The Transylvania Times -

TDA Report: Accommodation Revenues Doubled – Transylvania County, NC

 

October 24, 2019

In the 2011/12 fiscal year, slightly more than $9 million in accommodation revenues was reported in Transylvania County, while this past fiscal year that number had jumped to more than $18 million.

During the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting last week, Clark Lovelace, the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority’s (TDA) executive director, reported these figures and others as part of an annual report from the TDA.

The county receives 5 percent of the accommodation revenues. For the 2018/19 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the county collected $922,367 in accommodation and occupancy tax revenues, an increase of 16.2 percent. Of the total, $180,730 came from Airbnb collections, an increase of 45.6 percent.

Lovelace said that among the reasons why more tax money was collected are that motels/hotels/inns occupancy rates have increased by 3.2 percent to 67.8 percent and the average daily rate paid by customers increased by 4.3 percent to $131.51.

The Airbnb increase, however, was the main reason for the total revenue increase.

Lovelace said the TDA is predicting that occupancy tax revenues will exceed $1 million this fiscal year.

The TDA report also noted that, when completed, the 86-room Holiday Inn Express off the Old Hendersonville Highway will, “particularly in the short-term,” bring in more total accommodations revenue but lower the total occupancy rate and “possibly” reduce the total average daily rate paid by customers.

According to Visit North Carolina, the state’s main tourism organization, roughly $106 million in tourism revenue was generated during the last fiscal year in Transylvania County and the county has 870 tourism-related jobs.

Also, according to Visit North Carolina, each county resident saved $254 in tax savings thanks to tourism.

In his presentation, Lovelace said the TDA’s efforts to also increase occupancy tax revenue in the “shoulder seasons,” fall, winter and spring, have “paid off,” with occupancy rates increasing during those months over the past three fiscal years. Lovelace said that 10 years ago the numbers during those months would have been far lower.

What TDA Does

Lovelace said that at its “core” the TDA is a “marketing and promotional” organization that is overseen by a seven-member board, which includes elected officials, those in the tourism industry and others.

Last winter, the TDA launched its “Explore Brevard” brand, including a new logo and website, which Lovelace called “extremely user friendly.” The new website has a “blog-centric layout,” with two of the three top pages on the site devoted to blog posts focusing on the top 10 waterfalls and “nine iconic Brevard experiences.”

Last fiscal year, the TDA’s marketing reached more than 61 million potential visitors, double the number of the previous year, through targeted advertising in print and digital, television, display and social media.

Lovelace attributes the increase to the “type” of advertising and marketing, calling it a “little more (creative).”

Other focuses include trying to attract the Canadian cycling market in late winter/early spring and encouraging visitors to extend their stay in the county.

Visitor Center

From July 1, 2018, to June 30, the visitor center on East Main Street in Brevard reported 16,005 visitors.

Nationally, Lovelace said, visitor centers are seeing decreasing numbers, with Internet usage increasing.

A couple of years ago, the visitor center “peaked” at 19,000, he said.

Lovelace said efforts are underway to try and make the visitor center more of a “destination” experience.

Public Relations

Public relations, according to the TDA, are among the best “returns on investment” of its marketing fund but, Lovelace said, one “never knows when it’s going to pay off.”

Those efforts include hosting journalists working on stories about the county for various publications, such as Our State magazine, Canadian Geographic Traveler and WNC Magazine, Garden & Gun and the Charlotte Observer.

Sustainability

In 2017, the TDA began a sustainability effort called Transylvania Always, focused on various issues to improve the visitor experience and protect local natural resources, including a waterfall safety campaign, promoting trail courtesy, providing funding for trail improvements, such as Cantrell Creek, and debris removal from the French Broad River, as well as supporting groups such as The Pisgah Conservancy (the TDA was a founding member), Friends of Gorges State Park, Friends of DuPont and the French Broad River Stewards.

Grant Program

Each year, the TDA provides grants to efforts that impact the local tourism economy.

