders, affordable housing and childcare for tourism workers.

In California, occupancy taxes fund city and county budgets.

On the Outer Banks, a portion goes to offsetting “the negative impacts of tourism.”

None of that is allowed in Buncombe County.

By law, all of the proceeds from the 6% tax on guests at hotels, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts goes back to tourism — two-thirds toward visitor promotion and one-third to capital projects that attract tourists. The formula feeds an ever-growing cycle of more visitors, who generate more taxes and more money for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to spend promoting Asheville for more tourists.

The TDA’s $40 million budget is now the largest in North Carolina. Spending on marketing Asheville is more than double that of tourism agencies promoting Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Wilmington and nearby beaches, Asheville Watchdog found.

“I did not realize that we were so far ahead of everybody else in North Carolina,” said state Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe. “All of these other cities do a great job of marketing themselves, and they don’t spend as much money as we do.”

Changing the spending priorities of the Buncombe TDA could be done two ways: The county commission, which levies the occupancy tax, could cut the tax rate, which would effectively reduce the TDA’s budget and the amount available for marketing. State lawmakers also could revise the TDA’s funding structure to shift more of the tax money to local needs.

State Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe)

Mayfield co-sponsored legislation in 2022 that reduced the tourism promotion portion of the TDA’s budget from three-quarters to two-thirds. She said it may be time for a further reduction.

“I think we could get by with spending much less money on marketing,” Mayfield told The Watchdog. “We’re a great city; people know that. We continue to show up at the top of lists in national, regional, international publications. We could absolutely use more of that money to invest back into our community.”

TDA officials have said they need to maintain a robust marketing budget to stay competitive with other destinations that travelers consider, like Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Nashville.

“When we’re looking at the competitive nature of travel and tourism…we are competing for people’s hearts and minds and wallets,” TDA President and CEO Vic Isley said at a recent Leadership Asheville Forum.

Brenda Durden, chair of the TDA and a hotelier, told The Watchdog, “Tourism is part of the DNA of this community.”

Brenda Durden, TDA chair // Photo credit: TDA

The TDA is “a willing and eager investment partner within the guardrails established by our state legislation. Lodging tax is not a cure-all but plays a crucial role in fueling nearly $3 billion in visitor spending to support local businesses.”

(Read the full TDA response to The Watchdog’s request for comment.)

Mayfield said she plans to ask Sen. Warren Daniel, a Republican whose district includes eastern Buncombe, about introducing legislation in 2025 to change the spending formula again, perhaps through a cap on promotion. 

Daniel did not respond to requests for comment but proposed the idea in a meeting earlier this year with Mayfield, she said.

Mayfield, a former Asheville City Council member, served as the city’s representative on the TDA board beginning in 2016. “At that time, the marketing budget was something like $9 million, and some of the board members I talked to were saying, ‘Oh my god, we don’t need to spend $9 million marketing Asheville. That’s ridiculous,’ ” Mayfield said.

This year, the TDA’s budget for tourism promotion is $27.5 million, which includes $19.5 million for marketing. “They just have so much money,” Mayfield said.

She said she also found the “salary disparities at the TDA … pretty shocking.” Isley receives a base salary of $300,000 with total compensation of up to $456,000, while nearly half the staffers at Explore Asheville are paid $45,000 to $65,000.

The explanation is “that’s just what the market demands,” Mayfield said, “but I just think really big salaries like that in a town that is so hard to live in, I think they’re unfortunate.”

Option Two: Buncombe County

Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, said he has “long believed and advocated” for the TDA to spend less on advertising Asheville and “more on addressing community priorities like affordable housing.”

Newman said he suspects many Buncombe residents find the idea of the TDA spending $27.5 million promoting Asheville to potential visitors “pretty crazy,” especially in a community with so many needs, like housing.

“That’s an enormous amount of money that could be used to really address key things that people are concerned about out in the community,” Newman said.

Brownie Newman, chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners // Credit: Buncombe County

Changing the formula in the law would require agreement from hoteliers and Buncombe elected leaders, and passage by the General Assembly, two potential hurdles.

The county commission has leverage, not in how the money is spent but in how much the TDA receives. The county levies the occupancy tax.

In 2015, after hoteliers persuaded state lawmakers to allow an increase in the tax to 6% from 4%, the county commission had to approve it and did so by a 4-to-3 vote, Newman said.

Newman voted against the increase because of the additional money it would raise for marketing. “We basically said…’This is just so out of whack from what the community thinks is the right thing to do.’ ”

Ultimately, “the county raised the rate,” Newman said. “We could also vote to reduce it back down again.”

