Local businesses use city grants to promote tourism
Quest Adventure Races, a recreation organization, recieved a grant for its Bellingham SwimRun event. The grant allowed them to create advertising video and photography work for the SwimRun. // Photo courtesy of Brent Molsberry
The City of Bellingham awarded tourism grants totaling $207,647 to 25 organizations in 2018 for the purpose of promotion and marketing outside a 50-mile radius from the city.
Events funded by tourism grants “increase economic activity by bringing tourists to Bellingham,” according to the City of Bellingham website. The Tourism Promotion Fund consists of collected sales tax on overnight stays within the city limits, known as the Lodging Tax.
Kelly Hart, executive director of Allied Arts of Whatcom County, said the grants they received were successful at bringing in people from out of town to experience the art and community of Bellingham. After applying for both grants in previous years, they did it again to help represent art organizations in the community.
The non-profit received both a standard and a startup grant to help promote the Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival that occurred last month in Fairhaven.
“We wouldn’t have been able to afford to advertise otherwise,” Hart said. “It was a huge success.”
She said the grants are one of the few funding sources offered to non-profit organizations, and Allied Arts of Whatcom County is grateful for opportunity to help promote their activities and bring more focus to the arts in the region.
Because Fairhaven has a big tourism draw, Hart said people are likely to spend money in the area and visit again. She also serves as a member of the Bellingham Tourism Commission where she spreads the word to other art organizations about things happening in the art community.
The two different grants an organization can apply for are the startup and the promotional grant. Shannon Taysi, program administration specialist for Bellingham’s Planning and Community Development department, said the main difference is how the organization may use the funds.
Taysi said the startup grant can be used for operational expenses of the organization whereas the standard promotional grant can only be used for marketing. The City of Bellingham lists the purpose of the startup grant as “to provide seed money necessary to launch a new or expand an existing but relatively new event, program or project that will benefit the tourism industry.”
The Lodging Tax Advisory Board then makes grant recommendations to the City Council for final budget approval, Taysi said.
Quest Adventure Races, a recreation organization that hosts athletic events, received a startup grant for the event Bellingham SwimRun. Race Director Brent Molsberry said the grant enabled them to create advertising video and photography work that in turn let people know what the Bellingham SwimRun is.
Not only is it a new event to Bellingham, he said it’s a new event in general and the videos offer valuable explanation.
Molsberry said more than 50 percent of this year’s attendees were from out of town.
Taysi said these grants secondarily benefit other Bellingham businesses as they get more customers, boosting the economy.
“That is the purpose of the fund, to get people to our area and enjoy it and spend money,” she said. “It’s beneficial to everyone.”
Taysi said the city is encouraging new events and ideas to consider for the startup grant.
“We want people to apply and bring exciting people to Bellingham to make the place that it is even better,” she said.
Application information for the startup grant includes questions pertaining to the organization’s budget, and asks how the organization or event will build Bellingham’s tourism industry and economy. Both the startup and promotional grant applications are due by Sept. 7 at 5 p.m.