By Kassie Simmons | May 19, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT – Updated May 19 at 8:10 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – When you talk about tourism in this part of the state, the beaches and Wilmington’s historic downtown are top of mind, but leaders in Leland don’t want their town to be overlooked.
Leland’s House of Pickleball (HOP) had a good start to 2020 when a tournament drew in a number of visitors from 15 different states to raise nearly $25,000 for a breast cancer awareness charity.
“Everybody was excited about it — the people playing were excited,” said HOP founder and executive director Richard Holloman. “The events we had were well-participated.”
But when the pandemic hit, HOP’s other events were canceled and courts fell empty, hurting their bottom line.
“Various businesses have seen their income streams and revenue streams adjust,” said vice chair of the TDA Michael Braddock. “We at the TDA feel that it’s vitally important to continue to support those businesses and offer an opportunity for them to find additional funding, to promote what they’re doing
The town is working with local businesses to try to boost tourism in the area. Officials say the town’s main selling point is that it gives easy access to both Wilmington and those nearby beaches, but that’s not all they want visitors to know.
The Tourism Development Authority has pushed a number of attractions to the public through its marketing efforts to let people know Leland is open for business. Those efforts include the Leland in Lights display and offering grants to tourism-based businesses. Board members met earlier Wednesday to go over three applications for those grants.
The House of Pickleball plans to use a grant to serve up more tournaments and in turn, get more people in Leland hotels.
“We have a couple programs we’d come up with,” said Holloman. “One of them is a direct marketing campaign through the U.S. Post Office where we just send a flyer out with coupons on the back so people can hopefully come in and play.”
The grants may go to private businesses, but they are meant to help the greater economy.
“There are certain guidelines that have to be met,” said Braddock. “One of those, and the main guideline, is to draw people from outside of the area so that way we’re able to continue to support our local hotels as well as AirBnB properties that are in the area. That’s also how TDA receives our funding.”
As mandates are lifted, businesses are excited to welcome visitors and with the help of a grant, they may be able to hit the ground running.
“We want them to accomplish exposure. We want them to accomplish a successful event,” said Braddock. “Most importantly, we want the individuals that are frequenting the business or frequenting these events to have a wonderful experience and to remember Leland and to have a positive experience so they want to come back and bring friends.”
Braddock hopes the TDA’s efforts will remind visitors the town has its own perks to offer, whether it be town parks or simply a game of pickleball.
“We want people to come enjoy Leland,” said Holloman. “We’ve got an agreement with one of the hotels where they give them a special rate for coming in town. We feel like that at HOP; we’re an entity that really does promote tourism.
The TDA meeting was today at 4:00. The three grants up for approval totaled about $95,000, but the TDA has only $45,000 to spend on grants in the current fiscal year budget. As a result, the TDA only provided about 75 percent of the funding requested.
Leland Communications Officer Hilary Snow says the TDA approved a $24,000 grant for Holiday Inn and $9,750 for the House of Pickleball. Representatives from Best Western were not present to answer the board’s questions, so they were invited back to the TDA’s next meeting in July.
Additional grant funding will be available in the 2021-2022 budget starting July 1.
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