As demagoguery of tourism amps up, be careful what you wish for

It appears as if some of the local business and tourism industry leaders are getting fed up being the targets of the demagoguery campaign waged by local leftists and Asheville elected officials. The fight is playing out in the editorial pages of the Asheville Citizen-Times - although you'll glean more insight into the mentality of the "Abolish the TDA" crowd by reading this piece at the Asheville Blade. The same author then wrote a shorter op-ed for the local paper:

This is a call for the Buncombe County commissioners to repeal the occupancy tax and end the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (TDA). Since being established in 1983, the TDA has grown into a giant institution that does more harm than good. Our community would be better off without it.  
As a significant part of our local economy, I am not advocating against tourism per se — I am advocating against the existence of a tourism-driving entity that has incredible power, a narrow agenda, unsustainable outcomes, and no real checks and balances for their actions.

Ami Worthen's piece prompted responses from various people who work in the tourism industry - defending the TDA and the work it has done to attract millions of visitors to Western NC - subsidizing local taxpayers (contrary to what the Asheville Mayor has asserted).

The Citizen-Times' Editorial Board seems to sense that the anti-tourism campaign might be getting out of hand - risking long-term economic damage.

Yes, Buncombe has problems. Among them are housing affordability, racial and economic inequities and environmental impacts. The question is whether doing away with organized tourism promotion altogether will help. It’s hard to see how.
Abolishing the TDA is not going to address the problem of low-wage service jobs. The ultimate answer is a minimum wage that lifts all workers above the poverty line. That, unfortunately, is beyond the reach of local governments in North Carolina.
The way to reduce environmental impacts is to grow wisely, not to stop growing. 

Travis Smith, a candidate for NC Senate, says we shouldn't abolish the TDA. Instead, he says we should reduce the amount of money the TDA can spend on tourism marketing.

I recently received a phone call from one of the largest lobby groups in North Carolina: the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA). They had become aware that I, Travis Smith, running to be the next State Senator in District 49, wanted to "fix the occupancy tax" in Buncombe County. They wanted to find out exactly what my intentions were and took great efforts to list the benefits of the occupancy tax. The phone call was pleasant and cordial, and it was in this conversation that the NCRLA explained that they do not, in fact, support a 75% rate like what Buncombe County currently has. As a State wide lobby group, they only advocate for 66% of occupancy tax revenue to be spent on tourism promotion. So Buncombe County is clearly an outlier with our 75% rate.

Tourists - particularly wealthier white ones - provide an easy target for cultural Marxists who rely on class warfare to sell their vision of utopia to the naive. Tourists also provide local politicians an easy scapegoat for their own failure to manage growth and prioritize basic services and infrastructure in a growing city.

You could see the early stages of this campaign beginning in 2013, as the Asheville City Council struggled to close a budget gap. Council blamed the NC General Assembly (run by Republicans) for the expected deficit (even though it's structural).

It's a tactic that the current crop of council members have adopted.

But the risk of sending anti-tourism signals is that people eventually receive them.

And when they choose other destinations in Western NC or beyond, who will elected leaders blame then?

Pete' Prep: Monday, Dec. 2, 2019

  • Megan McArdle at Bloomberg: "How Utah Keeps the American Dream Alive: Economic mobility to rival Denmark’s, but without big government. Can the rest of the U.S. emulate Utah’s success?"
  • Mountain Xpress: "If members of the West Asheville Neighborhood Alliance have their way, needle exchange programs will face significantly greater restrictions on where they can operate in Buncombe County and throughout the state. At the Nov. 15 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners, representatives of the group presented a plan to change state legislation governing programs that provide syringes and other supplies."
  • Also, at Mountain Xpress: "While Asheville City Council unanimously denied a zoning request that would have expanded where tiny houses are permitted in the city during its Nov. 26 meeting, its members maintained that they already allow the structures in many areas of Asheville through other zoning laws and regulations."
  • Wall Street Journal: "An 1,800-mile conduit is set to begin delivering Russian natural gas to China on Monday, a physical bond in a new era of cooperation between two countries, and a challenge to the U.S."
  • Washington Times: "Pete Buttigieg looks to North Carolina's 'Moral Monday' Rev. William Barber to help win over blacks"

Pete Kaliner

Pete Kaliner

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