Tourism board ties marketing grants to hotel room stays

SALISBURY — The tourism board that serves Salisbury and Rowan County has money to give away and wants to fund projects and events that will attract new visitors and encourage people to spend the night in local hotels.

The board on Wednesday approved a new request process for tourism marketing grants. The Convention and Visitors Bureau has between $125,000 and $150,000 a year to use for marketing Salisbury and Rowan as a destination, and the grants come from that budget, Executive Director James Meacham said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau is funded with a 6 percent hotel room tax levied by the city and county, 3 percent each.

Tourism has been making grants for years, but the request process has been rather informal, Meacham said.

Now, groups will fill out a three-page application and stand a better chance of winning if they can show an ability to attract overnight visitors, who generate a bigger economic impact by spending more money on gas, food, lodging and entertainment.

Tourists who sleep in hotels spend on average $131.62 per person in Rowan County, while visitors who come for the day spend about $54.63 per person, Meacham said.

Marketing grants are available for projects that will:

• Focus on priorities identified in the tourism master plan

• Expand existing areas of tourism

• Include sports and recreation events that will generate overnight stays

• Launch a new tourism-related event, especially during low-demand times of the year

• Include lodging expenses associated with a tourism event

• Include expenses associated with putting on a new event and support a local tourism-related business

• Demonstrate broad-based community support

Marketing grants will not be awarded to existing tourism programs that do not have plans to expand. No grants will go toward requests for bricks and mortar, general operations, staff support, payroll or debt reduction.

Meacham said the N.C. Transportation Museum recently won a $10,000 marketing grant that offered a good example of the new criteria.

The museum asked for help covering the cost of lodging 17 crews that will bring trains to Streamliners at Spencer, a four-day festival from May 29 to June 1. The event is expected to draw 4,000 to 6,000 visitors.

“The museum was very creative in their request,” Meacham said. “They have to house these folks. We are not giving money directly to the museum, it’s going to the hotels.”

In the past, marketing grants did not generate the economic impact the tourism board wanted, Meacham said.

“Instead of paying for a brochure for you, what can we do with you that will help bring visitors?” he said.

Some tourism-related organizations understand the new focus while others are “very resistant,” Meacham said.

Generating overnight stays has become so important that tourism recently split a grant in half, offering 50 percent up front and the remainder after the event proves that visitors stayed in local hotels.

Fishers of Men requested a $7,500 marketing grant for a fishing tournament Nov. 11-15 at High Rock Lake.

The group will receive $3,750. The balance is dependent upon proving that 200 people rented hotel rooms.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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