Attendees of a 48-hour FAM tour praised the trip in a promotional video. // Credit: Explore Asheville

It’s a sweet deal: free trips to Asheville, complimentary facials, spa treatments and massages, and dinners costing up to $4,100 at the most sought-after restaurants.

These are Buncombe’s tourism tax dollars at work, according to expenses obtained through Asheville Watchdog public records requests.

The Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau paid one digital influencer $75,000 to promote Asheville on social media, plus an all-expenses-paid trip that included fly fishing, rafting, and mountain biking excursions. Another digital influencer pocketed $20,000 plus expenses for a visit that included relaxation in a salt cave, a massage, “forest bathing,” and a “sound healing session.”

Explore Asheville spent more than $88,000 on a golf tournament in July, flying three stars from the MTV reality show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta to Asheville and paying $3,591 for VIP transportation, $3,800 for personal bodyguards, and amenities that included a $300 golf lesson at the Omni Grove Park Inn.

Explore Asheville paid hip hop artist and MTV star Lil Scrappy $8,500 to play in the Skyview Golf Tournament in July and publish social media posts, which included this video. // Credit: Lil Scrappy

For a tasting event in February, Explore Asheville spent more than $5,300 to bring French Broad Chocolates, Biltmore Chardonnay and Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn to Washington, D.C., and paid $344 to overnight a flight of cheese from Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery.

Explore Asheville hosted a private dinner in March at Neng Jr’s, the nationally acclaimed West Asheville Filipinx restaurant, for 15 – journalists, destination and public relations representatives – at a cost of $2,795. Another dinner in March at the Market Place downtown, for 16 meeting planners and three Explore Asheville staffers, cost $4,110, or $216 per person including tip.

Coming Nov. 7:  Promotion of the area to tourists contributes to escalating housing costs.

The tourism agency has spent thousands of dollars on gifts and merchandise in the past three years, including $250 apiece for custom denim shirts for employees and more than $6,200 on pens with an Asheville logo.

Brenda Durden, chair of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and an Asheville hotelier, defended the expenses.

“On the surface, everyone’s going to form an opinion of, ‘Oh, that sounds extravagant,’” Durden said. “But I think in doing business in 2023, marketing efforts are not inexpensive, any less than gas or anything else that we’re all trying to figure out how to pay for these days, so I do think that it’s quite necessary, and I think that it’s not uncommon in the travel and tourism marketing realm.”

Explore Asheville paid $250 each for custom denim shirts for staff as shown in this recent Facebook post. // Credit: Explore Asheville

Budget highest in NC

Spending on marketing and promotion for cities that depend on tourism is a necessity, Durden said, especially in today’s world of travel options where any recognition can give an edge to one destination over another. What sets apart the TDA is just how much is being spent.

The TDA’s $40 million budget, of which by law two-thirds goes to promotion and one-third to capital projects that boost tourism, is the highest in North Carolina. Among counties closest to Buncombe in visitor spending, the budget for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau was $9.6 million in 2022-23, and for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, $9.8 million, The Watchdog found.

The TDA considers Asheville more comparable to other, mostly larger destinations in the Southeast and provided figures showing budgets of tourism agencies in Myrtle Beach, $59 million in 2021; Nashville, $32.4 million in 2021; Charleston, S.C., $26 million in 2023; Savannah, Ga., $13.5 million in 2023; and Chattanooga, Tenn., $12.4 million in 2021.

The TDA’s budget is bigger than the municipal budgets of entire cities in Buncombe – more than double that of Black Mountain, Weaverville, and the town of Woodfin.

The funding comes from the 6% occupancy tax charged to overnight visitors in Buncombe. The budget is overseen by an 11-member volunteer board whose voting members all come from tourism businesses.

The expenses highlighted by Asheville Watchdog “are very reasonable investments for any marketing organization who’s doing very diverse and innovative marketing that has multiple layers to it,” said Kathleen Mosher, a TDA board member and past chair, and vice president of communications at the Biltmore Co.

“Those all represent really best practice in 2023, best practice, innovative marketing techniques,” Mosher said, “not anything that seems excessive.”

Gathan Borden, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Destinations International, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association, said the expenses are common among destination marketing organizations but can sound alarming.

“A lot of locals don’t understand that it’s not the local tax money,” Borden said. “It is money that is being used from visitors who come into the destination.”

Durden, the TDA chair, said the expenses are “exactly what would be expected” of an agency whose mission is promoting tourism.

“If we aren’t doing our job and all we can do to bring visitors here, new visitors and return visitors, we’re not supporting our tourism industry like we should,” she said.

More visitors, more spending

Tourism has surged in Asheville largely as a result of promotion by the TDA and its staff at Explore Asheville. The more visitors who come, the more the occupancy tax generates, and the more the TDA has to spend, as The Watchdog reported in the first installment of Selling Asheville.

The TDA’s budget has mushroomed in the past five years. With 42% more for tourism promotion this year compared to 2019, spending has soared on travel, amenities, marketing, and staff. Salary expenses are up 50%.

TDA President and CEO Vic Isley is the second highest paid tourism executive among the top 10 markets in North Carolina with compensation of up to $456,000 this year. She receives a $300,000 base salary, an incentive bonus of up to $90,000 and an executive retirement contribution of $60,000 that increases $20,000 each of the next two years.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO makes more, receiving a base salary of $430,927 and a recent incentive bonus of $119,211, but the job also involves managing venues including the Charlotte Convention Center, Bojangles Coliseum, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The Buncombe TDA initially declined to provide the salaries of its other 34 positions, saying those are employees of Explore Asheville, a type of nonprofit exempt from public records. But after Buncombe County released salary information to The Watchdog in response to a public records request, the TDA did, too, saying it had changed course “after further consideration and review.”

The second-highest paid position behind Isley is a senior vice president at $191,000 annually. Five other executives are paid $101,000 to $140,500 each, and the other staffers earn less than $100,000 with nearly half at $45,000 to $65,000, according to the TDA.

Rafting, massages, food tours for influencers

The TDA is required to report expenditures to Buncombe County. The Watchdog obtained five years of TDA budgets and three years of expenses through public records requests to the county. The TDA provided receipts and supporting documentation for expenses requested by The Watchdog.

The largest spending category is marketing with $19.5 million budgeted this year, including for paid ads, sponsorships, and promotions targeting travelers in strategic markets, primarily in the Southeast and in cities with flights to Asheville. The TDA pays an ad agency $1.7 million a year, according to the budget.

The February tasting event that involved shipping Asheville-made chocolates, wine, popcorn, cheese, and other products was part of a “D.C. Roadshow.” Explore Asheville participated in a “multi-sensory tasting event, What Does Music Taste Like?” and hosted a “paint ‘n sip” event for 20 BIPOC creators and influencers led by Jenny Pickens, an Asheville area artist. Expenses for the events included $1,500 for a DJ, $722 for “pencil bags” and art supplies, and $419 for cocktail napkins.

