Asheville tourism industry screeches to a halt amid COVID-19 epidemic

Asheville tourism industry
Sidewalks in Asheville were nearly empty Thursday as Buncombe County's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order took effect. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Sidewalks were nearly empty Thursday as Buncombe County's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order took effect.

“That changes the game pretty much completely,” Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association president Rick Bell said.

Bell, who runs a bed and breakfast business in Candler, said, just three weeks ago, his cabins were occupied by tourists. Thursday, they were empty and closed until further notice.

“[I am] working on a lot of projects, hoping to get ready for what we hope will be a change to sort of salvage the season this summer, but, of course, nobody knows about that yet,” Bell said.

“For the first time in history, we are facing not only the interruption of tourism, but the disappearance of tourism,” Explore Asheville CEO and president Stephanie Brown said.

She said every year, about $2 billion go into local cash registers from people who are not from the area.

“When we have guests, we refer them to restaurants in town, or they may be looking to go to a brewery, or they may be looking for an outfitter to go hiking or something like that. So, it trickles down into the community,” Bell said.

As businesses like Bell's come to a crashing halt, Brown said she worries others who rely on those guests to feed their cash registers will also be empty.

“The unknown is how long with our beloved local businesses be able to weather that storm,” Brown said.

“I think this is going to be an interesting thing to watch, for people who have thought maybe there are too many tourists, now all of a sudden we are not going to have enough of them,” Bell said.