Elsewhere, tourists pay for police, childcare

Balancing the economic prosperity tourism brings with the impacts and needs of a local community is a struggle taking place across many tourist destinations, especially places like Asheville where visitors contribute to higher housing costs.

Colorado last year passed a law to expand the authorized uses of occupancy taxes to include workforce housing and childcare, and local voters decide how the money is spent.

The role of tourism agencies “has evolved to not only support economic growth through tourism, but also to address the social, cultural, and environmental issues related to tourism,” the Colorado General Assembly concluded. “A visitor’s experience is also heavily influenced by the host community’s ability to support their residents and local workforce with housing and other essential services…Robust support for our residents’ needs is essential to the long-term health of both our communities and our economy.”

More than a dozen counties and cities in Colorado have laws directing occupancy tax money outside tourism promotion.

“If we don’t take care of our local workers, who will take care of you?” said a video promoting an occupancy tax increase to fund workforce housing and childcare in Estes Park. // YouTube

Telluride voters approved spending tax revenue on managing the effects of tourism and for town purposes including transportation services, improvements to its wastewater treatment facility, and affordable housing.

In Dillon, voters approved tax revenue for community projects and services addressing tourism impacts on recreation, public safety, street and parking improvements, and “any other governmental purposes of the town.”

Nederland and Palisade voters directed a portion of the money toward police and emergency services, and in Eagle, to construction and maintenance of trails, restrooms, parking areas, and physical improvements to the town’s open space.

Some Colorado towns raised the occupancy tax rate to preserve the tourism marketing budget. Estes Park voters approved a 3.5% increase on top of the existing tax to provide workforce housing and childcare.

“If we take away marketing funding, we will lose market share and businesses will close,” said a Q&A on the proposal. “This has been proven over and over in destinations, most notably in the state of Colorado, when they stopped funding tourism marketing in 1993. The state did not regain market share for 20+ years.”

In California, occupancy tax rates are among the highest in the country. In sparsely populated Sierra County, the 12.5% “bed tax” pays for such general county services as law enforcement, ambulances, parks, and promotion of tourism. In San Francisco, revenue from the 14% tax supports arts and cultural causes and the general fund.

In Seattle, just 25% of tax revenue can be used to promote tourism; the rest must be spent equally between affordable housing and the arts.

The Washington state legislature originally passed an occupancy tax to pay for stadiums where Seattle’s professional sports teams play. After those were paid off, new priorities were set. // Source: King County

Even in North Carolina, uses of occupancy taxes vary.

In Charlotte, a portion of the money pays for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and convention centers. In Durham, occupancy taxes help pay for the Durham Performing Arts Center, built in 2008 and considered a premier venue in the Southeast.

In Durham, occupancy taxes help pay for the Durham Performing Arts Center, built in 2008 and considered a premier venue in the Southeast. // Watchdog photo by Sally Kestin

In Dare County on the Outer Banks, just 1% of the tax is allocated to the tourism agency; 2% is spent on beach nourishment and 3% goes to the county and six municipalities. That money is used for tourism-related capital projects and “to offset the negative impacts of tourism … for instance, sanitation, water, police, the services needed to support the high number of visitors that we have,” said Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

Meanwhile, Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium faces myriad issues and is in great disrepair. In this photo taken this summer, an unpainted column can be seen in the hall. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

About 3 million people visit Dare County each year, enough to generate sufficient tax revenues for marketing, he said. The budget for the Visitors Bureau was $9.8 million last year, with $7.5 million for tourism promotion.

“Like you all, we’re a big tourism market,” Nettles said. “So if the number’s big coming in, you can still do what you need to do on the marketing and promotion side, we feel.”

“I think it’s very important that the tourism industry try to do everything that it can to have more immediate and tangible good for the people that live in the area,” Nettles said.

Guidelines in NC restrict tax use

Of 182 North Carolina counties and cities authorized to collect an occupancy tax, 32 have laws that allow for spending less than two-thirds on tourism promotion, according to an analysis by the Magellan Strategy Group, an Asheville-based consulting firm specializing in tourism and hospitality.

Though occupancy taxes are levied by local governments, they require approval from the North Carolina General Assembly through local bills. Buncombe and four other counties were the first in the state to pass an occupancy tax in 1983.

Asheville’s business and elected leaders saw the tax as a way to reverse a declining downtown and boost tourism. Hoteliers supported the idea so long as the money went toward promoting Asheville for travel and tourism.

The 11-person TDA board consists of nine voting members from tourism businesses and two non-voting representatives from the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission.

