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WNC Business

Intentional Tourism Marketing Through Telling Asheville’s Story

Apr 09, 2023 08:44PM ● By Randee Brown

The work of Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau is ‘economic development through tourism’, according to its President and CEO Victoria Isley.

Isley said her job with Explore Asheville is to help the city get into the hearts and minds of visitors so that they come and enjoy the area, and then come back again. The marketing efforts are concentrated into four strategic imperatives to attract visitors and conferences that: deliver a balanced recovery and sustainable growth, encourage safe and responsible travel, engage and invite a more diverse audience, and promote and support Asheville’s creative spirit.

“It’s a combination of marketing and storytelling,” Isley said. “Coming into this community during Covid was an opportunity to really listen to the community and be a student of Asheville and Buncombe County, and that continues today.

“It’s really meaningful to me,” Isley said. “Through all of my one-on-one conversations with community members, I’ve never heard so many phrases of people being ‘drawn to’ a place, and I’m listening to why that is. This has shaped the lens through which we tell the colorful story of Asheville as we share the value of our community.”

Isley said that tourism programs that encourage day trips outside the city help support Asheville’s story, as well as disperse visitors throughout the region. 

“Helping farm tourism in the surrounding small towns is imperative,” Isley said. “It’s an educational opportunity to understand and show how differently the flavor and character of Western North Carolina feels and operates compared to the rest of the state, and how different the region is from nearby areas in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia.”

Concentrating on attracting the quality of visitors is important as well, according to Isley. Noting that 73% of tourist spending comes from overnight guests, she said that marketing efforts focus on attracting those visitors since they spend more throughout the community and vary their activities the longer they stay.

Dispersal across every season is also a marketing focus, as is sustainable growth and responsible values. Isley said that marketing efforts offer five-day itineraries throughout the county and across all seasons. She said that they are also sharing Leave No Trace campaigns and working with VisitNC and Year of the Trail to educate visitors on regional opportunities and attractions all year long.

Explore Asheville also works with partners like the Economic Development Commission on initiatives to bring conferences and events into the area that reflect the business verticals they are trying to attract like technology, advanced manufacturing, outdoor products and recreation, climate and environment, and health and medicine, according to Isley.

“Business leaders can visit and learn what it might look like to bring their business here,” Isley said. “It’s like the story of Oscar Wong and Highland Brewing; he originally visited the area on vacation, and now that business is woven into the fabric of our community.”

Explore Asheville also works with municipal partners to determine how to invest the Asheville area’s lodging tax dollars, with two thirds of the budget allocated for promoting the area as a leisure and conference destination and the other one third allocated toward tourism-related capital projects and operating a grant program for municipal partners or nonprofits.

In over 20 years, these funds have helped invest approximately $60 million in 46 community projects including Pack Square Park, the Wortham Center for Performing Arts, the Wilma Dykeman Greenway, the YMI Cultural Center, and more.

Another Explore Asheville-supported project underway is Woodfin Greenway & Blueway which includes expanded amenities in Riverside Park and the in stream Wave — a man-made whitewater rafting feature. RiverLink is assisting in the project which includes wetland enhancements, stream restoration, and cleanups along the French Broad River. Upon the Wave’s expected completion in 2025, Riverside Park facilities will include changing rooms and a viewing pavilion. Isley said the community has expressed immense excitement about the project.