Both events showcased “Asheville’s creative spirit,” one of the TDA’s “strategic imperatives.” Two dozen meeting planners and 30 “media and industry influencers” attended the tasting event, including representatives of CNBC, Forbes, Thrillest, El Tiempo Latino and NBC Washington, said Cass Herrington, an Explore Asheville spokeswoman. The painting event was for 36 members of NOMADNESS Travel Tribe, a network of BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) travel writers and influencers that generated 123 Instagram posts and stories mentioning Asheville that reached an audience of about “63 million diverse followers,” Herrington said.

Over the past four years, the TDA has budgeted $620,000 for digital influencers, who are paid based on the size of their following to promote brands and products on their social media channels.

Explore Asheville paid photographer Chris Burkard, who is based in Pismo Beach, Calif., and has 3.9 million Instagram followers, $75,000 to produce social media posts that “promote Asheville’s outdoor economy,” Herrington said. Burkard’s contract called for specific types and numbers of posts aligned “with Explore Asheville messaging” but presented “in a way that is organic to Chris’ voice and style.”

The tourism agency paid expenses of more than $19,000 for Burkard and two producers to visit Asheville in May, including a business-class plane ticket, $2,437 for accommodations at the Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins, $1,005 for two days of guided fly fishing, $440 for “canyoneering,” an adventure sport involving hiking, boulder-hopping and rappelling, $455 for a mountain bike adventure tour, and $177 for a rafting trip.

In one Instagram post July 3, Burkard wrote, “Some places just make you want to be in nature all the time… as if the town is just an extension of the outdoors, there’s a trail for everyone and the community centers sports like fly fishing, mountain biking, and river rafting to name a few. ..Nothing like southern hospitality, incredible bbq, and good people to show us around for the week. @visitasheville #exploreasheville

Influencer Chris Burkard praised Asheville’s beauty on a trip paid for by Explore Asheville. // Credit: Chris Burkard

Burkard published three reels and 18 stories on Instagram, reaching more than 1 million accounts, Herrington said.

Explore Asheville paid travel blogger Allison Anderson $20,000 plus expenses to promote wellness and Asheville as a winter “getaway retreat.” Costs for her January 2022 visit included a $296 dinner at Posana, $242 for a visit to the Asheville Salt Cave, $180 for candle making, $90 for a massage, $75 for “forest bathing,” $75 for a “sound healing session,” and $44 for a yoga session.

Anderson, whose YouTube channel has 876,000 subscribers, blogged about her trip and recommended the experiences she received as part of her “what to do” in Asheville list.

“Asheville is the perfect place to find wellness, great food, and scenery, and I got to spend a week soaking it in thanks to Explore Asheville,” she wrote.

Anderson produced social media posts and a video that garnered 4,300 likes and 373 comments, Herrington said.

YouTube video

Neither Anderson nor Burkard responded to requests for comment.

Paying for promotional posts is common in the world of digital influencers, an increasingly popular form of marketing that is “pretty standard” among tourism agencies, said Borden of Destinations International. “Destinations and brands are able to branch out into audiences that they normally can’t reach through traditional means, like TV, radio, print publications,” he said.

The amenities Explore Asheville provided to travel blogger Ashlee Major Moss of London, whose Instagram account has 159,000 followers, included a $268 personal chef experience, a $203 rooftop tour and “Red Wine & Chocolate Tour at Biltmore,” a $190 “Shoji Spa experience” with a $36 “bottle service add-on,” and two Visa gift cards costing $424, records show.

Explore Asheville paid $311 for local food blogger Stu Helm to take Moss and a companion on a food tour. “We got an insane amount of amazing food at 10 different stops (a typical food tour has between 6 and 8 stops!)” Helm wrote. “We had breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, and dessert in about 3 1/2 hours from Baba Nahm, Nani’s Piri Piri Chicken, Huli Sue’s BBQ, The Rhu, Manicomio, White Duck Taco Shop, Sovereign Remedies, Zambra, Rhubarb, and Cultivated Cocktails.”

“WOW! I was honestly blown away by what this quirky city has to offer,” influencer Ashlee Major Moss wrote after a visit paid for by Explore Asheville. // Credit: Ashlee Major Moss

Moss posted TikTok videos and the “Ultimate Guide to Asheville” on her website with recommendations for many of the places she visited. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Helm questioned the value of Explore Asheville footing the bill for Moss’ trip. “I don’t know that there’s much, to be honest,” he told The Watchdog.

The Londoner had “some pretty big numbers” for followers, Helm said. “I don’t know how I would gauge how effective that was. It’s not like they had a lot of people with English accents looking like tourists or anything after that.”

$2,238 dinner at Curate, planners hit the town

Another marketing target is professional travel planners who book group events. Explore Asheville’s business development budget of $2 million includes sending sales teams to travel trade shows and conventions. This year’s travel schedule lists more than 50 events, including four in November in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, Monterrey, Calif., Shreveport, La., and Chicago.

Meetings and conference planners also come to Asheville on Explore Asheville’s dime for 48-hour “Familiarization” or FAM visits. “Two full days will be dedicated to exploring Asheville as a meeting destination – at no cost to you!” a website description says.

The itinerary for a November 2022 visit included an opening reception at a rooftop bar, breakfast at the Biltmore, lunches at the Kimpton Hotel Arras and the Omni Grove Park Inn, drinks at the Foundry Hotel, and dinners at the Market Place, Posana, and the Grand Bohemian Hotel. Options for afternoon activities included golf at the Grove Park Inn, a visit to the Asheville Salt Cave, and walking or bike tours.

About 20 planners attend each event. “This initiative has been very successful in acquainting buyers with Asheville as a meeting destination, and every meeting property in the area benefits with the overall increased exposure,” a group sales report says.

Explore Asheville has budgeted $150,000 this year for three 48-hour events. Receipts for one in August include $2,238 for an opening dinner at Curate; $1,079 for “cookbook/amenities/gift bag for opening dinner;” $2,828 for transportation; $2,070 for catering; $1,024 for an E-bike tour of the River Arts District; and $4,275 for spa appointments at the Grove Park Inn plus $350 in tips.

The $4,110 dinner at the Market Place in March, which included $1,357 for wine and liquor, was the closing event of a 48-hour FAM tour. “As a result of hosting this event, Explore Asheville has confirmed five events that will be held in Asheville that will generate $460,200 in direct spending for local businesses, and another three tentative groups that have the potential to generate $126,375 direct spending for our community,” said Herrington, the Explore Asheville spokeswoman.

FAM tours are “a standard practice of destination marketing organizations,” she said.

