City Council weighs possible reform to tourism funding

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City Council weighs possible reform to tourism funding

By PATRICK DONOHUE

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com

843-706-815
Published Tuesday, August 23, 2011   |  429 Words  |  

Changes to how the city of Beaufort awards more than $100,000 in marketing grants each year could be forthcoming.

During a work session Tuesday, councilmembers and local tourism officials discussed possible changes to how marketing grants are awarded to area nonprofit organizations through the city's Tourism Development Advisory Committee. The panel is required by state law to help market counties and municipalities to areas more than 50 miles beyond their borders.

Though they conceded it was too late to withhold grant money this year, several councilmembers and Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said changes to how the city awards the grants is not out of the question as City Councils examines how tourism dollars are spent.

"If someone is apply for those funds to market the city, I'd like to know what we're marketing," said Councilman Mike Sutton. "Let's figure out what we're doing with those TDAC dollars."

The city is set to award more than $150,000 in grants this year and has received applications from eight Beaufort-area organizations seeking grants, according to city officials.

Councilmembers proposed putting the committee under the city's designated marketing organization, and allowing that organization to dole out the grants.

Local tourism officials in attendance Tuesday opposed such a move.

"I would hate to rely on another organization to market our festivals and our events the way we think they need to be marketed," said Lanelle Fabian, executive director of Main Street Beaufort USA. "I'm not saying the DMO wouldn't do a good job, but it's difficult to give up that power. It's a little scary."

Bob Moquin, VCB executive director, said the proposal could fracture relationships within Beaufort's tourism and marketing communities.

"If an organization places the ad for someone else's event, and the attendance goes down, you'd see some finger-pointing," Moquin said. "At the same time, you could better leverage your media buys to get a better rate."

The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce is the city's current designated marketing organization though the Beaufort, Port Royal and Sea Island Visitors and Convention Bureau has recently expressed interest in earning that title, which would entitle the organization to a portion of local and state accommodations and hospitality taxes.

No action was taken Tuesday, but Keyserling said council will continue to look at how to get the most from its tourism dollars.

"We need to make decisions based on how to get the best return from our investment," Keyserling said.