Overnight lodging taxes drop dramatically
Approximately 30 nonprofits around the county will get only half the money they’d expected to market events to tourists, because funds for the program come from taxes on overnight lodging, which has been severely reduced by restrictions on travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) funds cultural organizations like The Merc Playhouse, the Methow Valley Interpretive Center, and Methow Arts through grants. LTAC grants support advertising for specific events as well as year-round marketing for cultural and recreational entities. By state law, the funds must be used to promote events that will draw tourists to spend the night.
LTAC reviewed its budget in light of expectations that lodging revenues will drop sharply this year. The committee cut most grant categories so that they’re using only their existing revenue of about $450,000, said Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover, who’s on the LTAC board. The commission expects to have about $70,000 left to carry over to next year after this year’s grants are paid out.
“In this emergency, we want to be as across-the-board as possible,” Hover said.
After the cuts, the total grant payments will be about $60,000, instead of $120,000, LTAC board member Don Linnertz said.
Grant recipients are required to spend the money this year and to match it 100%, so they face a challenge if events aren’t permitted to resume. Any money the recipients don’t spend will be returned to LTAC, which will add it to the pot for next year’s grants, Linnertz said.
In addition to grants to nonprofits to promote their activities, LTAC funds other tourism-related projects. LTAC is cutting 25% from the Okanogan County Tourism Council, which promotes recreational, cultural, and leisure activities throughout the county.
Chambers of commerce and visitor’s information centers will get 75% of the amount they requested. If travel is allowed to resume later this year, the chambers would run ads to lure tourists for the remainder of the season and visitors centers may stay open to serve them, the LTAC board said. Moreover, these grants are typically small, ranging from $2,500 to $8,500.
LTAC also funds some capital projects. Methow Trails and the Winthrop Rink were both awarded grants for capital projects this year, and those are also being cut in half. The ice rink has decided to wait until next year to apply for a separate grant for its project, so they will not be taking any of the LTAC funds this year, Linnertz said.
Some groups, such as Methow Arts, have already done much of their advertising because most of their events are in the fall and winter to coincide with the school year, Hover said. Others haven’t started advertising because they focus on the summer.
LTAC fully funded a countywide destination marketing plan that was started last year because the committee had already committed to $75,000 per year for the two-year project, Linnertz said. The plan will identify assets around the county, recreational and cultural activities, where tourists are, and how best to reach them, Linnertz said.