The $4,110 dinner for 19 comes out to $216 per person. // Credit: Explore Asheville

Giveaways: mugs, tumblers, blended oils

Explore Asheville has purchased thousands of dollars in merchandise and gifts to give away in the past three years, including:

  •  $3,500 in branded bags from ENO for “client giveaways and tradeshows.”
  • $750 for branded magnets as welcome gifts.
  • $4,820 in gifts for VIPs of the SoCon basketball championships.
  • $818 for apparel and items for the 2022 U.S. Open, where Explore Asheville paid $1.3 million to be a sponsor. The expense included Asheville branded T-shirts and hats for “US Open street giveaway team.”
  • $12,175 for engraved tumblers.
  • $3,906 for East Fork mugs.
  • $2,364 for 30 client Christmas gifts.
  • $4,280 for 16 custom denim, Western-style shirts at a cost of $250 each. Herrington said the shirts are “team uniforms for representing our community at events, trade shows, and conferences.”
  • $2,000 for Billie Jean King Cup tennis tournament gift bags.
  • $13,199 in gift cards for “milestone anniversaries” and for staff, journalists, models and others.
  • $712 for 300 “bottles of blended oils” as giveaways at a trade show.
  • $706 for 60 bags of Grind AVL coffee for an event in New York.
  • $575 in “wine for client gifts.”
These custom denim shirts are uniforms for Explore Asheville staff, a spokeswoman said. // Credit: Explore Asheville

Paying for publicity

The recipients of some of that largesse include journalists. Many news outlets, including The Watchdog, have strict policies against reporters or editors accepting anything of value from a source or potential source to ensure stories are not unduly influenced.

Explore Asheville has not only pitched stories to travel journalists but paid for their stays in Asheville, including amenities such as spa treatments and meals. The agency has given journalists Visa gift cards, receipts show.

Explore Asheville makes no secret about its goal to generate buzz and publicity.

“National media brand consolidations have left editors with small staffs and little time to research stories,” a TDA annual report noted. “Explore Asheville’s PR team leverages longstanding media relationships through a constant flow of proactive outreach. . .The team uses marketplace and networking events to pitch media one-on-one and facilitates immersive research trips for writers, photographers and influencers.”

The arrangement creates objectivity problems for the writer and trust issues for the reader, said Kelly McBride, senior vice president and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Florida-based Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

“Travel journalism is fraught with these kinds of conflicts of interests,” McBride said. “There are very few publications that are truly willing to pay their own freight, so it’s absolutely common for travel writers to get freebies.”

Readers can evaluate the credibility of travel stories and “best of” lists, she said.

“The ethical publications disclose what they get for free and what policies they have in place to protect their independence and credibility. I always look for those disclosures,” McBride said. “If I don’t see them, I assume that the writer had agreed to do a story that would make the hotel or the city or the theme park happy, in exchange for the free stuff.”

Borden of Destinations International said that paying travel journalists is “something that the industry honestly has struggled with over recent years. There are some journalists who do not accept gifts, and they’ll tell you up front,” he said, but many who work for travel and trade publications are freelance journalists who “write for a multitude of publications.”

“A lot of consumers understand that it can be in some instances, a pay-to-play situation,” Borden said. “That’s why now you’ll see destinations that will use digital influencers because ‘Yeah, I am paying for them to write the story,’ but they’ve experienced it, and now they’re going to tell you what their experience is from their own perspective, which has some trustworthiness to it.

“Yes,” Borden said, “the destination brought them in, but at least it’s up front.”

$80 million in community projects

The promotional expenses come from the portion of the TDA’s budget requiring two-thirds of the occupancy tax collections be spent to further travel and tourism.

The remaining one-third goes to major capital projects that “increase patronage of lodging facilities” and promote economic development. The “Tourism Product Development Fund” has funded about 45 community projects totaling more than $80 million, including improvements to Pack Square Park, Harrah’s Cherokee Center and the Asheville Community Theater.

This year’s award of nearly $23 million over several years to upgrade McCormick Field is the largest yet and will allow year-round events at the city of Asheville-owned facility. It also allows the Asheville Tourists, who warned they would have to leave town if the stadium was not brought up to new Major League Baseball standards, to remain in Asheville.

As a result of a change in Buncombe’s occupancy tax law last year, half of the one-third required for capital projects now goes into a Legacy Investment from Tourism (LIFT) fund for projects that also “benefit the community at-large.” The TDA will have more flexibility to spend the money to include maintenance, restoration, “enhancement of natural resources or expansion of necessary infrastructure.”

A budget update from May 2023 included this explanation of the two capital projects funds. Credit: TDA board meeting presentation

MTV stars, VIP rides

The TDA has adopted strategies for “charting a new course for tourism aligned with broader community priorities.” They include “balancing resident and visitor needs,” encouraging tourists to respect and preserve natural resources, and attracting more diversity in travelers.

Explore Asheville sponsored the Skyview Golf Tournament, the longest-running Black-owned tournament in the U.S., held at the Asheville Municipal Golf course in July, and brought in three stars from MTV’s Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta: hip hop artist Lil Scrappy, rapper Yung Joc and entertainment manager Mendeecees Harris.

The golf tournament was “part of our efforts to engage and invite more diverse audiences to our community,” Vic Isley, president and CEO of the TDA, said in a July 5 news release. Credit: Explore Asheville

The tourism agency spent $88,720 on the golf tournament, including $3,588 for flights for the stars, two talent managers and an influencer; $25,000 to the stars; $300 for a golf lesson at the Omni Grove Park Inn; and $360 for Harris’s visit to Still Point Wellness massage and saltwater flotation spa, records show.

An excerpt from Explore Asheville’s contract with Lil Scrappy. // Credit: Explore Asheville

The three celebrities agreed to play in the tournament and promote it on  social media. Lil Scrappy received $8,500. A “hospitality rider” in his contract required Explore Asheville to provide him with bottles of tequila, cognac and sparkling wine, a fruit tray, and chicken wings.

Yung Joc received $10,000 and stipulated that his drinks should be “ready and in assigned VIP area when artist arrives to the venue. Artist’s security will inspect VIP area before artist arrives.”

Mendeecees Harris received $6,500. Explore Asheville agreed to provide the stars with first-class airline tickets, security, and ground transportation.

Explore Asheville paid $3,800 for security for the MTV stars. // Credit: Explore Asheville

Explore Asheville also contracted with content creators Kimberly Barnes and Garrison Hayes “to produce deeper storytelling on Black history and travel to their 502K combined followers on Instagram and TikTok,” spokeswoman Herrington said. Garrison also produced a video about E.W. Pearson, the first president of the Asheville branch of the NAACP.

A TDA report described the golf tournament support as “a multifaceted approach to engage and invite more diverse audiences and connect them with the community.”

Explore Asheville promoted “Skyview to a new generation resulting in significant placement in national media outlets, including Golf Digest and Black Wall Street Times,” Herrington said. “Content created before, during and after the event reached an estimated audience of 73.6M with 338K engagements.”

