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New tourism grant helps local businesses market to visitors

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IP-Liberty Mills Love sign_Tourism grant

Orange County’s non-franchise, tourism-related businesses can apply for matching grant funds to help market and promote their businesses. Pictured is the LOVE sign at Liberty Mills Farm in Somerset. 

By Ike Parrish

Reporter

Orange County Economic Development and Tourism has launched a cooperative marketing grant program to aid local, non-franchise businesses in promoting tourism.

The program will use county funds designated for the Tourism Advisory Committee budget that remained unspent from previous annual allocations.

“We decided that [those funds] might be best used to serve some of the businesses in the community that were struggling to recover from COVID,” said Tourism Advisory Committee Chair Pam Young.

Orange County Tourism Manager Lori Landes-Carter noticed similar programs have proved successful in neighboring localities.

“The way the program is set up, it’s very open to businesses partnering together with the Orange County Tourism Department to create impactful marketing and programming that will directly affect visitors and folks coming to our area to patronize our destinations and accommodations,” said Landes-Carter.

The program is intended for businesses and non-profits that are categorized as historic, wildlife or natural environment, sporting events or activities, craft brewery or winery, farm or food, outdoor recreation, accommodations, non-religious based organizations, art, music, cultural, entertainment and locally made or crafted.

The grant offers a 1:1 reimbursement up to $5,000 for business expenditures intended towards tourism promotion. Businesses can apply at www.thinkorangeva.com/why-orange/incentives.

“It can be to help support them in an event. It can be for advertising or marketing spin,” said Young. “As long as their mission for that money has a direct impact in bringing tourists to Orange, then we’re willing to support that.”

Orange County is home to multiple attractions that draw visitors from far and wide. The main draw to the county is its abundance of historical sites, said Landes-Carter. The county offers plenty of other amenities like wineries, breweries, scenic landscapes and charming small towns with reputable restaurants.

The tourism industry is still recovering from its COVID induced downfall. According to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia suffered a 41% decrease in visitor spending in 2020. Tourism spending in Central Virginia alone saw a loss of $1.5 billion while 9,100 people in Central Virginia’s tourism industry lost their jobs in 2020.

“The tourism industry is the most highly impacted industry, as an effect of COVID, in the entire state,” Landes-Carter said.

When establishments eventually re-opened, Orange County’s tourism was able to bounce back moderately, but revenue still has not recovered to 2019 numbers. Orange’s new tourism cooperative marketing grant aims to assist in the convalescence of the local tourism industry.

So far, one business in the Town of Orange has been approved by the newly established grant program on two submitted applications. The Holladay House Bed & Breakfast was approved on both applications for grants to help with rebranding and re-opening the bed and breakfast, which recently changed ownership.

Applications submitted from local businesses will be processed by the Orange County Economic Development Authority (EDA). After an application is approved by the EDA, the business can proceed with its marketing investment, submit proof of payment, and be reimbursed for half of its cost toward advertising.

The grant operates on a first come, first serve basis. As of Sept. 9, 2021, the Orange County Tourism Cooperative Marketing Program had $28,828 to distribute.

“This fund will hopefully carry over from year to year,” said Landes-Carter. The Orange County Tourism Department also expects the program to be an ongoing effort with funds added each fiscal year.

Eligible expenses include digital marketing, social media marketing, video footage and photography production, outdoor advertising, advertisement placement, printed material, mobile marketing application creation, special event costs associated with tourism and visitor attraction and business-related promotional art like murals, performances and art installations that increase visitation to Orange County.

The effort put forth by Orange County Economic Development and Tourism is intended to directly help businesses in the county. By offering financial assistance toward marketing and advertising, Landes-Carter said local establishments are incentivized to promote their business which will accordingly boost tourism to all of Orange County.

For more information, contact Orange County Economic Development at (540) 672-1238.

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