By the mid-1990s, other cities and counties in North Carolina had passed occupancy taxes. To ensure uniformity and that “the proceeds were used primarily for tourism,” the state House Finance Committee in 1997 adopted guidelines from the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition, a trade association whose members include resorts, attractions, and tourism agencies.

Those guidelines state, “at least two-thirds of the proceeds must be used to promote travel and tourism and the remainder must be used for tourism-related expenditures, which may include beach nourishment.”

Most of the cities and counties in North Carolina that spend less than two-thirds on tourism promotion have laws passed before the guidelines, said Chris Cavanaugh, president of Magellan, the tourism consulting firm.

“There’s actually been very little occupancy tax legislation passed in Raleigh in the last decade,” Cavanaugh said at the Leadership Asheville Forum with Isley, the TDA president.

The state Senate also has guidelines — that are the opposite of the House’s: At least two-thirds must be used for tourism-related expenditures and the rest for tourism promotion.

Those guidelines were created in 2017 when a powerful senator from Onslow County wanted to deviate from the House formula to generate money to build a sports park in his district, Cavanaugh told The Watchdog

The 2022 bill revising Buncombe’s funding formula “was dead on the floor until a local hotel owner called and had some conversations to educate some folks about how important this was for our community,” Isley said at the Leadership Asheville Forum.

Logjam in Raleigh broken

The House guidelines have been the standard for occupancy tax laws for 26 years but need revision, Mayfield said.

“Tourism in North Carolina has changed,” she said. There’s an “understanding in the tourism industry that destination management organizations need to be investing in their communities in new and different ways and that places that are great for their residents are also great for visitors. And the guidelines that we have don’t reflect that.”

Lawmakers should not stand in the way of cities or counties that come up with a different plan for how to spend occupancy taxes, Mayfield said.

Tourists take in a view in DuPont Forest this fall. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

“It’s fine for the legislature to say, ‘This is ideally what we would like things to look like,’ ” she said. “But if local governments can come to us and explain why they want it to be different, and to me the key thing is, is there unanimity between the TDA, the local governments…. And if that’s there then the legislature should have no business saying no, because the locals know best what they need, what they want, how they want that money to be spent.”

The General Assembly passed a bill the last day of the legislative session in October creating or changing occupancy tax laws for nearly two dozen local governments, all within the two-thirds/one-third House guidelines.

“The dam has broken on occupancy tax legislation,” Mayfield said, “and I don’t anticipate that it will be so difficult to get it through the next time.”

Time for another change, leaders say

Mayfield said she attended a meeting earlier this year with Sen. Daniel, who proposed capping the TDA’s marketing budget. Tax money generated on top of the cap would go into the capital projects portion of the budget or be split instead of two-thirds on promotion and one-third on capital projects, perhaps 50/50, she said.

“It did not go anywhere,” Mayfield said.

Also at the meeting were representatives of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association and the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Coalition, “the statewide entities that lobby on this issue and view themselves as the protectors of the occupancy tax,” Mayfield said. They “pushed back very strongly on that and of course, the TDA did as well.”

She said “their argument was, and I didn’t disagree with it, ‘Hey, we just made big changes. Let those play out a little bit.’ “

Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the restaurant and lodging association, told The Watchdog the organization opposes any legislation that does not meet the two-thirds/one-third formula in the House guidelines.

If the Buncombe TDA has “too much money,” the tax rate could be lowered, Minges said. “Then try to find funding somewhere else to fund all these other needs, like police and infrastructure and affordable housing… I don’t think our industry would support changes” like Colorado made.

The 2022 legislation that reduced the TDA’s budget for promotion also changed the one-third designated for tourism-related capital projects. That portion had gone exclusively to a “Tourism Product Development Fund” for projects that “increase patronage of lodging facilities” and promote economic development. More than $80 million has been spent from the fund on at least 45 community projects, including improvements to Pack Square Park, Harrah’s Cherokee Center, and the riverfronts in Asheville and Woodfin.

Now, half of the one-third goes into a Legacy Investment from Tourism (LIFT) fund for capital projects that “benefit the community at-large” but that also attract overnight visitors.

“I really didn’t want it to be connected to tourism at all,” Mayfield said. “I wanted that fund to be totally focused on investing in the community …  so that could open up the use of those dollars for things like affordable housing, transportation …  cleaning up downtown, funding police officers, funding more firefighters, funding a downtown ambassador program.

“If we were going to do another shake-up of the legislation, I would want to go back to the language of the LIFT fund and make it more permissive.”