Staff writer John Maines contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Lawyers for Reporters, a project of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice providing pro bono legal assistance to local and mission-driven journalism organizations in the United States.

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 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.

98 replies on “Tourism tax money buys massages, $250 shirts, dinners costing thousands”

  1. Thank you for this reporting…looks like an organization doing its job to promote the many creative, outdoor experiences available to us as residents and our visitors…and paying local businesses for their services. From the publicly available BCTDA annual report: While overnight visitors make up 37% of visitation, they contribute 73% of total visitor spending, equaling $2.88 billion in 2022. The majority of visitor spending, nearly 70%, takes place in local businesses like restaurants, shops, tour providers, art galleries, attractions, etc. (not inside lodging facilities).

    1. Seems like we have some TDA and Explore Asheville people posting on here as fast as they can. I can understand. It would be hard to lose a job in Asheville that pays a half mil and has all these perks.

      1. As noted the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO makes more, receiving a base salary of $430,927 and a recent incentive bonus of $119,211, for managing a budget relatively the same size.
        Isley wasn’t recruited here to be the county or city manager, 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 similar 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 in the last article or now.

      2. Especially a job that comes with dinners costing more than $200 per person for staff as well as visitors

    2. Totally agree. The lede on the story sounded critical at first blush. But from a business stance, the spending appears very strategically sound.

    3. Frank, this is not good news. This is robbing from our local citizens who are requesting safer streets by employing more police, better health care, and to allocate more money to our homeless. And instead our tax money is paying for customized denim shirts, bottles of oil and booze for these folks. Oh and lets not forget the horrendous salary of our tourist organizer. So while you might think this is “doing it’s job” I can’t speak for everyone but I can safely say everyone in my office is disgusted by the allocation of tax funds for this garbage.

    4. This headline could have easily read “Tourism tax money is reinvested back in our community to highlight local small businesses and attract a diverse group of travelers to our community” but suppose that wouldn’t have been the desired click bait.

  2. If this doesn’t convince the Buncombe County Commissioners to lower the occupancy tax rate to 0%, I will believe they’re on the receiving end of these “perks”. Why do we even allow this tax now? None of the money keeps up our roads, parking decks, water system or anything else we need. This is how the money is spent. It makes me want to vomit.

    1. I understand your frustration with such extravagance for the privileged while there are many pressing public needs. As a recently-retired local government accountant, I can inform you that for the Commissioners to lower the Occupancy tax to 0% would not provide any funding for roads, parking decks, or other infrastructure. However, Sales tax, in addition to occupancy tax, which is charged on all purchases (rooms, meals, gifts, etc.) by visitors, does go into public coffers for these purposes. The North Carolina General Assembly, with recommendations from the County, is responsible for passing the legislation governing the amount of and expenditure types of the Occupancy Tax. I hope I have given you some direction to advocate for improvements to public life beyond hugging a commode.

      1. The occupancy tax doesn’t provide for any infrastructure costs, like roads. It has nothing to do with sales tax or what sales tax provides. I think that’s the point regardless of who is responsible or can approve changes.

  3. I guess if they have to spend the money due to General Assembly legislation at least a portion was spent locally. Yes it seems excessive to continuously promote an area so high on a bucket list of people when our infrastructure has been so heavily impacted by the millions of yearly tourists. Perhaps the only solution to balance the promotion vs the local impact lies in Raleigh. The spending ratio has recently been adjusted but another look at it from the impact on infrastructure not just McCormack field or the sports area in Enka but on the wear and tear that we as residents have to pay. The bs that all of this is NOT LOCAL TAXES does not ring true when one takes into consideration the result of 10 Million visitors per year to our City.

        1. Regardless of how we all land on this issue ( call me old fashioned but throwing money at “influencers” seems to be a bit of a fad) but there is nobody, i mean nobody who can honestly justify those hideous denim shirts….at any price. As far as the, ummm…errr executive protection/ security outfit who spells the word ‘security’ wrong on their invoice…I have a feeling they may not be at the top of the protection industry. Give me a break!! Come on people, the draw is the town and the mountains. They don’t need any help from any social media influencers.

  4. It sounds to me like they are just doing their job. It is lavish, but that is the way businesses work in this arena. I have experienced this in many different companies and they were all in manufacturing, not tourism. It makes sense that tourism would be even more lavish. It is distasteful, but it is expected and necessary. The real decision is if we who live here want to host so many tourists. It is up to us to change this if we do not like it or believe it has become excessive.

    1. We are fools if we like this or do not believe it has become excessive. How many more tourists can the city stand? The people that live here can’t afford to keep up the infrastructure for all these tourists now. The roads are terrible. The parking garages are falling down. It’s too much for this small city.

  5. WOW!! I’m in awe of the expendables but more impressed of this much details. Native of AVL who departed in 70’s & visit regularly (family). I often see ads for AVL in Florida & Wash, DC. Just wish my childhood community (SOUTHSIDE) could become relevant & included ! Nice to see $$ catering to minorities to visit..a refreshing change.

  6. Now that houses downtown may be converted to hotels too, why don’t we just give up and let tourists have the whole city? They’ve overrun every place and every where anyway. It’s the locals that don’t belong here now.

  7. Do we actually need more tourists? Do we want more tourists? Can we even hold more tourists? Things to think about. When is enough enough.

  8. Many of the items and services purchased by Explore Asheville that you mentioned in you article were provided by local businesses. Wouldn’t you agree that Explore Asheville is supporting the local economy?

    1. I agree. Tourism generates tax revenue in an area without a lot of other sources. Tourism also helps sustain what we love about the area- the Arboretum, Nature Center, restaurants, music venues, theaters, art studios, etc. The City and the County need to work together to be reactive and proactive to instrastructure needs and to share the “weath” in communities that aren’t on the tourism path.

  9. It’s good to finally see some diversity in marketing efforts for our region. People deserve to be paid and appears from this reporting Explore Asheville and the TDA are doing that. Taking a look around town seems like those efforts are starting to bear fruit. Keep it up.

  10. An interesting addendum to this story would be to profile the less than glamorous lifestyle of service workers and how difficult their lives are with working for low wages. I’m guessing that local affordable housing providers are in effect subsidizing the tourism industry by providing low cost housing so that these employers can continue to pay low wages.

    1. Agreed, reminds me of Walmart advising their employees how to file for medicaid and food stamps because they’re paid a poverty wage.

  11. Having spent decades in Orlando and watching the EDC do exactly the same thing on a larger scale, we’re getting scary flashbacks reading this article, and seeing the same mistakes being made in Asheville.

    The people in control of this huge pot of unregulated money are all tourism people, so there is a huge vested interest in continuing to increase tourism here. The frantic spending on expanding the number of visitors leads to more hotels, more road crowding, more temporary people here, while life for residents gets substantially worse.

    As in Orlando, the average tourism worker cannot afford to live in the area. Housing and healthcare are insufficient, and children are perhaps in need of food support at school.

