By: John Lambeth, President & CEO at Civitas
In late October, Civitas had the honor of partnering with Destinations International to host the Funding Forum as part of the 2021 Advocacy Summit held in Houston, TX. I know I speak for so many when I say it was wonderful to be back in person, and we were so grateful so many people could join us for this informative session.
Since the effects of COVID, DMOs are seeking stable, sustainable funding to supplement their budgets. This forum was the perfect opportunity to speak to that need.
To kick off this year's forum, our team of speakers were excited to present available recovery funding options available to states and DMOs.
This year ARPA allocated three billion dollars to the EDA, twice as much as was allocated under CARES. Seven hundred fifty million was dedicated to travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation. These funds have been split into two buckets, direct non-competitive grants and competitive grants. The forum also covered the loans and recovery efforts available for the restaurant, venue, and airport industries.
Another option discussed was Fiscal Recovery Funding (FRF). This money was available to infuse destinations with much-needed cash after the devastating effects of COVID-19. Half of the funds were distributed this year, and the other half will be distributed next year. However, as many counties and cities have not allocated funds coming next year, there are still opportunities to present why hospitality and tourism deserve some of this funding.
Continuing with great information for our attendees, Chris Adams, Head of Research and Insights with Miles Partnership and Cathy Ritter, CEO of Better Destinations LLC, spoke on the importance of Sustainability and Regenerative Tourism. Utilizing sustainable marketing, outcome-based pricing, destination management, and regenerative projects, DMOs can take a leadership role in the concept of coming out of COVID and "Building Back Better." In addition, this session highlighted how DMOs could encourage responsible visitors to minimize their impact while there.
I had the pleasure of sharing about Tourism Improvement Districts (TIDs), their formation, and what new and exciting things destinations can do because of this funding. One of these opportunities is using improvement district funds for Capital Improvements. During this session, I had the honor of speaking with Sonya Bradley, Chief of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Visit Sacramento. She recently was involved in the process of forming a new TID to add a ballroom expansion to the convention center. This 40,000 sq. foot ballroom just opened up in August 2021 and is a successful example of how TID's can be used for Capital Improvement projects.
In a dynamic presentation by Adam Sacks, President of Tourism Economics presented his informative study that proves cities with a TID and increased funding will outperform their peers. When funding is increased, the study found a dramatic positive effect on the hospitality industry results. This data is essential for DMOs to make a case that funding makes a difference. Adam also covered what the travel market looks like for hotel occupancy and air travel. Finally, he shared some much-needed good news that Longwoods International Studies show an increased intention to travel among US households. Of those surveyed, 9 in 10 plan to travel in the next six months.
Our speakers provided a rapid-fire list of practical advice for our attendees to close out the session.
Some of these best practices include:
- Be aware of the current status of TID law or proposed legislation for your state
- Investigate how your non-competitive EDA state money is being allocated
- Prepare for 2022 FRF allocations
- Fiscal planning suggests that DMOs should have six to twelve months of expenses in reserve
With experts in the tourism, data and hospitality fields, we were able to have illuminating, in-depth discussions on the current and future state of destination funding. We are incredibly thankful for all who attended and look forward to another excellent Funding Forum in 2022. For more information, download the full deck here.