Home Virginia Tourism Corporation awards $757K in matching funds to 131 local tourism programs

Virginia Tourism Corporation awards $757K in matching funds to 131 local tourism programs

Rebecca Barnabi
loveworks sign Staunton
Photo courtesy Sherrie Brown

As part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s (VTC) Microbusiness Marketing Leverage Program (MMLP), $757,000 in matching grant funds will be awarded to 131 small businesses, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), downtown associations and chambers of commerce.

The program will generate more than $1.9 million in marketing initiatives, support more than 1,300 jobs and impact more than 650 statewide tourism businesses and entities.

“Driving tourism during the off-season is part of our strategy to grow Virginia’s economy,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said. “These programs will help bring in year-round overnight visitation which will support small businesses and jobs in localities across Virginia. In 2022, the tourism industry supported more than 210,000 jobs in Virginia and travelers spent over $83 million per day in Virginia, and we will continue to grow thanks to these programs.”

The program is designed to leverage local marketing dollars with matching state funds to increase visitation and traveler spending in the off-season. In the current funding cycle, local partners will commit more than $1.1 million in private-public sector funds to match the VTC funding, providing more than $1.9 million in new marketing activity focused on small businesses and off-season visitation.

“With the grant funding, we will be able to broaden our marketing horizons and share our Five Over 5000 Challenge to hikers across the Blue Ridge,” said Sarah Gillespie, Executive Director, Smyth County Chamber of Commerce. “We will now be able to highlight not only our natural resources, but also promote our small businesses in a new, unique way. As the Smyth County Chamber of Commerce and HL Bonham Regional Tourism Center operators, we can cross-promote our natural assets and small businesses during the shoulder season and highlight Smyth County as a hiker-centered weekend destination. While attracting tourists during the shoulder season, we will be able to entice them to visit again across the seasons and give our small business a boost when they need it most.”

The program, created in 2022, provides marketing funding to target off-season visitation to tourism-oriented small businesses with less than 20 full-time employees, and is designed to drive overnight visitation during fall, winter and early spring. The program provided up to $10,000 in matching dollars for marketing initiatives. Small businesses were eligible for up to $5,000, while DMOs, downtown business associations and chambers of commerce were eligible for up to $10,000.

“Virginia Tourism’s Microbusiness Marketing Leverage Program provides the tourism industry with the tools they need to succeed and thrive in an incredibly competitive landscape,” Rita McClenny, President and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation, said. “Tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry in Virginia, and it is imperative that we are able to market the abundance of travel experiences across the Commonwealth year-round and invite travelers to discover for themselves why Virginia is for Lovers.”

Anna-Blake Wright is co-owner of Adventure Damascus, which experiences its slower seasons in late fall and early spring.

“Our Do It in Damascus campaign allows us to encourage families to explore the outdoors through bike riding and also venture through Damascus to other small businesses, restaurants, and rental properties in downtown and along the Virginia Creeper Trail. Not only will these marketing funds bring in more visitors to the trail, but we also hope they will allow us to show folks all of Adventure Damascus’s hiking gear, biking supplies, and one-of-a-kind souvenirs,” Wright said.

According to Emily Machen, Director of Marketing for the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission, small businesses are the heart of the coastal community and off-season months can be a challenge.

“With this partnership, we are confident that we will support visitation to Virginia’s Eastern Shore during these months to bolster our businesses. This campaign will show our potential visitors just how special a week on the Shore can be and encourage them to reset, recharge, and soak in the beauty of Virginia,” Machen said.

Marketing Program grant and sponsorship rounds will be available throughout 2024. Organizations and businesses interested, may apply online.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.