    What the area then has to absorb are the out-sourcing of these problems – previously rural areas seeing large apartment complexes being built to provide housing to new workers. Existing housing being snapped up by investors (and doubtless some of these same tourism officials) for short-term rentals.

    Large pots of money, overseen by people with financial interests in the outcome of its spending, will always be spent for their benefit.

    Enough. Asheville is thriving. Let’s take a breather and stop the frantic promotion.

  12. With all the large amounts of revenue that tourism is bringing into Asheville, I am curious as to how much of this revenue stays in the local economy. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of money “trickling down” to the front line hospitality workers who are providing the Asheville tourism experience.

  13. Some comments here, and to the prior story, seem to imply that the cost of maintaining our infrastructure is born by residents only and that tourists do not contribute to that upkeep at all. Local governments have two primary sources of revenue – property taxes and sales tax. Locals and visitors support local businesses that either directly or indirectly through rental payments pay property taxes on the buildings in which their business is housed. How much property tax is generated by businesses downtown, the Biltmore, and other areas tourists visit and support. Likewise, how much of sales tax is generated by visitors. I have asked several downtown restaurants what they think is the mix between locals and visitors, and most have said that over the course of a year it’s about 50/50 – so at least in their businesses half the sales tax is paid by visitors. All to say, visitors/tourists do contribute to the revenues of local governments which are responsible for upkeep of our infrastructure. Sales tax revenue has grown substantially over the past few years. I suspect visitors contribute more to local government tax revenue than they pay in occupancy taxes during their visit.

    1. People do not want to travel here as much because of the homeless, the crime and the overall nasty that our community has turned into. So chucking money at a bunch of silliness in the name of “small business” is ridiculous. There are other, more appropriate, ways to allocate tax money to generate revenue. So please stop making excuses for our local government. In my opinion, the entire shebang needs to be audited by our Federal Government.

  14. I have to ask,
    “What in the world is wrong with these people?!”
    This isn’t just obscene. It’s grotesquely obscene and no sane or ethical person would eve dare try and defend this kind of spending. This is a perfect jigsaw fit though with the corruption that led to the no bid sale of Mission Hospital to a corrupt organization like HCA. Asheville is starting to appear to not be the town I thought it was. “Shines and stinks like a mackerel in the moonlight.”
    And this is not the way business is done nationally. Major corporations don’t spend this kind of money on promo. This is not “just the way things work.”

      1. correct bennett, I would not have believed it until my wife told me her company ( a large beauty supply company ), regularly pays influencers to hawk her companies stuff on line. This is apparently big bucks in the business world. No different than TV ads , just a new platform for companies to use .

        1. Therein lies the rub. We are not simply a line of products. We are a diverse set of humans living in a city, not a Maybelline lipstick counter.

          1. Wrong RG, Asheville IS the product being sold. No different than any other product when you are discussing advertising.

    1. Since the Watchdog has been all over the hospital issue, at first glance I thought the group photo in this article was HCA Execs and Dogwood whooping it up!

    2. Thank you, James. I agree with you 100%
      Our local government is a joke to all surrounding counties.
      And because they have gotten away with their shenanigans for so long
      the shenanigans are worse and more frequent.

  15. Gross. The excesses listed here when houselessness and housing in general are in such dire shape in our community is disgusting. The TDA needs to devote its money to infrastructure for a couple of years at least and let the “influencers” find Asheville on their own.

  16. Even HALF of the monies noted in this article could go toward hiring some quality full-time police officers. If we bring in more out-of-area people and their cars, wouldn’t we need more law enforcement?

  17. Sounds like another Wanda Green story…… all about taking and spending money that should be used for permanent residence, lije roads, traffic issues….

  18. This was an informative and well-constructed article, as I have come to know from Watchdog. I would like to point out a foundational assumption that I don’t hear addressed with enough respect, that the whole idea of a “tourist economy” is completely bizarre if you think about it. In many of the pueblo communities in northern New Mexico, visitors are not allowed to take pictures because it is considered consumptive, objectifying, and does not build any actual relationality with the people who live there. I don’t live my life in Asheville for it to be consumed by people like I’m a thing. My “lifestyle” is not a performance for you to gauge as entertaining enough or not entertaining. The land that I live on, live because of, and love is not a mere item for you to tick off your bucket list. Selling plastic baubles as somehow representative of anything about Appalachia is just…bizarre. If we are, as some say, in late stage capitalism, where these imaginary computer bits we move around and call “money” are about to collapse in on themselves, what will happen to Asheville then? It seems so short-sighted and foolish to build an entire county and landscape on a vision of entertainment, and to be constantly adjusting our identity as a city to accommodate what goes in and out of fashion, dictated solely by the temporary whims of people who have lots and lots of imaginary bits. I would like to see and hear more of this questioned. It’s not something I suspect the TDA can even comprehend, these kinds of values. Sgi.

  19. Seems like a program which is working as intended. You can disagree with how marketing works now but paid social is by far the most impactful way to advertise. Few marketers pay for space on a billboard anymore.

    Although attribution is difficult in marketing, I’d be curious to know how each of those campaigns performed on an engagement / dollar basis. There are some estimates included in the article, but I’d love to see it in an easy to read table. If you have qualms with how the money is being spent, keep an eye out for high spending on low performance ad channels.

    Lastly, it is quite counterintuitive to me that so few commenters do not want to keep Asheville top of mind for tourists. What if Asheville lost 50% of its tourists moving forward? I’d bet the roads would be worse, the parking garage repairs would be deprioritized further, and downtown would begin to hollow out as business close. Asheville is a tourist town. Tourism is what keeps the town as nice as it is. Without tourism, Asheville would have nearly zero industry. Asheville needs tourism until another industry emerges which can pay its bills.

  20. Your story didn’t discuss the most important aspect of the wasteful spending.  The government should have NO role in spending taxpayer’s dollars marketing tourism (or anything else, for that matter).

    1. 100% correct.
      You are right.
      They should be worried that all of the
      local folks are FAR from impressed
      by their decision making. No doubt that salary
      for this new “tourist organizer” care not one bit as she is getting rich from being in office. She makes what the Federal government employees make. And
      she works in Asheville NC.
      Mind Blown.

      1. Your comments are filled with inaccuracies. Federal employees salaries are public and no where near that much.
        There is a LAW dictating how tourism money is spent. A law. Its not up to anyone local. Good grief. If you’re going to complain then it needs to make sense and be true…and helpful.

  21. It is so gratifying that the Watchdog staff are not bound by inches of copy and advertising limitations and can provide readers with so much information and details within all of their stories, columns and coverage.

    It is simply amazing.

    Thank you.

  22. What this program has done is a great success story. But it was created and launched when Asheville was struggling and needed a strategy to increase tourism. It clearly worked. I haven’t met anyone out of state in the last 10 years who at least hasn’t heard about Asheville, with most having already visited. It’s time to throttle it back. For those of us not in the tourism business, we have too many tourists.

