As rough economic times continue to challenge many types of events, such longstanding assistance programs offered by some regional bureaus may be more attractive than ever for groups looking to get together. In a self-supporting effort to aid groups in bringing more visitor dollars to town, these grant programs are a common bureau strategy geared toward encouraging new events to get on their feet and to keep existing events coming back.
“We have had our grants programs since 1992, when the CVB recognized that there was a need to assist groups that had potential to contract in our area and create an economic impact in our community,” Boos says. “We have had small groups [and] committees attempting to create large-scale events in our area and needing the assistance with marketing and promoting their event.”
The Fairfield CVB in Iowa offers a similar program that has yielded valuable results for groups that have already chosen Fairfield as a gathering place, according to Terry Baker, assistant director of the bureau.
“We are very proud of our grant program and what it offers to the community,” Baker says. “It’s a smart investment for us and helps us target some of our destination marketing funding toward existing events.”
In Fairfield, Baker explains, “Funding will vary each year, as the total grant money given out is a percentage of the hotel-motel tax received by the CVB.”
Supported by tourism organizations at the local or state (or both) level, grant program availability depends on the types of events a particular bureau is looking to target. In Visit Eau Claire’s case, preference is given to new and expanding festivals, sports tournaments, conventions, cultural arts, and special events that benefit the City of Eau Claire. Criteria for grant awards focus on projected impact to the community, public benefit, and uniqueness of projects. With application deadlines on April 15 and November 15, the program encourages business organizations, volunteer-managed organizations, and individuals to hold events in Eau Claire to foster mutual benefits for the community and for groups that might not be able to meet without such financial support.
In Fairfield, funds are awarded with the expectation that they will be used for promotional and marketing purposes, so existing groups are able to attract more visitors to their events. The bureau begins taking applications in the fall with deadlines in December, after which time a committee meets to evaluate grant applications on the basis of visitor attraction and enhancement of Fairfield’s cultural experiences.
“We are also looking to see if the event provides any direct benefit to Fairfield and Jefferson County residents,” Baker says. “Our philosophy is to enhance our destination marketing by supporting events that are growing or might be in need of additional marketing funds to expand their reach. We are committed to providing marketing dollars to enhance the tourism environment of our area, increase overnight stays and expenditures by visitors to Fairfield, promote a positive image and increased visibility of the county’s attractions, and provide programs and activities beneficial to drawing additional visitors to the area.”
For some bureaus, an all-too-familiar catch-22 of recent years has threatened the existence of some of these event lifelines: economic conditions have challenged the programs intended to improve economic conditions. The Galena/Jo Daviess County CVB in Illinois, for instance, was operating a successful grant program for a number of years, which helped many planners and organizations to fund brochures, advertising, and event services such as bus rentals.
“Unfortunately, the recession has affected the program for the new fiscal year, which begins here December 1,” says Katherine Walker, executive director. “At that time, the program goes on a one-year hiatus, with status to be evaluated for FY13.”
To preserve such funding assistance, many statewide organizations are working together throughout the Midwest to maintain and promote the availability of CVB grant programs.
“With the times that we are in, everything helps the bottom line, and every effort and program should be examined,” Boos says. “Every community wants business, both new and repeat. The state of Wisconsin is highly involved with grants, both on the bureau side and also the state side. Bureaus are creating grant committees on the meeting side and also the sporting side. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism is actively looking for bureau input for sustaining grant programs and ensuring that the planners, committees, boards, etc. are all aware of this incredible gift.”
In helping planners and organizations to extend the reach of their event marketing efforts, Midwest CVBs that offer grant programs are working to create win-win partnerships that bring the benefits of visitors’ dollars back home.
“My experience shows that many local organizations want to host a variety of events but lack the funding needed to market their event out of town,” Baker says. “Our organization can offer marketing funds that can help make their event a success. While past recipients have been local nonprofit and for-profit organizations, we welcome event planners who are interested in hosting events in Fairfield and can show that they will provide a positive tourism benefit to the community.”