Mayfield said she believes the TDA formula should be reconsidered in 2025. The legislature meets next year but in a short session.

“I would want to try to approach this in a collaborative way, where we’re working with the city and the county and the hoteliers and the TDA, and trying to get to a place that we can all agree on,” Mayfield said. “That just takes a long time.”

Mayfield said everyone in Buncombe benefits from tourism, including businesses that depend on visitors and local residents who have far more dining, entertainment, and arts options.

“We punch way above our weight in everything: culture, restaurants, beer, music, art, I mean, everything, and we wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the tourism industry,” she said. “I think there’s still a rebalancing of the money that needs to happen.”

Buncombe County Commissioner Terri Wells is the county’s non-voting representative on the TDA.

Buncombe County Commissioner Terri Wells, the county’s non-voting representative on the TDA, said in an email to The Watchdog, “While many people realize that visitors significantly contribute to and support our local businesses, they also are concerned about the quality of life for our residents.

“This is an important conversation for us to have as we work together to build a strong future for our community and ensure it continues to be the place we all want to call home. I would welcome the opportunity to work with our state legislators, county, and BCTDA leadership to improve upon the current legislation.”

‘More dramatic’ change needed, advocate says

Ben Williamson, an organizer of Buncombe Decides, an organization advocating for redirecting tourism money to affordable housing for service workers, said that state legislators have already made multiple tweaks to Buncombe’s occupancy tax law. “We need something more dramatic.”

Buncombe rents are among the highest in the state, and wages in many tourism jobs are low. 

Ben Williamson is an organizer of Buncombe Decides, an organization advocating for redirecting tourism money to affordable housing for service workers.

“Some people are thriving in this tourism economy, but the average worker is still struggling,” Williamson said. “A lot of them are working two or three jobs.”

He said the TDA has “been asked by the state assembly to market this county to tourists, and they have done that extremely well…We try not to be mad at the TDA.”

Williamson would like to see occupancy tax revenues going “to the county governments or the municipal governments where those taxes were earned, and let those democratically elected officials decide how best to spend them in a transparent budget process where the voters and citizens can participate.”

“No one’s calling for tourism to go away,” Williamson said. “Three-fourths of my family are in the service industry. We’re heavily personally invested in the success of tourism in the county.”

Buncombe County Commissioner Parker Sloan said that when he was running for office in 2019, he hadn’t considered the occupancy tax much “other than everyone in Asheville has some sort of opinion about tourists.”

Parker Sloan // Credit: Buncombe County

“It really wasn’t until I started talking to the public about how this tax is levied by government but it is not spent by elected officials,” he said. “And  I’ve yet to meet a citizen who was not taken aback by that.”

Sloan said it seems the TDA has “had more money than they know what to do with at times.”

He said he supports “a new standalone occupancy tax” controlled by the county and cities in Buncombe to use on needs such as affordable housing, early childhood education, and higher salaries for teachers and public servants.

The county commission currently has two options, Sloan said: reduce or eliminate the occupancy tax. “If nothing were to change, this seems like the eventual discussion,” he said.

Some workers in the tourism industry would like to see the county exercise that authority as soon as possible.

In a statement issued Nov. 11, Buncombe Decides and three other groups representing local service workers called on the county commission to abandon the occupancy tax at its next opportunity in 2024. The groups have collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition asking the TDA to fund affordable housing.

The statement cited a comment to The Watchdog by Durden, the TDA chair, that “housing is not what TDA is here to do” and said the tourism authority rejected their candidate for a committee that will recommend how to spend millions of dollars in the new LIFT fund.

“Only by boycotting the occupancy tax do we believe that the county can bring the state legislature to the table to renegotiate the terms by which the hotel tax funds are spent,” the statement said. “Eliminating the tax now is, in our view, the only way to force a more democratic, equitable, and just use of this tax in the future.”

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email As a free, nonprofit, volunteer-run news team, The Watchdog’s in-depth coverage of local issues depends on support from the community. Please donate here.

