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Buncombe hotels saw a notable increase in occupancy in July, but the county’s other short term rental options gave a “significantly better performance.” (Photo: Angela Wilhelm, /[email protected])

ASHEVILLE – Buncombe hotels saw a notable increase in occupancy rates in July, but the county’s other short term rental options gave a “significantly better performance.”

This is according to Chris Cavanaugh, interim director of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, who told the BCTDA board Aug. 26 the preference for more personal spaces is reflective of a national and international trend.

“It’s, I think, a combination of both gathering with friends and family in a single venue as well as trying to … avoid large groups of people due to the pandemic,” he said.

Traditional hotels in Buncombe County saw 42{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} occupancy in June. Through most of that month, there was countywide cap limiting short-term lodging businesses’ capacity at 50{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Commissioners voted unanimously June 24 to remove that limitation, and hotel occupancy rose to 55{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} in July.

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But Cavanaugh noted that there has been a clear difference between weekdays and weekends in Asheville and Buncombe overnight tourism. While weekday occupancy at traditional hotels was at 52{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} during the 28 days ending Aug. 15, weekend occupancy during that time was at 75{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c}.

In normal times, Cavanaugh said, Buncombe would expect to see weekend hotel occupancy in the 90-100{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} range this time of year.

Whole home rentals up to 79{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c}

Short term rentals of entire places — including things like vacation homes, cabins, whole apartments with kitchens, condos and similar spaces — were already leading in June, with 65{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} occupancy. In July, that number rose to 79{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c}.

Buncombe hotels saw a notable increase in occupancy in July, but the county’s other short term rental options gave a “significantly better performance.” (Photo: Citizen Times file photo)

“Hotel-comparable” rentals in that category, which include studio and one-bedroom units, saw 67{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} capacity in June and 78{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} capacity in July.

This category includes AirBnBs, which are plentiful in the Asheville area. A 2018 survey by financial advice website SmartAsset found 3{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of Asheville’s housing is Airbnb rental stock, the highest rate found in the United States.

More: Hotel occupancy and COVID cases are up, but health experts say they aren’t necessarily related

Cavanaugh said an outside study of 27 global destinations showed that, since the start of the pandemic, short-term rentals are drawing more guests than hotels in many markets.

Other Western North Carolina areas with a large number of short-term rentals are having “record summers,” he said. This is true in several beach towns, too.

These visits to Asheville and Buncombe have gone up despite a halt on destination advertising by Explore Asheville — which executes marketing and sales programs under the BCTDA’s direction.

As coronavirus cases rose, the group committed July 14 to a four-week pause on all advertising but search, which lifts the local travel site to the top of a search engine results page when certain keywords are entered.

More: As tourists return while COVID surges, here’s how they feel about masks and more

Explore Asheville has not yet said when it will return to a more aggressive marketing approach.


Mackenzie Wicker covers growth, development and healthcare for the Asheville Citizen Times. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MackWick.

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