The latest report from Buncombe County tourism officials shows just how much short-term rentals have completely transformed lodging in the area. Short-term rentals, booked through sites like AirBnB, have seen rapid growth in the past two years. The report compiled the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority shows in 2015, just under 92-thousand room nights were booked with short-term rentals. Just two years later, that number was over 392-thousand. That compares to conventional hotels which saw slightly higher room bookings over the same time period thanks to more hotels opening in the county, which kept the overall room occupancy rate relatively flat.
Stephanie Brown is the president of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, and says it’s no secret why short-term rentals have done so well here. “It’s a trend and the availability of technology," she says. "It’s just like ride sharing. That was nothing, and then became a lot. So the Buncombe County Tourism and Development Authority is lodging agnostic. Our job is to attract overnight visitors to the community, and then connect them to the businesses that choose to be here.”
While the TDA may be agnostic about short-term rentals, plenty of others in Buncombe County are not. Short-term rentals became the main issue during last year’s Asheville City council elections, and city lawmakers did pass restrictions earlier this year that effectively ban short-term rentals in residential areas. If property owners in those parts of the city want to offer them, they must now ask city council directly for permission. What affect those new restrictions are having on short-term rental bookings, is sure to be the focus of a future tourism report.