Cooperation a must for groups seeking Beaufort accommodations taxes

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Cooperation a must for groups seeking Beaufort accommodations taxes

By ERIN MOODY
emoody@beaufortgazette.com
Published Saturday, October 27, 2012   |  714 Words  |  

Those vying for accommodations-tax grants from the city of Beaufort will have to cooperate more on advertising if they want funding.

New criteria for divvying the money were developed during the past year as a remedy to old complaints about how to decide who gets how much. Concerns included how well groups used the money and proving they were drawing visitors to Beaufort.

Starting this year, the city's Tourism Development Advisory Commission, which handles applications and sends recommendations to City Council for approval, will give preference to cooperative efforts.

That means if a group asks for money but does not have a plan to or is unwilling to work with another group on advertising and promotion, it's unlikely the commission will recommend a grant, said tourism commission chairman Jeff Evans. However, each application will be taken on a case-by-case basis depending on what the money will be used for.

The accommodations tax, often referred to as a bed tax, is a levy on overnight lodging to fund programs promoting tourism and attract visitors from out of the area.

The applications will be sent out to previous applicants and attendees of a tourism summit last December, and will be available online in within two weeks, Evans said. A due date and applicant interviews have not been set.

Under the new proposal, grant recipients' advertisements will be required to have a standard marketing logo, which is being developed by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, and provide links on their websites to the chamber's and other partners' sites.

The partnerships and joint marketing plans should center around four categories -- history and culture, events and festivals, the arts, and outdoor recreation.

Organizations that do not comply with the rules will be ineligible for bed-tax grants for two years.

A comprehensive explanation of the new expectations has not yet been provided to organizations that usually apply for the grants, but it will be included in application packages, Evans said.

Evans said there has been resistance in the past from organizations when partnerships were suggested.

But some perennial applicants, like Lowcountry Tourism executive director Jim Wescott, say they are not worried about the new rules.

"I think actually it just reinforces what we've been doing," he said. "We've partnered with Beaufort chamber for years and also with Main Street Beaufort."

Main Street Beaufort, USA executive director LaNelle Fabian, said, "They talk about changing things every year, so if this is the year things are going to happen, great."

But Larry Holman, executive director of the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce, said he doesn't think the commission has sought enough input about the changes from organizations that usually receive funding nor has it provided enough opportunities for them to learn the new rules.

"I would just hope that whatever things the committee comes up with is not to eliminate anybody but to support everybody," he said.

City Council members discussed ways earlier in the month for the chamber of commerce to foster the partnerships. Those include sharing email lists, coordinating advertising campaigns and waiving fees for advertising with the chamber. As the city's designated marketing organization, the chamber automatically receives 30 percent of the bed-tax money and can apply for additional funding.

Changing the criteria has caused the grant-application process to start a little later than usual this year. For example, last year's grants were awarded in October.

"We understand the process is late, but basically we took everything and blew it up," Evans said. "I think it's more important to get things right than to make it timely."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

Related content:

Beaufort awards $140,000 in a-tax money, Oct. 25, 2011

Beaufort council considers accommodations tax requests, Sept. 13, 2011

Proposed committee would refocus accommodation tax grants, Oct. 11, 2011