BRISTOL, Va. — Twenty-five area towns and tourism organizations are splitting nearly $500,000 in Virginia tourism grants — all designed to spark visitors and interest in places and events in this region.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Tourism Corporation awarded more than $3.2 million for 236 local and regional tourism marketing programs across the state to help increase visitation and revenue for Virginia’s localities through tourism.
“VTC’s tourism marketing and sponsorship programs are designed to increase visitor spending by leveraging limited marketing dollars, to stimulate new tourism marketing through partnerships, and to extend the ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ brand to drive visitation,” said Rita McClenny, VTC president and CEO.
This funding cycle, local partners will commit more than $15.5 million to match the VTC funding, providing more than $18.5 million in new marketing and event production activity focused on increasing overnight visitation to Virginia, according to the statement. The funding will be awarded to 236 marketing programs, ultimately impacting 1,161 combined partners.
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Virginia entities that apply for funding may include cities, towns, counties, convention and visitors’ bureaus, chambers of commerce, other local or regional destination marketing organizations, private businesses, museums, attractions, cultural events, and other tourism-related businesses, according to a written statement.
“VTC’s marketing and sponsorship programs are powerful incentives creating tourism partnerships across Virginia that are a robust part of Virginia’s economic ecosystem,” Youngkin said in a written statement. “From first-time applicants like Foxfield Races and Paradise Springs Winery to large music festivals in Hampton Roads and Southwest Virginia driving inbound overnight visitation, these programs show that tourism and tourism partnerships help Virginia’s vibrant communities grow and thrive.”
Among the grant recipients were Abingdon-based Friends of Southwest Virginia which received two grants totaling $40,000.
“We are honored to have Virginia Tourism Corporation as a valued partner and grant funder to assist our mission of driving visitation to Southwest Virginia,” Kim Davis, Executive Director of Friends of Southwest Virginia, told the Bristol Herald Courier.
“In Southwest Virginia, we have world-class natural assets and a rich cultural heritage to share with those who travel to each of the 19 counties, four cities, and 53 towns in our region, and with the support through the Marketing Leverage Program, Virginia Tourism helps us leverage our marketing dollars to promote and market to key target markets throughout the Southeastern United States,” Davis said.
Friends of Southwest Virginia received a $20,000 grant for the Southwest Virginia — Visit a Different Side of Virginia marketing and public relations campaign. This program is designed to help raise awareness and increase recognition of Southwest Virginia as a tourism destination and region for economic development.
Friends of Southwest Virginia also received a $20,000 grant for the Southwest Virginia artisan storytelling and marketing campaign for ‘Round the Mountain Artisan Network. This program will celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of ‘Round the Mountain Artisan Network and showcase artisan stories, while promoting visitation to Southwest Virginia to experience the arts and heritage of the region.
“The Marketing Leverage Program is an incredible resource for tourism entities, attractions, and events in Southwest Virginia. The funds from Virginia Tourism allow our region to create new tourism marketing initiatives and promote our region more effectively, which leads to driving more visitation and increasing visitor spending throughout Southwest Virginia,” Davis said.
In Bristol, the Birthplace of Country Music received two grants totaling $34,000 — one for the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival and another for the Where Country Music Began program.
“The $20,000 grant for the festival will help us expand in some of the regions where we have people buying tickets,” Leah Ross, BCM’s executive director of advancement, said.
Tracking zip codes of where notable numbers of tickets are sold, BCM plans to crank up its marketing in Charlotte, N.C., Richmond, Va., Atlanta, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
“It also helps us some digital billboards,” Ross said. “We target areas where people like festivals. We just used some of this money to set up a booth at Merlefest [in North Carolina]. We’ve done that two or three other times but not in several years and the people who stopped by our booth and said our lineup was one of the strongest they’d seen.”
Discover Bristol, a division of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, received two grants totaling $35,000.
“One was for Basecamp Bristol, which was designed to increase visitation to Bristol and specifically targeted toward getting overnight stays here. When people stay in hotels, they’re spending money in our shops and our restaurants and other assets and utilizing our outdoor recreation,” said Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the chamber.
The second spotlights activities and attractions here designed to let visitors “disconnect” from stresses, she said.
The town of Abingdon received a $20,000 grant for “Find Your Way to Play in Abingdon,” an update to visual media and marketing. This project will update the photography and videography of Abingdon and its assets for local, regional, and out-of-state marketing campaigns, according to a written statement.
Abingdon also received a $10,000 grant for “January Jams 2024” to help offset the costs associated with marketing and production of the off-season musical programs held annually at the Barter Theatre.
Abingdon received a $15,000 grant for “Play Outside: Make Abingdon Your Basecamp for Adventure,” which will update digital and print marketing materials promoting outdoor recreation in Abingdon and the nearby Southwest Virginia region.
“We are truly honored to receive this award, which serves as a wonderful affirmation of our dedication to promoting Abingdon as a top-notch tourist destination,” marketing Coordinator Chad Thompson said in a written statement. “We extend our heartfelt thanks to Virginia Tourism for recognizing the immense potential of our town and supporting our endeavors to highlight the exceptional experiences it offers to visitors from both near and far.”
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