The tourism grant program for Fayette County’s nonprofit organizations will most likely require a 25 percent local match as one of several significant changes to this year’s application process.

The Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau on Wednesday hosted a grant chat to highlight the new criteria at the Park Inn by Radisson in Uniontown.

“The purpose of the program is to increase visitation, enhance the visitor experience and increase overnight stays in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties,” said Reneé Seifert, LHVB president and CEO.

The annual grant program is administered by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and the Fayette County commissioners.

Seifert said this year’s tourism grants total $455,080. Last year, Seifert said 49 grants were awarded totaling $468,161.

According to Seifert, a percentage of the grants is funded by a tax on hotel lodging. “Because they’re coming from user fees generated by hotels, it’s important that we do everything we can possibly do to maximize the return on this particular investment,” she said.

In Fayette, that amounts to 50 percent of the county’s room tax that is appropriated for the grant program, specifically established to support the nonprofit and for-profit tourism assets.

As part of the new requirements, applicants will also need to submit a budget worksheet consisting of a detailed marketing plan that identifies a target audience, proposed media, budget and project timeline.

This is the first year that for-profit organizations can also apply, but they will be required to provide a dollar-for-dollar match if awarded a grant.

The criteria and guidelines apply to marketing grants being sought for non-profit organizations, marketing programs, capital projects, operational expenses and tourism education projects.

Currently, there is pending legislation for the 25 percent in matching funds introduced under House Bill 794.

Seifert said the requirement resulted from the money not being used within the provisions of the program for tourism development and assets.

Seifert added that nonprofits applying for the grants are encouraged to find additional resources so they are not 100 percent reliant on the program.

According to Seifert, historical and cultural sites top the list of area attractions, based on results from a 2015 study on the the Economic Impact of Tourism in the Laurel Highlands.

She noted the study found a key factor in attracting visitors to an area is feeling safe at their destination.

“The advantage that we have here is having three counties that all contribute to the marketing of the Laurel Highlands … it’s a fact that we actually get a bigger bang for our buck,” said Seifert.

Since the program’s inception, $3.5 million has been awarded to tourism-related entities throughout the county.

In December, the Fayette County commissioners voted unanimously to expand grant eligibility to for-profit tourism-related businesses.

According to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office’s most recent Annual Economic Impact Travel Report, travelers spent more than $1.8 billion in the Laurel Highlands region in 2013.

The region also had the second highest share of travelers’ dollars going towards lodging and food and beverage costs among the state’s 11 tourism regions.

The travel report also found that Fayette generated more than $660 million in visitor spending along with 5,818 jobs in the tourism sector.

The deadline for grant applications to be submitted is March 4 with awards announced in mid-April. Funding is required to be fully utilized before Feb. 28, 2017.

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