  23. In a nutshell, Asheville is now officially a Tourist Trap with a low wage service economy, where the locals are terrified by the local hospital and afraid to seek medical care and can’t afford to live here. That’s progress.

  24. “…by law two-thirds goes to promotion and one-third to capital projects that boost tourism.” Seems to me this needs to change. If the county could direct how the money is spent, there would be some sort of accountability. I agree that the numbers seem extravagant, but we also need tourism to survive. The TDA are not our enemy, but we should be able to direct them to spend less on promotion and more on capital projects.
    Though the TDA president’s compensation… definitely not a good look in an area of low wages and high costs.

  25. This is disgusting. Even more so when one sees the horribly negative impact tourism is having on Asheville, the area, and its citizens.

  26. I wish we could spend this energy and time figuring out who actually makes the rules about hotel dollars. Explore Asheville may seem over the top, but I work in marketing and for the most part, they are just really good at their jobs. I don’t think they’re to blame. It’s not their job to balance the city’s priorities. Whose job is it? I would like to see AVL Watchdog inform citizens about WHO could actually make changes to these hotel tax dollar policies. Could we see these dollars spent elsewhere – on infrastructure repairs and better housing and public transportation options for the thousands of hospitality workers and creative folks who are being pushed out? How do we get this policy changed?

  27. I remember seeing Chris Burkard’s Asheville content. He called Asheville a “hidden gem” which is just hilarious.

  28. I’m enjoying your muckraking articles so much that I decided to send a contribution.
    Keep up the good work for which there is no good alternative in AVL.

  29. While there is certainly much to question in the details of how the TDA chooses to spend its money, what’s not too debatable is 1) it is their money, not the City’s and not the County’s, and 2) judging by the numbers, it’s generally well-spent. The tourists—only the tourists, not us residents—give them money and they spend that money to get more tourists. Looking at the data, that seems to be working quite well.

    The argument that the government should somehow get its hands on that dough and use it to build roads and pay servers is misinformed and untenable. If our infrastructure is crumbling and our workforce is underpaid, fixing that isn’t the TDA’s job. Tell your City and County leaders to jack up the taxes on these multi-million-dollar homes and hotels; there’s plenty enough money in town to level up our infrastructure.

    Tourism is certainly a double-edged sword. But so is anchoring a local economy on, basically, anything else. Capitalism is double-edged. I have lived here since the days when downtown was, quite literally, boarded up. A ghost town. Restaurants? Breweries? Music venues? Tubing, biking, gallery-hopping? Nope. Nothing. Trust me, you do not want Asheville to return to the days of Tourists not Welcome.

    Furthermore, if you look at Asheville’s longer history, you will find that it was its healthiest, most thriving, most interesting and stimulating, in the years when it invited visitors and made them feel at home.

    Unless you’re tired of having great food, amazing music, lots of art, and a generally open-minded and tolerant culture, bring on the tourists, tax the crap out of them when they move here to mansionize, and leave the TDA out of it; they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. If your political leaders aren’t taking care of your streets and parking garages and labor force, then elect new ones who will.

    (To the Watchdog: Your presence in the market is so, so valuable and necessary and appreciated, but please, refrain from this sort of clickbaiting. Go after HCA hammer and tong, but please don’t muddy your vision with incendiary pandering.)

  30. The amount of money spent to attract well-healed tourists seems immoral given the number of locals that are struggling to find affordable housing and decent wages to support their families. This seems out of control and is creating an Asheville that many locals can’t afford and never wanted.

  31. In fairness to those who work at the TDA, they are incentivized to keep those competitive salaries. And why wouldn’t they?

    This town has always had low paying jobs. The difference is that rents have sky rocketed and there isn’t enough supply of housing within the city boundary.

    The advertising of Asheville has made us so popular that everyone has moved here with deep pockets or no pockets at all.

    The TDA is a mixed basket of supporting tourism growth which has spawned so many new small businesses. At the same time we have lost some of our soul along the way. The funky fun artists, the “keep Asheville weird” people, can’t afford to these crazy rents. Have we lost our soul?

    Thank you for doing your research and writing another in-depth article.

  32. “Hungry-Games” Asheville -New World Order version is in full effect, Y’all.
    All this on the heels of ay least 2 bogus homeless roundup in which multiple arrests and tickets were given almost completely for fantasy non-offense and used just as excuse to harass the homeless. As a 40+ year Asheville area resident it’s fun to watch our fair metro torn apart by factions at either end of the extreme of financial power.
    I mean, who in the last 40 years has cared for or supported the interests of those born, employed and educated locally anyway? Certainly not the appointed “leadership”.

  33. Property taxes paid by hotels don’t begin to cover infrastructure impacts from overnight tourism. Asheville’s Mayor has been quoted in the press on this. City property owners are subsidizing the tourist industry. Sales tax revenue is insufficient to cover these impacts, particularly when you consider how little sales tax revenue flows to city government (most goes to the County). TDA director’s compensation is a multiple of Asheville City Manager’s pay, which seems kind of wacky.

    The alternative would be for the Buncombe County Commission to resolve to eliminate the room tax, with an eye to getting a more equitable split of room tax revenues. Elsewhere in NC, room tax revenues pay for beach nourishment, the NASCAR Museum, etc. Both the size of Buncombe’s room tax revenue and the way it’s spent are real outliers viz the original intent of NC’s tourism development legislation. Mission accomplished, we have a gigantic tourism industry, now we’re just burning buckets of money.

  34. Enjoyed the article and comments. Looking to move to Asheville and love the work of watchdog. Knowing what my company spends on marketing I can understand. We basically look for 10x return on investment. The real analysis needs to be not what they spent on but what did it return. Paying the influencer $75,000 means the influencer needed to attract $1,875,000 of business (1,875,000 × 6% × 2/3 = $75,000) . This is the break even number. Ideally you would get more than a break even number as some ideas will win and some will lose. The hard part is determining the real return. Hopefully that is being done by TDA and it’s not just spend on marketing. I do think 2/3 is to much and should be 1/3. I didn’t need any advertising for finding Asheville region. It does sell itself.

  35. I’m not sure how this is considered a “scoop” or even investigative journalism, when this report is essentially a well-researched case study detailing “how to successfully market a small town to external audiences.”

    It’s a diverse, robust campaign that reflects modern marketing practices taught in America’s most acclaimed universities.

    The negative comments baffle me and are plainly riddled with small-minded thinking, arguably from individuals who have not taken marketing classes or participated in modern marketing.

    It’s even more ironic that people are unhappy, given the *spike in downtown crime and homelessness* that’s driving Asheville’s own citizens away from the downtown area, thus away from spending money at local businesses.

    Asheville is frought with issues at the city-level, but the town’s tourism team is not one of them. The spending outlined here reflects realistic budget needs and marketing costs.

