KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri wants to boost tourism in the state despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, announcing a new multi-million grant program to help marketing organizations encourage travel again.
Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon said his department has set up a $15 million grant program to help marketing organizations in the state — organizations like Visit KC — promote attractions that are open and safe ways to enjoy them.
"We know it will take some time and investment for our tourism economy to recover ...," Dixon said. "The virus is still here, but we have to go about resuming social and economic activity in a safe way."
The money will come from the state’s allocation from the federal CARES Act.
Missouri Division of Tourism Director Stephen Foutes said tourism and travel is a $14 billion industry for the state, based on fiscal year 2019 spending, but many destination marketing organizations laid off staff or redirected money from their primary purpose amid the pandemic.
The grants will help fill that gap.
The idea of the program is to help tourism groups “inspire consumers and highlight all the wonderful things to do here in the Show-Me State,” Foutes said.
That also will include messaging on safety measures.
There also is grant money available for enhanced safety efforts at events, including temperature screenings at events or event facilities, and payroll support in some instances.
Foutes said Missouri lost an estimated $300 million in tourism-related revenue during the third quarter of fiscal year 2019-20 from January through March 2020.
Only marketing organizations that have participated in Missouri’s cooperative marketing grant program during the last two years will be eligible for grants under the program.
The hope is that by highlighting how to safely enjoy tourist destinations again, travel dollars — including the money spent on gas, food and lodging — will bolster the state economy.
“The return of convention and event business remains significantly impacted and almost nonexistent in many communities,” Foutes said.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said he’s fine with encouraging more tourism in the state.
“We would love to see people take advantage of our beautiful natural settings,” Williams said, noting it’s often easy to social distance outdoors.
He stressed that social distancing, using hand sanitizer and wearing masks when close contact can't be avoided remain important health precautions, noting that contract tracing in Missouri has shown a single infected person can pass the coronavirus to as many as 15 people at large gatherings absent such measures.
“We just really want to emphasize that if you use good hand washing and you social distance and, if you can’t social distance, you use a face mask, we feel really good about it,” Williams said.
He said he feels comfortable inviting people even from out of state “if you’re going to do those three things.”
“Now, if you’re not going to do those three things, then I don’t feel as comfortable telling you that,” Williams said.
Formal guidelines for the tourism program will be published later this week, according to Dixon.
Events venues and theaters will not be eligible for funding through the program, but Dixon welcomed those businesses to explore the Small Business Grant Program, which was announced earlier in the week.
That program, which began accepting applications Wednesday, includes up to $30 million for grants to small businesses disrupted by the pandemic to help fund salaries, redesign websites for the pivot to e-commerce or afford to lease additional space to accommodate social distancing.
The program also includes $7.5 million dedicated exclusively to family-owned farms and family farm corporations.
The Small Business Grant Programs is only available to businesses employing 50 people or less and covered expenses must have occurred from March 1 to Nov. 15, 2020.