Applicants for Westmoreland County's Tourism Grant Program likely will have to put up a 25 percent match as part of changes in the process.
The grants, funded by a 3 percent tax on hotel bills and administered by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, are meant to bring tourists to the region.
Preferably they come from outside the Laurel Highlands region, leading to more “heads on beds,” or overnight stays, said Renee Seifert, bureau president and CEO.
Its most recent round of awards, in April, resulted in grants totaling $401,191 to 71 tourism-related businesses and organizations in the county.
On Wednesday, Seifert offered what she called “Basic Grant 101” to several dozen former and hopeful grant recipients.
A local match, not uncommon with grant awards, is likely ahead, Seifert said.
“No longer ... will it be an out-and-out grant,” she said.
A pending House bill addressing hotel room rental tax would add a 25 percent local match to grant applications. That match could be split in half between cash and in-kind or volunteer donations, she said.
“We are anticipating that before the end of the year, this bill will pass,” Seifert said.
Applicants must submit a very detailed budget, she said, including copies of quotes and bids.
“Don't pad your budget,” Seifert said, noting that inaccurate or inflated figures can result in low judging scores.
The program's goal remains to attract visitors from outside the region and encourage overnight stays, thus increasing future grant resources.
“Rule of thumb is, if you are marketing at least 88 miles away, you have a greater chance of drawing people in overnight,” Seifert told the group.
Collaborative grant proposals, with one organization taking the lead, are encouraged to lower costs and increase presence, she said.
Earlier this year, Idlewild and SoakZone received a grant of $5,000 toward the purchase of an O the Owl costume for its live “Daniel Tiger” show, and $20,000 for a Northeastern Ohio marketing campaign this year.
Jeff Croushore, the park's director of marketing and public relations, attended Wednesday's meeting.
“I do like the structure (of the new application),” he said.
Croushore said he had no problem with the potential local match.
Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor was earlier awarded $1,945 for marketing to produce a rack card and participate in the bureau's brochure distribution program. The group also received $2,500 for two new exhibits.
Executive Director Olga Herbert said Wednesday that she would like grant funding to expand the rack card into Gettysburg and other eastern areas of the state.
The pending match would demonstrate that “we (grant recipients) have some skin in the game, too,” she said.
Herbert had no issue with a more rigorous application process.
“There is good accountability, and doing your homework should be expected. After all, these are public funds,” she said.
The session was held at the Westmoreland County Community College, where the new criteria and 2016 applications were provided.
According to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office's most recent Annual Economic Impact Travel Report, posted on visitpa.com, Westmoreland County generated more than $742 million in visitor spending in 2013, along with 5,723 tourism-related jobs.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.