    If AVL were to follow the recommendations of this article, which appear to be “cancelling” the tourism marketing budget, the city would go into further decline. Asheville would do well to recognize what it is – and that is a destination; a treasure in the WNC region that people want to visit. The economy here is supported immensely by hospitality and tourism. Why does this town keep denying that?

    1. People who are doing what they want with little or no oversight often respond to criticism and advocacy of more oversight with this response: “How can you argue for cancelling [X]?” I don’t know anyone who thinks there should be no tourism development budget for Asheville or Buncombe County. I do know a lot of people who think the TDA is overfunded and underaccountable.

      The TDA is an unelected body spending tax revenues that amount to over 15% of the City of Asheville’s budget without any real, objective, external oversight or audit. Despite the TDA’s insistence that it’s “their” money, the funds are collected pursuant to a decision by the Buncombe County Commission, and the TDA owes the County a full and accurate accounting of funds spent. The TDA has been less transparent than the County when it comes to employee compensation, which simply shouldn’t happen.

      I’m sure “modern marketing” has its charms, but a private firm’s marketing department would be far more accountable to its Board of Directors than the TDA is to its County Commission.

      Asheville is fraught with issues, it’s true, and many of them arise from tourist traffic. Asheville taxpayers subsidize the tourist industry, and a modicum of transparency isn’t too much to ask.

      1. Andrew, you note that the TDA works “without any real, objective, external oversight or audit” and “the TDA owes the County a full and accurate accounting of funds spent.” Would it surprise you to learn that the County is in fact the fiscal agent for the TDA, that the occupancy tax is remitted to Buncombe County (not the TDA) and that the County oversees and accounts for every expenditure of Occupancy Taxes, and that a separate independent audit of TDA funds is conducted each year as part of the County’s annual audit by an outside auditing firm. In compensation for this oversight and accounting of TDA funds, the County receives 5% of the gross occupancy taxes collected each year.

      2. “What they want”? You say that as if there is no internal oversight, when there is. Further, it appears the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority also oversees the Asheville Tourism Board department. By all accounts, the functions of both departments are working appropriately. There is nothing egregious in the documents published in this article, and I’m believe nobody is refusing oversight or even advocacy for more oversight. What matters most to me is that qualified, educated leaders who have experience in successfully marketing towns/cities/regions to external audiences are the ones with the keys in their hands. Top-level, this entire situation seems to be the result of nothing by small-town, small-minded thinking. Meanwhile, the demand people have to visit Asheville is not shrinking, neither is the number of people who move here. My singular hope is that educated, visionary leaders remain in leadership and oversight positions. So again, the work conducted and presented above is totally normal. People are simply shocked at the rates digital creators / influencers (I.e., *advertisers*) command; or that local businesses comp products and meals to gain the support of influential people who have the ability to bring even more business to them. These are excellent tactics that support basic marketing strategies and goals. I hope this issue resolves itself soon.

        1. I doubt anybody’s going to change anyone’s mind, and want to freely admit that County does have review access to TDA expenditures. True, true, true.

          However, “The Buncombe TDA initially declined to provide the salaries of its other 34 positions, saying those are employees of Explore Asheville, a type of nonprofit exempt from public records” shouldn’t happen, but it does, because the TDA has a mentality that’s inimical to transparency and sharing the burdens tourism creates for the city and county. It’s an extractive industry, drawing a subsidy from local government.

          “Meanwhile, the demand people have to visit Asheville is not shrinking” would indicate that promoting the area has been done effectively, and it would be interesting to moderate spending and channel money toward addressing some of the solid waste, police, fire and other issues a city that doubles its population every weekend inevitably faces.

          Again, no one is going to change anyone’s mind. I’m trying very hard to be civil, but find it interesting that TDA advocates share two common lines of argument: (1) there is no need for greater oversight, and questioning the professionals at the TDA could cause the tourism industry to collapse; and (2) Asheville’s tourist industry is not subsidized by the city and county. Neither of these arguments are true.

        2. And I will shut up, but it might be useful to research how the hotel room tax and business license fees work in Clark County, Nevada. That’s where Las Vegas is, I think?

          While you’re doing that research, it might be helpful to know that 100% of the room taxes paid in Buncombe County go to the TDA (minus a 5% admin fee to the county I will admit). Moreover, Buncombe’s room tax is currently as high as state law allows – 6%. It used to be 4%, but some Asheville City Council guys were talking about renegotiating for a share going to the general fund and the 6% hike got pushed through County Commission in a big hurry, 4-3 vote, one Commissioner wasn’t any too sure, there was a recess, good times.

          The Clark County TDA is scraping by on 4.5% of room rates, by the way.

          And it may be helpful to know that business license fees – which are a great way for a municipality to get ad-valorem dollars for their general fund in a targeted way – are effectively capped due to NCLEG action in 2014.

          And don’t get me started on the change in sales tax situs reporting that went down a bit back. Suffice it to say, Asheville and Buncombe County aren’t getting nearly the deal Las Vegas and Clark County are.

  36. I would also love to see more tourism dollars invested in our community for projects that are as much for locals as for visitors. Please see Explore Asheville website and/or Mountain Xpress for details about December 1st TDA grant application deadlines. Perhaps something you’d like to see done is possible.

  37. Thank you, AVL Watchdog, for serving the community with another important story. Your reporting is clearly making some folks uncomfortable, based on some of the comments; no doubt TDA had their associates/friends pepper the comments to put their spin on things.

    In short, the tourism machine here is out of control. It was once needed, and it will likely always be here to some extent, but now it needs to be scaled WAY back. So what if we have fewer restaurants, hotels, shops? Yes, we’d bring in less in taxes but we’d also see a reduction in expenses for supporting all these visitors, and less need to keep developing. I think we hit our sweet spot back in 2007-2010. Now it feels like the tourists/TDA have more power than local, full-time residents.

    “A lot of locals don’t understand that it’s not the local tax money,” Borden said. “It is money that is being used from visitors who come into the destination.”–Actually, we DO understand this; we just want to see that money spent differently. I hope these stories will lead to some significant changes in that regard. Starting an economic diversification authority sounds good to me, if one does not already exist.

    And TDA/Chamber of Commerce folks, please acknowledge that tourism is creating some serious problems here; to gloss over them makes you appear even less in touch with the community you’re supposed to serve.

    1. Very well written! When the quality of life of local Asheville residents is negatively impacted by tourism, it’s time to stop and reassess. Asheville has become less and less liveable as tourism has grown, and this will continue to happen as long as the BCTDA exists (and grows), and has no independent oversight.

  38. Finally, a news outlet voicing the concerns of the local community!! It’s telling how quickly tourism-freindly commenters rush to spin these egregious expenditures as good business and necessary marketing ploys. Of course advocates would offer a tone deaf response to an enormous tourism slush fund that does very little for local housing, infrastructure, or social services. Even the capital projects like McCormick Field seem totally out of touch with local community needs. Please keep up the great reporting!

