State puts $8M in CARES Act funds towards tourism grants

Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin/Travel Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s tourism promotion and development groups can access $8 million in grants from a new stimulus program announced by Gov. Tony Evers.

The program is called TRAVEL, which stands for Tourism Relief to Accelerate Vitality and Economic Lift. It provides two types of grants; groups can apply for both.

The first type supports the continuation of operations due to the impacts of COVID-19, such as replacing lost revenue. The other is aimed at supporting a safe and healthy experience for travelers and resident consumers amid the COVID-19 public health emergency. Long-term marketing campaigns unrelated to the pandemic are not eligible.

The money is available through the state’s portion of the federal CARES Act dollars.

“The tourism industry is among the hardest hit by COVID-19,” Evers said yesterday. “The TRAVEL grants are designed to sustain local operations, staffing, and relief stimulus activities to drive immediate spending and reinforce safe travel in support of local businesses across the state.”

The Department of Tourism is accepting applications through 4 p.m. Sept. 28. Grants will be announced by late October.

VISIT Milwaukee’s CEO Peggy Williams-Smith said “everyone is ecstatic.”

“We were not eligible for PPP money. We were eligible for those small business loans, but the amount was capped at $150,000 which didn’t make a dent in some of our different (Convention and Visitors Bureaus’) budgets,” Williams-Smith told “The fact that this is happening is going to be huge for our industry and position us well to recover much better than we would have without it.”

VISIT Eau Claire said in an interview that it plans on applying for the grants, especially for marketing. Spokesperson Benny Anderson said while the organization was able to secure a PPP loan, this money will be “much better served” to market businesses that are reopening in the area.

Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney said the department is thankful for Evers’ allocation of CARES Act funding.

“While these grants will provide immediate opportunities to sustain the important economic development activities of tourism organizations, they will also fuel Wisconsin’s economic recovery in every sector that tourism touches,” she said.

Grant amounts are based on financial need and will not to exceed $500,000 per award or 25 percent of the applicant’s average tourism promotion and tourism development budget over the three previous fiscal years, whichever is less. Accepted applications will be reviewed by an evaluation committee consisting of members who have been selected because of their professional expertise and knowledge of the topic.

Apply for the grant and see evaluation criteria here:

-By Stephanie Hoff