(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the second installment in a two-day look at the room tax in Lycoming County and how it is used to promote tourism here.)

About 15 percent of the money raised from Lycoming County’s hotel room tax is used for a grants program to help local organizations promote events and attractions.

Since the program started in 2000, almost $900,000 has been awarded to 44 organizations, according to the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau.

Jason Fink, executive director of the visitors bureau, said his agency is one of just a few in the state that have such a program.

Grant requests are reviewed yearly by the bureau’s operating committee.

“Technically, we are not required to do a grants program, but we choose to do so,” he said.

The Billtown Blues Festival has received about $80,000 from the program. The money helps the Billtown Blues Association – the organization that puts on the festival – market the event to out

side areas.

Bonnie Tallman, association secretary, said all funds received from the visitors bureau are used for outside marketing.

“That really pays off for us because we pull people in from many other states and many other counties,” she said.

Tallman said the blues festival would not have the ability to market to outside areas the way it does without the visitors bureau support.

She said the festival is the only one within about 100 miles that is devoted specifically to blues music.

“They come from far-reaching places to experience the event, and I hope they enjoy the area when they get here,” Tallman said. “We know that tourism is important to the area.”

Gary Parks, director of the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society, said his organization received a grant to market the attraction to people beyond a 25-mile radius using a brochure and coupon.

He said the response to the brochure that was placed in state welcome centers initially was low due to a down economy and higher gas prices, but recently has picked up.

“I think you can spend any amount of money on advertising and there wouldn’t be enough. Without it, we couldn’t try some of the new initiatives to get people from farther away,” he said.