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Westmoreland airport authority gets $35K grant to partner with Spirit Airlines, others on touting Highlands

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 11:20 a.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County commissioners Chuck Anderson (left) and Tyler Courtney present a tourism grant to Gabe Monzo, executive director of Westmoreland County Airport Authority. The authority will use the money to produce a card that will be placed in every seat on Sprit Airlines flights this summer from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. The grant was one of 59 awarded to tourism-related businesses and groups on April,3,2013 by the Westmoreland County Tourism Grant Committee.

Updated 36962 hours ago

Major tourist attractions in Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties are joining forces to start a marketing initiative to attract visitors from across the nation by tucking a card touting the region's hot spots into the backs of seats on Spirit Airlines' flights this summer.

“We think it is extremely beneficial to all of the Laurel Highlands and ... to people with businesses in the Laurel Highlands,” said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which received a $35,000 grant from Westmoreland County's annual tourism grant program to develop the marketing program.

By partnering with Spirit Airlines, which serves the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, the marketing campaign could reach 3 million passengers from June through August, Monzo said. Spirit flies from the airport in Unity to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla., a small part of the more than 200 daily flights it operates to more than 50 destinations in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Monzo estimated it will cost about $50,000 to debut the marketing campaign, and the authority already has commitments to cover those costs.

“We're looking at a long-range plan — one that is more than three months,” Monzo said.

The $35,000 grant the airport authority received was the largest single grant among the 63 grants totaling $413,624 that the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau awarded to 59 tourism-related businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The grants were distributed to community organizations, historical sites, motels, restaurants, festival organizers, recreational organizations, chambers of commerce and museums throughout the county.

“This helps us to build the economy of Westmoreland County,” Ronald Virag, executive director of the Visitors Bureau, said in announcing the grants during a program Wednesday at St. Vincent College.

The grant program is funded by a 3 percent tax that Westmoreland County levies on all overnight accommodations, with one-third of the total revenues from the room tax going toward the tourism grants.

“You guys are the spark plugs, the engine that makes all this happen,” Commissioner Charles Anderson told more than 85 community and business leaders involved in tourism.

As proof that tourism boost the region's economy, Virag said spending on lodging, food and beverage, retail, recreation and transportation in the three-county Laurel Highlands region was about $1.73 billion in 2011 and supported about 14,028 jobs, a 10 percent increase in spending and a 1.5 percent increase in jobs from 2010.

Westmoreland County saw $725 million in tourism spending in 2011, up from $652 million in 2010, according to the state's 2011 report on the economic impact of travel and tourism in the state.

In making the awards, some of which went to businesses, Virag said the five-member selection committee based its decision on the impact of the proposed project on tourism.

To get the regional marketing campaign off the ground, a committee of about 15 representatives from tourism sites, businesses and St. Vincent College, met following the program to discuss plans for the 8 12-inch-by-11-inch cards that will be placed in the back seats of Spirit Airlines' flights. The card will include tourist information and a Quick Response code, or QR code, that will allow mobile phone owners to access the Visitors Bureau's website for more information, Monzo said.

Spirit Airlines has offered the authority a $10,000 discount for handling the marketing program, Monzo said. Misty Pinson, a spokeswoman Spirit Airlines, could not be reached for comment.

St. Vincent College intends to donate $10,000 toward the marketing campaign and the Westmoreland Cultural Trust and Idlewild Park each will add $5,000, Monzo said. Four whitewater rafting companies operating on the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle will contribute, in an amount yet to be determined, Monzo said.

Seven Springs Resort will earmark a portion of its $30,000 tourism grant from Somerset County toward the marketing program. The resort will provide less than a “five-figure” allocation for the marketing campaign, said spokesman Alex Moser.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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