In the 2018/19 fiscal year, the TDA awarded $25,400 in total grants (the grants range from $500 to a $3,000 maximum) to 16 recipients, while several special grants were awarded to various causes, such as the city of Brevard’s bike path infrastructure, Heart of Brevard and Brevard Music Center events/advertising, and the Cycle NC Mountain Ride.

Partner Services

Lovelace said the TDA doesn’t have a membership but does partner with local tourism-related businesses in several ways, such as the Co-op Campaign, allowing these businesses to take part in the TDA’s marketing/advertising efforts in outside publications/online, as well as publications/online efforts produced in-house by the TDA, such as cooperative advertisements during the holidays.

Strategic Plan

In late 2018, the TDA began work on a new strategic plan to guide tourism activities from 2020 to 2024, with a new program that “activates, collaborates and advocates.”

The aim is to “grow the visitor economy by promoting Transylvania County as a preferred overnight destination that seamlessly integrates outdoor recreation, scenic beauty, and small-town charm, and helps protect and enhance the assets that fulfill that promise.” The plan may be viewed at http://www.explorebrevard.com/strategic-plan/.

The TDA also contracted with UberMedia to provide data on demographics and the origin of visitors from outside the “metro area” (Greenville, S.C., Asheville, Transylvania and other surrounding counties) to DuPont State Recreational Forest, the Pisgah Ranger District and downtown Brevard.

With more than 10,000 responses, the data collected represented less than 5 percent of the total visitors to this area, but the information surpassed the minimum needed to be statistically useful.

Among the data, 34 percent of the visitors to the Pisgah District in Pisgah National Forest visited downtown.

Looking Forward

The TDA just launched a new “Heart of Adventure” ad campaign, which, among others, is about “claiming” or “reclaiming” the natural features in Transylvania County that have been highlighted and promoted by surrounding cities and counties.

Another effort is a new digital advertising and marketing plan.

A digital campaign, unlike a billboard, allows for greater detail and information, and for more specific audience targeting. The TDA is also creating a new position – a marketing and communications specialist – and will continue its focus on sustainability efforts, such as Leave No Trace and an anti-litter campaign.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Jason Chappell said the UberMedia data is important and will allow the TDA to better understand where it needs to focus. Commissioner David Guice asked about the rise in the Airbnb revenue collections and how it may relate to the lack of available housing on the market.

Lovelace said there is a “challenge” to get detailed information from Airbnb.

Roughly three-and-a-half years ago, Airbnb began collecting and providing a lump sum payment to North Carolina counties, he said. Prior to that, it wasn’t clear if those who had an Airbnb were aware, or heeded the law, that they needed to collect an occupancy tax.

It was assumed, Lovelace said, that it was a low percentage that were doing so.

The first year, he said, the county was probably receiving roughly $65,000 to $70,000 in Airbnb-related occupancy tax revenue.

Transylvania is now among the top 10 of North Carolina counties that bring in review from Airbnb. Unfortunately, Lovelace said, the TDA does not have statistics on short-term rentals or their average daily rate.

The TDA is still relying on the traditional accommodations for its data.

Guice noted that the hotel occupancy rate has increased “only” by 3.2 percent but a new hotel is being built in Brevard and there is “talk” of another one coming.

He suggested “someone” is going to go “out of business” at some point.

Hawkins, who is a TDA board member, said that some of the issues TDA deals with are “interrelated with broader policy issues,” such as housing versus Airbnb.

The TDA’s strategic plan is “ambitious,” he said, and tries to look at TDA’s role in the impacts – both good and bad – that tourism has on the community and finding ways to resolve those negative issues.

Lovelace said the person who helped develop the strategic plan said the TDA has “transitioned from a destination marketing organization to a destination management organization.”

Lovelace said that 10 to 15 years ago the TDA was just thinking about how to get people to visit the county.

Sustainability and infrastructure issues were not on the radar back then, he suggested.

Today, Lovelace said, the TDA sees its “role as being broader.”

 
 

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