Chattanooga’s largest tourism promotion agency is doubling the amount of grants given to local attractions, businesses and event planners for culture, heritage and the arts programs this year as tourism recovers from the slowdown of the pandemic over the past couple of years.
The Chattanooga Travel Company is providing $605,500 to 28 local partners through the second round of the Cultural Tourism Development Grant (CTA). The selected agencies, which receive between $2,500 and $50,000 each for projects that help promote Chattanooga and bring visitors to the picturesque city, were selected from 39 applications that collectively requested $1.3 million for events, improvements, and exhibits planned for the next year. .
Last year, the first year of the Arts and Culture Grant Program, the travel agency provided $302,500 to 26 local agencies.
“This program provides us with a great, collaborative opportunity to support our partners in expanding their offerings for the economic and social prosperity of our community,” said Barry White, CEO and President of Chattanooga Tourism Co., in the announcement of the new grants. “The travel and tourism industry is a vital driver of Hamilton County’s economy, receiving 15.6 million visitors annually, and we strive to provide a constant boost of positive and diverse experiences to spark the imagination of travelers when finding their way to Chattanooga.”
White said the arts, culture and heritage of Chattanooga help make the picturesque city distinctive and appealing to residents and visitors alike. When three years ago Chattanooga Tourism Co. developed a new strategic plan to bring more tourists to Chattanooga, supporting the arts and culture of the community was identified as one of the agency’s new missions to promote tourism.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back 2020 efforts by a year, but Chattanooga Tourism Co. began making grants last summer and plans to give grants to local events, programs and exhibitions each year using a portion of its hotel tax revenue.
The grants were originally put forward in 2018 by Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who was critical of a travel agency receiving the entire 4% tax on hotel rooms in Hamilton County and urged Chattanooga Tourism Co., formerly the Bureau of Conventions and Visitors, to set aside a portion of its tax revenue to support artists and local artistic and cultural events.
“It’s encouraging that they’re giving these art grants, but I still don’t think they’re giving enough,” Boyd said in a Friday night phone interview. “I don’t think a travel company needs more than $5 million for its own operations, which is a resolution I put forward many years ago and unfortunately didn’t pass.”
Budget Chattanooga Tourism Co. for 2022 is $12.5 million, funded primarily by $10.3 million in occupancy taxes paid by visitors who pay the 4 percent Hamilton County occupancy tax for stays at local hotels and short stays.