As tourism and travel rebound from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, Buncombe County’s Tourism Development Agency plans to pour millions of dollars into advertising to ensure Asheville remains a top regional travel destination.

In an 8-1 vote on June 30, the BCTDA board approved an operating budget of $ 20.3 million for fiscal year 2021-22. Most of the budget – $ 15.3 million – is for Advertising and public relations Increase tourism and overnight stays in Buncombe County. The money represents a 55% increase over the $ 9.7 million the agency spent on marketing during its previous budget cycle.

“It’s easy to say that $ 15 million is a lot of money,” said BCTDA board member and hotelier John McKibbon. However, he argued it was worth the expense, citing the tourism industry’s local economic impact of around $ 2 billion.

Board member Andrew Celwyn cast the sole vote against the budget. Of 70 comments that the agency on the matter, he said, almost everyone expressed concern about the amount of money being spent to attract more tourists to the area and the negative impact of tourism on the local community, including the rising cost of living in Asheville.

Many commentators have argued that advertising funds should instead be spent on urban infrastructure, schools, and reparations for Asheville’s black residents. State law, however, prevents the use tax money from supporting most state infrastructure or operations, meaning property owners mainly bear the bills for police and fire departments, road and sidewalk repair and construction, and the cost of cleaning after a large number of visitors .

The budget also includes $ 440,000 to manage the agency’s Tourism Product Development Fund, which awards grants to projects with the potential to boost tourism across the county, and $ 200,000 in revenue from paid advertising on BCTDA websites, in general used to sponsor local events.

While the agency’s budget has been approved with these allocations, spending levels may change as new state laws change the current allocation of occupancy tax revenue. Current legislation requires the BCTDA to spend 75% of occupancy tax income on marketing, with the remaining 25% being used for “tourism-related capital expenditures”.

The proposed change, which appears to be endorsed by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards and the Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association, would move those percentages to two-thirds and one-third, respectively.

When the revenue sharing is adjusted, the board member says John Luckett, the agency will make budget changes to reflect those changes, including reallocating $ 2 million of its approximately $ 12 million in available cash reserves to fund the level of marketing desired.

“I think this budget is another year of failing our community. For over 25 years, we’ve been the TDA in the least invested state in our local community, and it’s a very marginal change we talk about when the legislation is changed to two-thirds. divided a third, ”said Celwyn.