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Tourism council takes a fresh look at budget philosophy, grants for events

Jun 13th, 2014 | 0

By DOTTY NIST
As work on a budget for the new fiscal year begins, Walton County’s tourism council has voted in favor of a move to balance expenses to revenues rather than emphasizing the building up of reserves. The council members also voiced support for a different focus with grant funds being provided to market events.
The topics were taken up at the Walton County Tourist Development Council’s (TDC) June 3 regular bimonthly meeting at the TDC conference room.
At the recommendation of TDC Executive Director Jim Bagby and Jon Ervin, TDC director of marketing and communications, the council members voted to recommend a fiscal year 2014-15 budget philosophy calling for a less conservative approach.
The approach was recommended as the council found itself without BP funds at its disposal, in contrast with previous recent years, and with a half-cent of the current 4.5 percent TDC bed tax set to expire at the end of September. Funds from the half-cent had been in use to market the destination in emerging markets.
The proposal from the directors was to offset the loss of funds from the half-cent, quantified as $1.42 million, with “normal core budgeting in the amount of $1.42 million” to market the destination.
It was observed that the $1.42 million would represent “a notable portion” of the $4 million that has remained unallocated annually in the TDC budget.
A media budget flow chart and reserve spending overview were provided to the council members in connection with the proposal.
TDC Chairman Tim Norris spoke in favor of the proposal, calling it “a prudent plan.”
Ervin told the group that the TDC had had “the luxury” of purchasing a great deal of advertising in recent years as a result of BP funding, in fact three times what was being proposed for the new fiscal year. This allowed staff to see “what works,” he explained. He indicated that the marketing that is being proposed for the new fiscal year is in that category.
On a motion by Art Miller, the council approved a recommendation to the BCC for the proposal and approach presented by Bagby and Ervin.
A complete budget plan is to be presented to the council at a later date.
Bagby spoke in favor of obtaining more detailed information on events to which the TDC provides funding for marketing. He advocated providing “zero dollars” to events using a different destination name from South Walton, Destin for example. Additionally, Bagby observed that there are many events that, while wonderful, do not serve the purpose of putting very many “heads in beds.”
Bagby was also in favor of focusing on supporting “new events” rather than events that had been taking place for decades.
For the current year fiscal year, the TDC had awarded a total of $352,000 in marketing grants to 17 different events, in grants ranging from $2,500 to $50,000, according to material provided.
District 5 Commissioners/TDC vice chairman Cindy Meadows observed that eight of the events for which the TDC had funded during the current year were wine festivals. “I know people like wine,” she said, but explained that she thought more variety should be emphasized.
Meadows said she did not see any nature-based events on the list of those that had been funded. She asked how many of the events who had applied for funding had been supported. All but one, Bagby responded. He said funding requested for an energy power conference had been turned down.
Meadows suggested funding “more family-type and more eco-based events.”
Ervin proposed setting aside a $25,000 contingency amount to provide for funding an event that “pops up” that the council would favor supporting.
The members gave direction to recommend to the BCC to proceed in the direction agreed on in their discussion.
Three TDC logos that had been top recommendations of the TDC Marketing and Media Committee were viewed and got mixed reviews from council members. Their preference was for one logo, a single half-umbrella that also resembled the sun rising on the horizon. Meadows found the pastel colors used “too mellow.” However, attendee Jacquee Markel said she thought the TDC was “on the right track” with the logo. “South Walton is soothing,” she said.
Attendee Fred Buehler, along with others, voiced support for the three-umbrella logo that had preceded the current “South Walton” cursive logo. Bagby said the three-umbrella logo would remain one of the options but that it would be ensured that the words “South Walton” would be legible on all logos considered.
The main criticism of the current logo is that the cursive is not legible unless viewed from a close distance.
Bagby said focus studies and consumer testing were in the plans for the logo options.

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