Skip to main content

WNC Business

The Front Seat of WNC’s Tourism Growth

Apr 11, 2023 03:20PM ● By Randee Brown

The Asheville Regional Airport is a driver and a facilitator of WNC’s tourism industry. Supporting 10,655 jobs and $727 million in personal income, its 58,204 annual operations help to bring in $118 million in tax revenue and produce an overall $2.26 billion economic impact, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Tina Kinsey, Vice President of Marketing, PR, & Air Service Development for the Asheville Regional Airport said that by tracking Wi-Fi data to learn the zip codes of airport visitors, they are able to determine approximately 35% of the traffic is due to locals traveling outward, and about 65% consists of visitors to the region. Over the last six to seven years, the airport has seen about a 10-point increase of visitor traffic compared to that of locals.

Though airport crowds are growing, Kinsey said that the airport staff is great at helping to manage the crowds well and though lines can get long, the TSA can process people through security rather quickly. The airport is also adding parking areas for more cars as well as parking for more planes to support increased traffic.

The airport has expanded its unique destinations and routes, and according to Kinsey, that is a long process. She said that airport representatives have to talk with airlines, economic development organizations, and traveler’s bureaus to help the airlines decide to add a new route. “All of the routes have done well,” Kinsey said. “When a new one is added, there is a short period of time during which we can really talk about it, as the airport and airlines work together to build awareness for the new product.”

Airport leadership also knows that they must add to the infrastructure internally to manage the growth, according to Kinsey. She said that they have been hard at work for years planning the new terminal, and they are working to set a groundbreaking date. She said there will be space for more concessions, more security, spaces for art, and live music in the terminal. She noted that it will be bright with lots of natural sunlight, and a true reflection of the region they are stepping into.

“Western North Carolina is a nationally-known and desired destination, attracting visitors from around the country and globe,” said Lew Bleiweis, Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority’s President and CEO. “We have a front-door view of this growth at the airport, as we are the gateway for many of our region’s visitors. We have seen phenomenal increases in passenger traffic in the past seven years, and we served more passengers in 2022 than ever before – a record 1.8 million. The growth is real, and infrastructure expansion is necessary at the airport just as it is throughout our region. Visitor traffic – and the airport itself — are major economic drivers in western North Carolina, and the airport is committed to evolving into the right airport for our region’s future. We’re already on our way, and there’s more to come. Exciting times.”