People from all over the world come and visit Asheville. It’s easy to see why people are drawn in by our mountains, art, music, and food. Recently, however, the tourism industry has exploded, causing stress on Asheville’s infrastructure, environment, and residents.
This tourism boom has brought millions of visitors to our city. It has also resulted in an outsize proportion of low-paying jobs, forcing our service and hospitality workers to work multiple jobs and commute from far outside the city. The rapid influx of tourists is also making locals feel out of place as more businesses cater to our visitors, instead of to us.
For many Ashevillians, the loss of the Flatiron Building was the last straw. City Council allowed the historic building in the heart of downtown to be converted to a hotel, displacing 70 local businesses. It’s healthy for our city to have some tourism, but the city should always remember that it serves the people who live and work here, not tourists or rich hotel developers. That means regulating tourism for the benefit of our citizens and not allowing unlimited growth. When it comes to tourism, Asheville needs to put Ashevillians first.
According to statistics from the Tourism Development Authority, 2,761 hotel rooms have opened or been approved for construction since 2015. That’s an increase of 41% in just a few years. As a result, City Council passed a moratorium on September 24 that bans the approval of new hotels in Asheville for one year. The ban on more hotel construction is a great first step, however, the moratorium does not apply to hotels that have already been approved for construction. This means that Ashevillians can expect another 1,417 hotel rooms to fill the city in coming years. During the next year, it’s up to us to develop some sensible guidelines, and to figure out what Asheville wants from tourism.
Develop Limits and Goals
How many hotel rooms should the city have? How many tourists should be in our city in a given day? Right now, the answers to these questions seem to be “as many as possible.” Unlimited growth may be good for hotel developers and investors, but it’s not good for the people who live and work here.
If tourism continues to grow exponentially, it will continue to increase our proportion of low-wage jobs and force more workers to move out of the city because of rising costs. We need to find the right balance of tourism that benefits our city without overwhelming us. To do that, we need to study our markets, wages, and development patterns so we can set data-driven goals that put our citizens first.
Reform the Tourism Development Authority
The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, or TDA, charges a 6% tax on all hotel stays. Most of this money goes directly to advertising that brings more tourists to the city. The remainder is spent on local projects that increase tourism, such as museums and improvements to sports facilities.
The TDA should use its advertising funds to promote a more diverse range of destinations around the county to spread out the impacts of tourism. It should invest more of its money in community projects that benefit everyone, such as transit systems and parks, not more advertising.
Local-Friendly Parking Prices
The cost of parking downtown has been going up and it’s hitting downtown workers hard. Many downtown workers already make low wages, and that problem is compounded by the high cost of parking. Tourists who are on vacation are willing to pay parking fees, but they burden locals who work or visit downtown. Price hikes for special events mean that downtown workers are often priced out of safe and proximate parking. Instead, we can lower prices for locals with a Buncombe County ID and make up the difference from our out-of-town guests