Cost of Growth: Tourism Impact

Explore Asheville says about 10 million visitors come to area each year. That includes both overnighters and day trippers. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Nearly 10 million people travel to the Asheville area every year. The surge of out-of-towners has created tension with some locals who say the city has become too crowded.

But the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority says the money brought in by tourists helps keep Asheville's economy booming.


Arya Heath first visited the Asheville area as a tourist in the 1980s.

"It was the mountains, and the call of the mountains, and the beauty of the surround there, and also it was a place where people were beginning to gather and you could feel that things were starting to happen," Heath said.

She loved Asheville so much she moved here permanently, and said she enjoyed the creative feel and culture in the city.

But over the years, she and her husband watched as the city slowly began to change.

"It just took on a different attitude I think for me, and also the housing prices were going up and up and up," Heath said.

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She felt like the constant cycle of tourists was shifting the city and in 2011, decided to move away. Now, she and her husband live in Blowing Rock.

"I think both of us began to feel it's too crowded here for us, we don't want to be in particular the downtown area. We love what Asheville had to offer, but it was too crowded," Heath and.


Data from the Asheville Airport shows just how many of those crowds are flying in to the mountains.

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The number of passengers in and out of Asheville has grown by about 75 percent in less than a decade.

"I think Asheville is the envy of a lot of communities around the country," said Stephanie Pace Brown, CEO of Explore Asheville.

Brown said a decision back in 1983 is the biggest reason behind the city's tourism success. That's when local hotels volunteered a self-imposed lodging tax that's now 6 percent.

Brown explained that tax now brings in about $20 million a year.

She said 25 percent of that goes back to community projects, but most goes to advertising Asheville to people all across the country.

"We are promoting more than 1,200 tourism-related businesses for free, and it reduces the barriers for being successful," Brown said.

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As for complaints that there are too many tourists in Asheville, Brown said those crowds bring in $2 billion a year.

"To take tourism out of our economy or scale back on tourism, the impact would really be felt in every aspect of our economy," Brown said.


A few miles from downtown in West Asheville, Orbit DVD owner Marc McCloud welcomes every out-of-towner.

"We are very thankful for tourists. We see a lot come in here," McCloud said.

He said while the growth has prompted complaints from some, the business that tourists bring in is easy to see.

"I think some are frustrated, but a lot of locals I know are profitting. They're contractors, hand men, real estate, and they've been able to do quite well," McCloud said.

Brown admits that the growth needs to be managed correctly. She said they're working with local leaders to spread visitors out to other areas and to invest in infrastructure.

We want to know how Asheville's growth is affecting you. Email us at with your point of view.

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