As the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority sets a new course on how it will dole out revenue it takes in from the hotel occupancy tax, a report it commissioned shows average wages are higher in the county for tourism jobs than in the rest of North Carolina. But some common jobs within the industry still have a pay rate beneath what's considered a living wage for the area.
The report prepared for the TDA by PGAV Planners is the first part of a plan set forth by the TDA after it decided last year to suspend its grant program. That awards millions of dollars each year to projects in Buncombe County. As it faced criticism that the money it was awarding focused more on projects benefitting tourists rather than residents, the TDA set out to reshape its grant process.
The discussion has only intensified since on whether tourism is helping or hurting affordability for those who live in Asheville and Buncombe County year-round. As the dust settles from two decisions the Asheville City Council made over the summer brining the issue into clearer focus - approving a plan to turn the Flatiron Building downtown into a hotel, and then approving a one-year moratorium on new hotel approvals a month later - Stephanie Brown, the CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, hopes residents remember a figure they tout often - that one in seven jobs in Buncombe County is supported by visitor spending. “Sometimes we think of it as the dollars coming in, and we forget how many people who live here who run a business that is dependent on tourism, or who have a job that’s dependent on tourism," Brown said Wednesday at AB Tech, after a presentation where the study was unveiled.
The report also looked at wages for those tourism jobs. Figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show tourism is just one of two employment sectors where the average wage in Buncombe County is higher than the North Carolina average (the other is health care & social assistance). Those wages are also growing faster than wages overall in the county.
But of five common jobs within the industry noted in the report, four – housekeepers, hotel desk clerks, recreation workers, and travel guides – still make an average wage less than the defined Buncombe County living wage rate of $13.65 per hour for those who do not receive health insurance from their employer. For those who do receive health insurance, the living wage is $12.15 per hour, and the average pay rate for housekeepers and hotel desk clerks still falls below that. Just Economics WNC sets the living wage rate annually.