Gloucester tops when it comes to county tourism impact

Keiko Matsudo Orrall, the 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 — Tourism spending fuels the state’s economy, and nowhere is that truer than on Cape Ann.

In terms of domestic economic impact in Essex County in 2017, Gloucester topped the list at nearly $111.8 million. 

The city was 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.

In 2018, domestic spending in Essex County topped $1 billion, and this supported 7,335 jobs and generated nearly $26.3 million in local taxes that year, according to U.S. Travel Association statistics provided by the North of Boston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau at the 14th annual North of Boston Tourism Summit on Friday.

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 bureau. 

On Friday, some Cape Ann and North Shore officials pitched their communities to members of the tourism industry at the summit, hoping to generate spending in their cities and towns. The summit was attended by 230 local, regional and state tourism leaders and local officials.

Funding for tourism marketing was on the mind of Ann Marie Casey, the executive director of the Salisbury-based North of Boston bureau, which hosted the summit at the DoubleTree by Hilton Boston North Shore hotel on Ferncroft Road, which straddles the town lines of Middleton and Danvers.

State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, “have led the charge in getting us, the regional tourism councils, our funding received by Sept. 1,” Casey said. “It really has made all the difference. We are able to market consistently. There is no lapse in our plans.” She said website traffic was up 66% because of that.

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,” Lovely said. 

While Salem is a major tourism destination today, it wasn’t at the turn of the century.

“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, a lot of people who are ... not that we’re saying that...” Lovely joked to laughs. “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 tourism and your region, people come, they respond.”

State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, said the region is rich in history and natural resources that attract folks from all over the world.

“We have so much to offer and really need to enhance that,” he said, adding that 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, that are not so little, like, changing our funding formula to get you that money a little earlier, to market a little better, but it’s really important to have your input into that to get the message out there,” Speliotis said. 

Middleton Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said tourism was important to the landlocked town “in a secondary” manner, as it lacks attractions such as the Salem Witch Museum. The town received half its lodging taxes from the Doubletree hotel, and meals taxes from its restaurants, which help fund the town’s “excellent school system” and other town services. Tourism is part of the evolution of work toward the service economy.

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

Danvers Land Use and Community Services Director Aaron Henry put in a “shameless plug” for Danvers, with its multiple ways to get to town: by land, Routes 1 and 128 and Interstate 95; by air, Beverly Airport that 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, about the importance of looking at issues of climate change and coastal resiliency when it comes to the port area of town.

“So, the shameless plug, 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, 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,” Henry said. “So, if you really want to know where it happened, you have to come to Danvers.”

On Feb. 10, the town will hold a Special Town Meeting to rezone the downtown, an area of about 75 acres, to encourage more mixed use development, said Henry. He encouraged summit attendees to come to Danvers Square and check out its restaurants.

Attendees also heard from Keiko Matsudo Orrall, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. She spoke about an initiative to promote historic women trailblazers in 2020, the year that 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 appointed to her post by Gov. Charlie Baker, one of the first trips she took was to the Cape Ann and the North Shore. She pointed out that one of the banners on the summit stage 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.” The message of the statue dovetails with the focus on historic women and their contributions, she said.

Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2534, or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. 

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