39 replies on “Local leaders: Reduce Buncombe’s tourism marketing budget”

  1. Buncombe County’s occupancy tax dollars buy more than grains of sand for our community. Projects possible through $80 million in matching grants from the TDA:
    African American Heritage Museum at Stephens-Lee
    African American Heritage Trail
    Asheville Art Museum
    Asheville Community Theatre
    Asheville Municipal Golf Course
    Asheville Museum of Science
    Asheville Visitor Center
    AVL Unpaved
    Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
    Buncombe County Civil War Trails
    Center for Craft
    Harrah’s Cherokee Center Arena
    Enka Recreation Destination
    Enka Center Ballfields
    Glass Center in Black Mountain
    Grove Arcade
    Highland Brewing Company Event Center
    John B. Lewis Soccer Complex
    LEAF Global Arts Center
    McCormick Field
    Montreat College Pulliam Stadium
    Navitat Canopy Adventures
    North Carolina Arboretum
    Pack Square Park
    River Arts District
    RiverLink – Karen Cragnolin Park
    Smoky Mountain Adventure Center
    Swannanoa River Greenway
    The Collider
    The Orange Peel
    UNC Asheville Karl Straus Track
    UNC Asheville Sports Complex Lighting
    WNC Farmers Market
    WNC Nature Center
    WNC Veterans’ Memorial at Pack Square Park
    Woodfin Greenway & Blueway
    Wortham Center for the Performing Arts
    YMI Cultural Center

    1. These are ALL destinations and locales, not the infrastructure that supports them (police, fire, roads, sidewalks, crosswalks, public lighting, water lines, neighborhood speed bumps, etc).

      These funds bring people here and support the destinations they visit and enjoy, but the support systems are not funded in parity. Guess who pays? Local property owners’ taxes.

      Development strategy has been a cart-before-the-horse process.

      1. Agreed. The occupancy tax is an easy target. It’s more difficult and nuanced to identify the other benefits visitors and visitor-based businesses contribute, and it behooves electeds to keep it murky. Local sales tax generated by visitors (going to County & City) grew 4 times in 10 years – from $10.4 million to $44 million in the same period. Those local taxes alone would foot the bill for the $40 million in capital projects for schools Buncombe County commissioners is now considering. Property tax (County + City) generated by visitor-based businesses grew 55% – from $38 million to $59 million from 2012 to 2021. From a WLOS story earlier this year:

        ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — Unexpected revenue from tourists shopping, eating and spending in Asheville in 2022 is giving City Council a bit of a cushion of unexpected funds for the city’s proposed budget this year.

        The city saw a near 10% increase in sales tax revenues from July to December 2022. The total tourism revenue of $20.24 million is an increase of $1.77 million when compared to 2021 for the same time period.

        City leaders are hopeful the second half of the fiscal cycle this year, which is January-June 2023, will also see an increase in tax revenues leaders can put towards increased spending. Additional revenues also came in from property taxes.

    2. For every dollar spend on capital projects like those, two dollars are spent promoting tourism via advertising. It’s not a fair share. Sorry.

  2. What a bizarre statement from Mayfield: “but I just think really big salaries like that in a town that is so hard to live in, I think they’re unfortunate.” Shouldn’t we be advocating as a community that people should be paid more and raise the bar?

    1. She was referring to TDA leadership. For instance Vic Isley’s comprehensive compensation is $456,000/year. In a town where rents is now too high for service industry folks to affors, she is saying that that is a major contrast of very wealthy folks and other struggling to get by.

  3. Logjam in Raleigh broken?
    Mayfield: “The dam has broken on occupancy tax legislation,” Mayfield said, “and I don’t anticipate that it will be so difficult to get it through the next time.”
    From the full TDA statement:
    “With the leadership of local hotel owners and elected officials, Buncombe County’s occupancy tax legislation was changed last year to align with the state guidelines, decreasing the amount invested in promoting our community and increasing the amount invested in community capital projects. According to the state’s travel and tourism coalition, all twenty-one occupancy tax bills passed in the recent session were also amended to comply with the same state guidelines. That’s important context for residents.”
    The new Buncombe County legislation passed last summer complies with the 21(!) bills passed this year. Indeed, important context for residents.

  4. Plain vanilla generalities that we all agree with are safe for politicians, but specifics would be nice to hear. How about reporting what the least effective, most marginal promotion expenses total versus how specifically that money could be spent? How many “affordable” housing units, what type of emergency health service at what cost, etc. I think the debate could be improved with tangible calculations, like reduce our least effective ad buys by $X and use those funds to build Y affordable housing units.

  5. “If the Buncombe TDA has ‘too much money,’ the tax rate could be lowered, Minges said. ‘Then try to find funding somewhere else to fund all these other needs, like police and infrastructure and affordable housing… I don’t think our industry would support changes like Colorado made.’

    1. Minges doesn’t seem to care that the residents of Asheville pay more taxes and the services for residents, like police, are diluted because services are concentrated in areas where tourists visit. TDA isn’t paying for the impact of tourism on our infrastructure.

