(Update: Adding funding amount for this, next year)
Grants to be provided under broader definition of 'tourism-related facilities'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Much like Bend’s forests change with the seasons, its tourism industry continues to evolve. That’s the thought behind a new grant fund devoting hotel room tax dollars to protecting those same forests.
On Wednesday night, Bend City Council approved the business plan for Visit Bend, the city’s contracted tourism bureau. A cornerstone of the plan is a new grant fund (about $550,000 this year, $775,000 next year) earmarked for the protection, stewardship, and creation of sustainable recreational resources for outdoor experiences in and around Bend, according to Visit Bend's news release, which continues in full below:
“Anyone who plays here knows our trail systems, rivers, and outdoor recreation spaces have seen heavier use lately from locals and visitors,” explained Visit Bend CEO Kevney Dugan. “The Bend Sustainability Fund allows us to use a portion of transient room tax (TRT) dollars to help mitigate the impacts of all of us loving Bend’s wild places.”
It’s the latest evolution of an organization known for pivoting to meet changing priorities and values.
“In 2010 at the start of my time with Visit Bend, our chief focus was leveraging tourism to pull Bend out of the recession, and we succeeded in doing that,” Dugan explained. “Our priorities have continued to evolve over the years, like a 2013 ballot measure earmarking tourism dollars for arts and culture or a 2018 revamping of our mission statement to focus on sustainability. The Bend Sustainability Fund marks our commitment not only to preserving our wild places, but to growing and changing with the community we serve.”
Because room tax revenue is strictly governed by state and local guidelines, the creation of the Bend Sustainability Fund required months of collaboration with attorneys, City Council, the Forest Service, state and local tourism stakeholders, and the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. City Council’s official approval at Wednesday's meeting confirmed an overwhelming support for the investment of tourism dollars into Bend’s recreation resources.
“This is a huge step toward preserving and protecting the natural resources that not only fuel tourism, but residents’ love of Central Oregon,” explained Serena Gordon, Visit Bend’s new sustainability manager. “Whether we live here or visit here, we’re united by a love of Bend’s outdoor spaces.”
Gordon’s position is one of the first of its kind for a destination marketing organization in the U.S. Her job will include managing the Bend Sustainability Fund, working to weave responsible and sustainable practices into the work of Visit Bend, and serving on local, state and national task forces dedicated to conservation and sustainability.
“What makes this new fund possible is an evolution in the definition of a ‘tourism-related facility,’” Gordon explained, using a term that governs one legal use for transient room tax (TRT) funds. “In Bend, our tourism-related facilities aren’t just brick and mortar buildings, but the trails and recreational resources that bring people here and make Bend special.”
With the granting program launching in July, the Bend Sustainability Fund will look for shovel-ready projects that protect or develop tourism-related facilities with a sustainable focus. “Ideally, all known barriers that would inhibit the start or completion of the project will have been cleared,” Dugan added. “Things like trail construction or enhanced accessibility to winter recreation.”
This broadening of how Visit Bend can invest Tourism Fund dollars on behalf of the city required months of collaboration with local industry experts and stakeholders. Carolyn Eagan, the City of Bend’s Economic Development Director, provided input during the planning process for the new Bend Sustainability Fund.
According to Eagan, Visit Bend is the team to lead the new endeavor. “As the organization representing Bend’s tourism industry and its assets, Visit Bend has proven itself to be a resourceful, creative, fiscally responsible organization,” she said. “I’m confident that the Bend Sustainability Fund investments will support the industry for many years, and I’m encouraged by what this means for the future of Bend.”
Rika Ayotte, Executive Director of Discover Your Forest also had a hand in shaping the new program from a conservation perspective. “This is a step in the right direction to support our forests, rivers, and deserts and make them accessible and sustainable for present and future generations,” she said. “Our public lands need the support of the communities who love them and this is a great example of the Bend community finding ways to enhance and preserve our most special places.”
Individuals or organizations wishing to apply for a Bend Sustainability Fund grant can attend a virtual information session on June 9 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. To learn more, visit bendsustainabilityfund.com or email email@example.com.
About Visit Bend:
Visit Bend is a non-membership, non-profit economic development organization dedicated to promoting tourism responsibly on behalf of the City of Bend. We’re a leading provider of information on Bend, Oregon hotels, restaurants, activities, and Oregon vacation planning. To learn more or to order a complimentary Official Visitor Guide to Bend, contact Visit Bend at 1-800-949-6086 or visit visitbend.com.