CHIPLEY -- As the grant application deadline approaches Sunday, the tourist development council Thursday moved forward in the process to apply for three state tourism grants.

In a special meeting, Washington County Tourist Development Council unanimously approved a motion to pursue three Visit Florida grants. The grants include $2,000 for educational purposes, $2,500 matching for advertising and $5,000 for culture, heritage, rural and nature tourism.

Although the council approved pursuing all three grants, in the motion, expressing the sentiments of the council, council member Ted Everett stated the use of the $5,000 grant would be contingent on additional feedback required from TDC Director Heather Lopez.

"It's a matter of taking a calculated risk on the future, with or without grants being added to the equation," said council member Ted Everett, noting, "I'm looking at it from two sets of eyes: I'm looking at if from what it can benefit the county and how much it's going to cost the TDC."

Supporting Everett's futuristic view, Chairman Bill Maphis added, "We need to look at what's being offered to us and see if it's going to help us and help the tourism in the county and make an economic impact that's big enough to pay for itself."

Last month, Lopez had introduced the council to user-generated software from a relatively young company CrowdRiff, which generates photos from social media users to the TDC's website. It costs $12,000 a year to lease the software license or $9,600 a year with a three-year contract.

If the TDC is awarded the $5,000 grant and Lopez convinces the council the software will drive tourism to the area, the TDC would still need to cover the remaining $7,000 on a year contract or $4,600 on a three-year contract. Additionally, if the TDC is awarded the grant in the current year, but not in subsequent years and agreed to the three-year contract with CrowdRiff, the TDC would owe the company the entirety of the annual fees for the remaining years.

Council member David Rich directed Lopez to get feedback from CrowdRiff clients of two to three years, to see if it has been "worth their $12,000 a year."

The council agreed it would return the grant award if it did not move forward with CrowdRiff.

"The industry is going towards user-generated content ... that is where people are going to find their information when they're planning a vacation," Lopez told the council. "They don't trust advertisement anymore; they want to know what their friends and families are experiencing because they want to know what they're really going to see when they go."

In addition to dynamic content, the software would also eliminate the need to hire photographers and videographers, she said. 

Of the other grants: The educational grant for $2,000 is earmarked to bring agrimarketing expert Jane Eckert to the county next year to conduct a workshop. The $2,500 matching advertising grant is designated for a public relations campaign and online press room. 

In other business, the council unanimously approved the purchase of a subscription to Visa cardholder data that will provide information about how much and on what tourists spend money on in the county. The subscription to Visit Florida VisaVue Data Buy 2018 is $3,500 annually and the provides quarterly data.

Also, the council unanimously voted down a listing renewal for advertising with mulit-media sports planning network Sports Destination Management.

Washington County Tourist Development Council will meet Monday, March 26 at 10 a.m. at the Washington County Chamber of Commerce Building, 672, N. Fifth St.