    2. Residents have all seen the road infractions, such as going through red lights and not stopping at stop signs increase because there isn’t enough police presence for traffic. More money needs to be spent on attracting more police and raising the salaries of those who work here so more will want to apply. See #1.

    3. Improvements by TDA have been in areas that serve tourists and enhance their industry, not for residents as claimed.

    4. The quality of life for residents improved for a while, but now residents either can’t afford to take advantage of the activities or it’s too crowded to get into many of them.

    5. Shouldn’t there be more residents with voting rights on TDA since it is the resident community that is being impacted?

  6. The quality of life of Asheville citizens has been negatively impacted by the overtourism that the huge BCTDA budgets bring. This was a very liveable town until we were overrun with tourists. It’s time for change. Cut back the occupancy tax or eliminate it entirely asap. If a way can eventually be found to direct tourism dollars to local needs that’s great – but let’s stop this madness now.

    Each individual business can hold their prices/rates steady and pocket the 6% that would have gone to the BCTDA (and the exorbitant salaries of it’s management), or they can use it to advertise themselves individually. My bet is that most would just pocket the money.

    The quality of life of Buncombe County citizens is a higher priority than jamming more tourists into our previously liveable city.

  7. Some caution is warranted here. In the early 2000s, the General Assembly allowed counties to levy a tax on real property transfers. Some counties adopted that tax and others did not. Those that adopted the tax became heavily dependent on it. When the real estate market crashed in 2008, that source of funds disappeared for the counties that had adopted it. A couple of counties almost went bankrupt.

    If too much of this “tourist tax” becomes a way to fund traditional county operations, a downturn in tourism (e.g. covid) can put a big crack in the county’s operational funding.

  8. So Vic Isley can potentially earn $456,000, for overseeing a tourism budget of $27.5 million.

    Debra Campbell, the City Manager for Asheville earns a $254,829 salary and manages a City of Asheville budget of $217 Million.

    The mayor of NYC earns $258,750 and oversees a budget of $100 Billion.

    The President of the United States makes $400,000.

    Something seems out of whack.

    1. Bob, you have successfully fallen into Watchdog’s intended trap.
      Isley’s base salary is $300,000.
      Isley wasn’t recruited here to be the county or city manager or the POTUS for that matter, so comparing her compensation package to individuals who made their career choice to work for city and county government isn’t relevant.
      But for the sake of argument, simple google searches show that there are executive base salaries for nonprofits in our area at $307K, $555K and $285K. Base salaries for other competitive regional destination execs for Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Nashville, Chattanooga and Charleston are $345K, $378K, $1.1M, $278K and $312K. Watchdog couldn’t be bothered to find this easily accessible information themselves? Why was retirement factored in to total compensation for Isley but no other individual? Makes you wonder…
      I’m not for or against tourism or Isley, but on the face of it, this doesn’t seem like fair or accurate reporting.

  9. Certainly this article suggests some more appropriate ways to spend the TDA dollars. But I can’t help but wonder if these dollars could also be part of a way to provide a performing arts center for Asheville? It’s ridiculous that a city that prides itself as being so focused on the arts is unable to provide a venue for our community on the level of the Peace Center in Greenville or the Knoxville Civic Auditorium!

  10. Since our Buncombe County Commission has the authority to raise and reduce the current 6% Occupancy tax rate, and since our B.C. Commissioners recognize the need for increased funding to support city and county infrastructure projects and operating costs, why doesn’t our B.C. Commission vote to reduce the Occupancy Tax rate to 4% (pre-2015 rate) and pass a new 2% county tax levied on tourist lodging with funds being controlled by our B.C Commission?

    By reducing the Occupancy tax rate to 4% marketing funding will fall from $27.5 million to $18.33 million and the new B.C. 2% tax will raise $9.16 million annually.

      1. It’s not doable in the state of North Carolina. I don’t know why these “fine people” are neglecting to include information that’s really important for the general public to understand. People talk about the reallocation of occupancy tax like there aren’t state laws about how it can be used. If the commission repeals or reduces the occupancy tax rate, millions of dollars (that are paid by visitors) that go towards city and county capital projects (like parks, greenways, ball fields, museums) would simply go away. The commissioners cannot simply do away with the tax and reinstate the tax and do whatever they want with it. That’s not the way the real world works.
        And if they choose to do it, it wouldn’t happen right away, but within 18 months to 2 years, sales tax and property tax paid by visitors or visitor-supported businesses will start to dry up. Then commissioners will have to decide which services they are going to cut, some businesses will shutter and people will lose their jobs. This is a slippery slope people.
        Think it’s a joke? Just look at the way Raleigh dealt with Asheville’s plastic bag ban nonsense. On September 22, 2023 the North Carolina General Assembly approved the state budget that included a law prohibiting local governments from banning single-use plastic products. Due to this regulation, the City cannot adopt an ordinance banning plastic bags or expanded polystyrene (StyrofoamTM) takeout containers.

