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At $27.3M, Buncombe TDA budget shrinks slightly; flat tourism tax revenue growth projected

A sign welcomes travelers to Buncombe County.
Felicia Sonmez
A sign welcomes travelers to Buncombe County.

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority on Wednesday approved its operating budget for the 2025 fiscal year, with planned spending down slightly from the previous year amid projections of flat revenue growth.

The $27.3 million budget — most of which will go toward marketing Asheville and the surrounding area as a tourist destination — was approved by a unanimous vote. The TDA’s operating budget for the previous fiscal year was $27.5 million. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

The TDA is a quasi-governmental body that oversees the collection and use of occupancy taxes, which are paid along with lodging, such as at a hotel or short-term vacation rental. In Buncombe County, the occupancy tax rate is 6%.

The TDA’s work encompasses a broad range of efforts, including attracting more visitors to Asheville and Buncombe County; recruiting conferences and other events to the region; and funding local projects that further the county’s economic development. In recent years, advocates have urged the inclusion of affordable housing in that mix, but so far, the Buncombe TDA has declined.

By law, the TDA’s operating budget amounts to two-thirds of the total occupancy tax revenue collected each year. The other third is devoted to “tourism-related expenditures,” such as community capital projects. For fiscal year 2025, the TDA forecasted a net occupancy tax revenue of $34.3 million.

No members of the public spoke during Wednesday’s comment period directly before the vote.

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Of the $27.3 million, the largest share – almost $19.5 million – will go toward marketing. That’s followed by $4.4 million for salaries and benefits; nearly $1.7 million for business development; about $1 million for administration and facilities; and about $700,000 for partnership and destination management.

Compared with the previous fiscal year, the TDA is planning on spending slightly more this year on two categories: salaries and benefits, and partnership and destination management. Spending will be slightly lower in two categories: marketing and business development.

According to a presentation at last month’s TDA meeting, part of the increase in salary and benefit costs is due to market adjustments, merit increases, the hiring of an additional business development team member and an increase in the employer-sponsored premium for employee benefits from 80% to 100%.

The TDA is also devoting a little over $900,000 to administering its two tourism-related project funds, the Legacy Investment From Tourism (LIFT) Fund and the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF). That amount is roughly the same as last year.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.