Cutting Tourism Dollars Isn’t the Answer

We understand that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has a huge budget deficit to close — more than $750 million, by most estimates — and we don’t intend to overanalyze his efforts to do so, because almost all budgets are unpopular — and debatable.

But his announced intentions to slash funding for both the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism (from $14.2 million to $6.1 million) and the regional tourism councils (from $5 million to $500,000) represent a tack we wouldn’t recommend.

That’s because the tourism sector is becoming an increasingly important contributor to the state’s economic health and well-being, and it will be even more so in the years to come as the casinos currently on the drawing board open their doors to the millions expected to visit those resorts each year. And also because, in this sector, perhaps even more than in some others, you really do have to spend money to make money.

Already, state legislators who understand the importance of tourist dollars to the cities and towns they represen are casting serious doubt about whether the governor’s proposal will fly, and we hope they’re right in their assessments. Dollars spent to promote the state and individual regions like Greater Springfield, the Berkshires, or the Amherst-Northampton corridor are not so much expenditures as they are investments, and the new governor’s administration needs to recognize that and find another way to trim some $12 million from the budget.

In a way, we can understand the administration’s thinking with regard to tourism funding, especially given the dearth of attractive options when it comes to cutting the budget. After all, the Commonwealth’s major attractions and convention facilities are not exactly state secrets, and Internet-savvy site finders have a wealth of information at their disposal.

But as traditional sources of employment and economic vitality (especially manufacturing) have declined in recent years, competition for tourism dollars has become increasingly intense.

And in this environment, visibility is critically important. Even states and cities that have long been popular destinations, spots that one might think wouldn’t need to advertise — Florida, California, Hawaii, New York City, and Las Vegas all come to mind — have invested millions in keeping themselves front and center when it comes to the minds and wallets of tourists.

Such a mindset has created a good amount of momentum locally, especially with regard to conventions and meetings. Greater Springfield is an attractive — and reasonably priced —alternative for convention planners, and these assets have been a big factor in an increase in bookings in recent years.

And now, those pushing this area as a convention or meeting site have something more to sell — the resort casino that will soon be taking shape in Springfield’s South End.

That’s an attractive addition, one that has the potential to make this area a real player in that segment of the tourism industry and one that should open some doors that were previously closed.

But for that door to open all the way, this state and this region have to be able to promote themselves — and now. Indeed, many conventions are booked years in advance, and now is the time to strike.

As we said at the top, closing a $750 million budget gap will be difficult, and it’s easy to say ‘don’t cut here’ or ‘don’t cut there.’ But in the case of funding for the Office of Travel and Tourism and the individual convention and visitors bureaus, cuts now could have some serious consequences later.

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