  11. Spend less on tourism, more on infrastructure! It is possible, as outlined in the article. It should be a priority!

  12. All that is needed is some imagination instead of rewriting the laws to appeal to some political “cause du jour.” Try a local version of the Great San Francisco Exfoliation by ridding downtown of its unappealing aspects and sprucing up its appealing aspects, except do it for tourists, not for Chairman Xi. Or take a lesson from Ovieda, Spain, and promote tourism by financing and installing sculptures all over the city. Or create an annual tourism event that honors our Cherokee heritage, sort of Trail of Tears meets Camino de Santiago. Or finance a Fourth of July fireworks display to end all fireworks displays as a tourist attraction. You get the picture–be creative. Above all, do not use the TDA to fund normal operating expenses since, if the local leaders’ wishes come true, the tourists just might disappear along with the funds.

  13. It’d be great to see more of that money make its way into upgrading our infrastructure, raising teacher salaries, building more dense affordable housing, etc. etc.

  14. I would like to see a pro and con article on how tourism effects local residents and communities. Tourism benefits the municipalities and entrepreneurs but how does it effect the citizens of the area? How does tourism affect the cost of living? How has it pushed lower income families out of their homes and communities within the city limits? How do outlying towns and other counties benefit from the ATB? ATB advertises activities and amenities as being in Asheville but in reality many are thirty to fifty miles away in different counties and towns. How much has tourism increased traffic, traffic accidents and the need for road repairs? Does increased traffic and accidents have an effect on our insurance rates?
    How many locals are visiting downtown to eat and shop? It would be a days wages or more for the majority of locals to have a meal downtown.

  15. Long time, 30+ year resident here. I read all of these Watchdog articles and have a few observations:
    1. All of these articles are (primarily) negatively slanted towards tourism. A few of the “good” points are buried in the articles and barely mentioned.
    2. For all of the whining about low salaries, why is there no mention and/or stories about local residents who have worked their way up and have supervisory and/or managerial careers due to tourism? Like any business, there are those who work hard and get ahead and those who want their 40 or less hours and not work as hard.
    3. Seems to me that elected leaders have been frustrated that THEY don’t control the self-imposed occupancy tax. Also, instead of rolling up their sleeves to address aging and major infrastructure concerns, I’ve noted that over the years, these leaders point the finger at tourism as the root of all things evil. It’s much easier to do that instead of the harder work, of course.
    4. Based on a google search, the TDA has invested $80 million in projects that partner with city and county leaders. Wouldn’t the city/county have had to fully fund these projects on their own if it wasn’t for the tax assessed on visitors?
    5. The TDA stepped in and helped save McCormick Field to the tune of over $20 million (I think that is correct, it may have been more). Whether people agree or disagree with that, the point is, the TDA seemed to step up when the city needed their support. From what I read in the news – or saw on WLOS – they got a cursory “thanks” from local leaders, and then the next week, it was back to criticizing the TDA. I wonder if those who serve on the TDA get tired of trying to be a good community partner, yet continue to be criticized to no end? If Sen. Julie Mayfield truly wants a collaborative discussion for future changes, how about treating tourism leaders with a modicum of respect? Some of these articles have mentioned that the tourism leaders were for changing the community contribution from 25% to 33% a couple years ago. Who knows what else may happen in the future?
    6. I am not for or against any future decreases for tourism promotion, not that my opinion means anything, but I do know what Asheville was like 35 years ago and what it is today. Downtown back then was dead – and I mean dead. Nothing. The Marketplace was really the only good restaurant back then. Stone Soup was open only for lunch. We now live in a vibrant, amazing place that in my opinion was going to be discovered no matter what. There are challenges to tourism, no doubt, and most of us love living here…but instead of being so critical/negative, how about trying a collaborative and respectful approach to Asheville’s future? This community sure loves to take on an “us vs. them” mentality at times. Maybe that is the passion from those who live here, just wish that passion would be more positive.

  16. If we don’t address infrastructure and housing, residents/workers can’t live here and tourists won’t visit. Seems pretty basic.