  39. I managed a marketing budget for many years which dwarfs the BCTDA budget at least 50 fold. I was accountable to the CEO of our large corporation, and needed to be prepared to justify every marketing expenditure, whether it was for a social media influencer or a Superbowl TV ad buy.

    I would never, ever have allowed my team to expend corporate ad monies on $250 denim shirts for personal use, nor could they attend lavish dinners with vendors or media influencers (both would have been a violation of corporate ethics), and every marketing expenditure was measured to determine the ROI. Our corporate finance group kept an eye on every bill & receipt. We worked with far bigger stars than those mentioned in this article and never once paid for bodyguards (nor would we have).

    The examples of lavish, egregious spending detailed in this article would have had our corporate controller, and likely our general legal counsel knocking on my office door in a hurry.

    It doesn’t appear that there is any independent oversight of Vic Isley and the BCTDA expenditures – and that is a major red flag.

    1. Seeking clarification – where did you get the impression that the denim shirts mentioned were for personal use rather than as uniforms to be worn at trade shows, which is the impression I get from the photo. Not sure who would want to wear such heavily branded garments for personal use. As to staff attending dinners, again my impression is that the limited staff present at these events were ‘working the event’ – what’s the point in just entertaining influencers/decision makers if you don’t have staff present to answer questions and make the pitch. As to bodyguards, in the entertainment business (and these were entertainers) the provision of security is a common requirement in contracts and riders to the contract.

      1. Did your staff (as you are clearly with the BCTDA) perform more effectively with their $250 denim shirts vs. $35 shirts? My point is that you are clearly out of touch with most of Asheville’s residents. Who in their right mind pays $250 for a denim shirt? Just one example of the BCTDA’ s wasteful spending.

        And the only individual I encountered with security in my 30 year career, was the CEO of our Fortune 30 corporation. That was it. Everything is negotiable. You need to sharpen your pencil.

        Asheville is overrun with tourists and tourism, and the useful life of the BCTDA has expired. It’s time our elected leaders recognize that their residents are tired of having our quality of life prostituted for the sake of tourism and the low paying jobs that come with it (unless you are with the BCTDA).

  40. I have said it before, and I will say it again loudly. The AVL watchdog is the ” paper of record ” for this area, hands down. Such well written and comprehensive stories covering every angle usually leave me with all the info I need on whatever subject they are covering. And if they missed something, you will surely see a follow up article if warranted. Thank you for your much needed service

  41. The dirtiest part of this utter waste is the commercial bribery of travel writers. The newspapers I worked for would fire me for accepting from any source, political or otherwise. If there were an event where we could not pay the tab directly and the host would not accept payment, the newspaper made an equivalent contribution to charity. Moreover, Asheville has too many tourists already

  42. Can I just add a little fuel to this fire by pointing out the obvious. See the big picture above, the one with all the rich white women? Covering the face of the only person of color in the photo. Give me a break, Asheville.

  43. What the TDA does is quite difficult. They succeed. The TDA literally brings in the people who spend a great deal of money that impacts the economy of the region. It might be better to assess their work by looking at the “what ifs” if the TDA was reduced, diminished or made a government agency. The TDA plays in a very difficult arena. Their success results in jobs, businesses, new residents, and a broad spectrum of activities. Do they need $250 shirts? No. Do they need some of the obvious excesses? Probably not. But in answering those questions, you must do so in the context of what the competition is doing.
    I was extremely disturbed by the comments about the Asheville Tourists. The tourists were faced with a series of demands by Major League Baseball. MLB set the clock and if the Tourists could not raise the funds in a timely manner satisfactory to MLB – the franchise would have been assigned to another city. That would have left Asheville dangling in the wind along with many other cities that lost teams as baseball contracted its minor league operations. It would have left empty a national treasure.
    There are many things that disturb me about the TDA. However, without the TDA, Asheville would be a very different place. I would ask the Watchdog to explore the positive impact of the TDA and explore ways in which they could further support other aspects of the community. We have already lost a hospital.

  44. Time to get that dreadful photo off the front page. I can’t bare to look at the party goers while Asheville burns to the ground in other ways. Tourism is booming and the wrong people are getting rich off the backs of service workers and the hospital is a dumpster fire. Welcome to Asheville, where the working class can live in a car or a card board box and the poor can live in jail.

  45. Like Middle Eastern conflicts, the promotion of, and resulting increase in tourism has two valid and competing sides. Tourism supports local businesses and provides Asheville with an abundance of enjoyable restaurants, events, and activities. It also makes it less pleasant to live in Asheville through heavier traffic, impossible parking in popular areas, higher prices, and difficulty getting into those fully-booked restaurants. Until recently, tourist taxes didn’t fund improvements, like parking, to offset the impacts. Today tourist-tax dollars can be used to a limited extent for local improvements. If tourism is our goal, the expenses listed in the article are competitive and justified and paid for by the tourist tax. City leaders need to pay greater attention to balancing tourism’s impact with residents’ quality of life issues. It’s Asheville’s need for a proper two-state solution.

  46. Asheville Watchdog, thanks again for deep diving and details. I am sorry to see so much money going to social media influencers. There are so many nonprofits around the South which could be good to team up with for Win-Win advertising. I also hope that the lowest paid working in Asheville Tourism efforts have health insurance, living wages , decent work hours and safe housing.

  47. The comments by TDA staffers makes it sound like the general public has no idea that it’s funding is from tourism taxes, and that the public doesn’t pay the taxes. Yet the public has organized to directly have a say in how those funds are spent. Groups like Buncombe Decides want to use LIFT funds to go directly into providing affordable housing back into the community, and Asheville Food and Bev United supports that initiative. Those programs have campaigned and nominated a service industry worker to join the board, only to be ignore by said TDA board.
    I personally am not offended that money was spent back into the community by way of supporting smaller businesses; it’s offensive that the privilege of benefiting from the allocation of tourism dollars is being solely reaped by the board and paying themselves. The city counsel will continue to approve building another hotel and that money coming in from the taxes of those hotels will not go to the displaced community, but to reinforcing the practices of false progress, rich board members, and a dissociation of a city “nestled in the blue ridge mountains”.

  48. This is a shocking use of public money, and the legislature should make a change as soon as possible, in the meantime is there an inspector general for NC who could exercise some oversight so that public monies do not continue to be abused and wasted on over-priced shirts and unjustified salaries. Asheville is too easy a sell to justify what is documented in this article.

    The article also documents some unfair/deceptive acts/practices affecting commerce. Influencers/endorsers are supposed to clearly and conspicuously disclose any free product/trips received, and the brands who hire endorsers are responsible for ensuring compliance. From what this article shows, that did not happen. Given the salaries these TDA folks are being paid, they could at least do their jobs correctly/honestly.

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