Tourism a leading industry for region, state

Ethan Forman/Staff photoKeiko Matsudo Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, speaks about her visit last March to Gloucester as she took on her new role as the state's tourism chief, during Friday's North of Boston Tourism Summit in Danvers.

DANVERS — While Salem is a major tourism destination today, state Sen. Joan Lovely noted that, back when she and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll were on the City Council together 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case.

“Nelson Benton, who was the former editor of The Salem News used to say: ‘You could shoot a cannon ball right down the middle of Salem on Essex Street and not hit anything.’ Well, you can certainly hit a lot of things, today,” Lovely joked, to laughs from the 230 local, regional and state tourism leaders and local officials gathered at the DoubleTree hotel in Danvers Friday morning for the 14th annual North of Boston Tourism Summit.

“It just goes to show that with Destination Salem, with (executive director) Kate Fox and her great crew, when you are really promoting your tourism and your region, people come, they respond,” Lovely said.

As North Shore officials pitched their communities to tourism officials, funding for tourism marketing was on the mind of Ann Marie Casey, executive director of Salisbury-based North of Boston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, which hosted the summit.

Casey said Lovely and Salem state Rep. Paul Tucker have led the charge in getting the state’s regional tourism councils their funding by Sept. 1.

“It really has made all the difference,” she said. “We are able to market consistently. There is no lapse in our plans.” She said website traffic was up 66% because of that.

Tourism is the third leading industry in the Bay State, generating $29 billion in visitor spending and supporting more than 200,000 jobs, according to statistics provided by the North of Boston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. 

Domestic spending in Essex County topped $1 billion, and this supported 7,335 jobs and generated nearly $26.3 million in local taxes in 2018, according to U.S. Travel Association statistics provided by the bureau.

Gloucester, in fact, topped the list when it came to domestic economic impact in Essex County in 2017 at nearly $111.8 million, followed closely by Salem ($110 million), Peabody ($68.5 million), Danvers ($66.7 million), Newburyport ($57.6 million) and Rockport ($51.4 million), among North Shore communities.

Lovely stressed the importance of tourism to the region and the state.

“We really want people to be here because we have so much to offer, and we know at the Statehouse how important it is that tourism dollars funnel back to you so that you can do your jobs. Marketing is such a huge part of bringing folks here,” she said.

Danvers Rep. Ted Speliotis echoed those sentiments, saying the region was rich in history and natural resources that attract folks from all over the world. He agreed marketing was important to let people know what the region has to offer.

“I think it’s important that we (legislators) do the little things...like changing our funding formula to get you that money a little earlier, to market a little better,” he said, “but it’s really important to have your input into that message out there.”

Middleton Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said tourism was important to the landlocked town “in a secondary” manner, as it lacks attractions like the Salem Witch Museum.

The town received half the lodging taxes from the DoubleTree hotel — it straddles the town lines of Middleton and Danvers on Ferncroft Road — and meals taxes from its restaurants, which help fund the town’s “excellent school system” and other town services.

“We are all continually facing evolution and change and we need to embrace that and make the most of it,” Sheehan said.

Meanwhile, Aaron Henry, Danvers’ land use and community services director, put in a “shameless plug” for his town, with multiple routes of access by land — Routes 1, 128 and 95 — by air — Beverly Airport, which is partly in Danvers — and by sea via Danversport.

“A lot of people don’t know that we do have a harbor here in Danvers and we are working on a harbor plan — don’t tell my boss that — but we are working on that quietly in the office,” said Henry, of the importance of looking at issues of climate change and coastal resiliency when it comes to the port area of town.

“A lot of people who come to the North Shore go to Salem to understand the Witch Trials, but if you really want to know the truth of it,” Henry said, “you have to come to Old Salem Village in Danvers where we have the Witch Trial Memorial, the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, the (Samuel) Parris Parsonage (where the witch hysteria started) and the Holten House. If your really want to know where it happened, you have to come to Danvers.”

Henry also noted that on Feb. 10, a Special Town Meeting will be held to vote on rezoning for the downtown, an area of about 75 acres, to encourage more mixed-use development. He encouraged audience members to come check out the restaurants in Danvers Square.

Keiko Matsudo Orrall, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, also spoke Friday, about an initiative to promote historic women trailblazers in 2020. The year marks the 100th anniversary of when the 19th amendment was ratified giving women the right to vote. The effort, which will kick off in March, will promote women across the state “who have made the difference.”

Last March, when Orrall, a former state representative, was first appointed to her post by Gov. Charlie Baker, one of the first trips she took was to the North Shore. As part of this trip, she visited Gloucester. She pointed out that one of the banners on stage that morning depicted the Gloucester Fishermen’s Monument.

“That was a wonderful experience to see that, but what made more of an impact to me was the statue that is a little bit further down ... and it’s a statue of a woman with kids on her hip,” she said of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Memorial. “And I thought, it was a beautiful, beautiful tribute to the fact that so many of these people ... we need to recognize the whole picture.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. Find us at 300 Rosewood Drive, Suite 107, Danvers, Mass.

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