  17. Excited by the commentary and this article. I’ll be relocating back to Asheville in 4 months. I’ve lived in SW Colorado in a tourist destination for 11 years, near Telluride. The story in Telluride and other mountain tourist towns in CO is still pretty grim. I want to be hopeful, but I’ve seen a lot of efforts shot down by “not in my backyard” sentiments. As a bookkeeper for small businesses/non-profits in these spots, I’ve tried to keep a pulse on the issues. Some would say city councils and county commissioners didn’t act fast enough, or there is too much contention between the parties. The economy here is dependent on service workers. Now, the number of families here is quietly declining. The papers report on teachers, nurses, firefighters, etc. leaving or not coming because they can’t afford. In 3 years, in my town of 30k+ people, restaurants are mostly reservation with limited hours (because of a workforce housing crisis). Seasonal young workers live out of vans, tents, and dilapidated rentals. They’ve had to raise wages to about $18/hour in service jobs, even McDonalds. Some offer stipends for housing. Average house is $750k+ in town post-covid. Renting…good luck!
    But the city council and county commissioners are acting quickly. Changing regulations is slow work. They are largely supported in efforts by advocacy groups with grant funding sources from CO state. The pressure is on, and CO as a whole has responded in a pretty positive way. It’s a beast to tackle in our economy.

    I am shocked by the TDA budget and regulations for use. It makes no sense to me to not have a fund designated by % or something toward infrastructural support, or decrease the %. TDA is not the one-stop-shop solution, but it is a player with deep pockets right now. Legacy funds and such seem a great start. I’m sure a lot of visitors gripe about infrastructural short-comings. They’re pretty obvious. But diversification of funding is vital. I’d like to think the swirling dialogues and advocacy will lead to amicable change. An optimist would hope sooner than later.

  18. It would seem that some want a portion of the occupancy tax to go to local government and that it be used for specific purposes. That begs a question though. As Rick noted in his comments, the local portion of sales tax generated by visitors/tourists that goes to local governments in Buncombe County grew from $10.4M to $44M in the past ten years. Shouldn’t we be asking our local government what those extra, new tax dollars generated by tourism were used for? Were they dedicated to infrastructure? Affordable Housing? Or, did they just go into the general fund? If the latter is the case, what’s to say a portion of the occupancy tax going to local government wouldn’t just be absorbed in the overall budget and we’d still be saying we need more infrastructure improvements, improved pay for the police, etc. etc.

  19. A good, fair, honest and unbiased cost/benefit analysis would effectively determine how much of the TDA bed tax should be allocated to local government to be able to support necessary infrastructure for current and future needs to support the growth in attracting the tourism $$ dollars. If they’re going to attract tourists for the benefit of lodging establishments ROI on their balance sheets, then they share in the responsibility to help cover the costs to the taxpayers.

  20. I think we really need to stop beating around the bush with this. The ONLY way we are going to get the NC GA to negotiate on OUR terms for a balance of TDA funds that actually benefits our community is to start wtih an occupancy tax of $00.00. Start there and you finally have some leverage in negotiations. It’s absurd and futile to not begin there.

    1. And what would be the consequences, other than “leverage in negotiations”, of zeroing out the TDA budget? The Watchdog story alludes to when Colorado did this back in 1993 ““If we take away marketing funding, we will lose market share and businesses will close,” said a Q&A on the [Colorado] proposal. “This has been proven over and over in destinations, most notably in the state of Colorado, when they stopped funding tourism marketing in 1993. The state did not regain market share for 20+ years.” What the Watchdog does not go on to cover were the consequences of this action. In a study by Longwood International it was noted that “As a result, Colorado’s domestic market share plunged 30% over two years, representing a loss of over $1.4 billion in tourism revenue annually. Over time, the revenue loss increased to well over $ 2 billion yearly.” Are you stating that a negative economic impact like this would be worth it to get “some leverage”?

  21. Perhaps all of the respondents looking for leverage should go back to original legislation proposed and passed under the leadership of Senator Martin Nesbitt. Look at the economy of Western NC, Buncombe County and Asheville in the year this bill was passed. See if you want to live in that economy. John Boyle is just the last of the reporters in this market who uses emotion and demagogy of TDA to cloud the real issue of a County and City governmental entities that need major reforms. These are the entities who are charged with the duty to provide effective schools, repaired roads/infrastructure, and safe communities. These are the entities who spend the enormous tax revenues collected every year. They have a duty to oversee and spend wisely for the citizens of this county.
    Remember last December.

  22. Raise the Room Tax to 7%. Tourists can easily afford it.
    Then do a 50-50 split. It’s ridiculous to have residents footing the bill for a diminished quality of life while our property taxes rise and our roads and stores and trails become more crowded and polluted.

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