Preserving state tourism funding is a constant battle, one that should not have to be waged at all, let alone on a regular basis. For the Berkshires, this funding represents a booster shot directly into the economic base.
Governor Charles Baker opened the latest front by cutting $3 million from the state's Tourism Trust Fund, which represents a 50 percent cut in the $300,000 allocated to sell the Berkshires to markets like Boston and New York. The Massachusetts Cultural Council, which provides funding for organizations both large and small throughout the state and the Berkshires, must also routinely fend off debilitating cuts.
As Laura Klefos, who headed the Berkshire Visitors Bureau until it was absorbed by 1Berkshire and is now executive vice president of the economic development agency, said in the December 21 Eagle, the cuts come at a time when steady increases in tourism attest to the value of promotion. Berkshire cultural venues have become more adept at cross-promotion and visitors contributed $453 million to the county economy in 2015, according to Ms. Klefos. Tourism doesn't sell itself, and as Ms. Klefos also observed in The Eagle, neighboring New York is aggressive promoting tourism in upstate New York.
The governor's tourism cuts are part of a package of cuts made in anticipation of a budget shortfall that may or may not even take place. In terms of tourism, the funding cuts pull the rug out from under organizations like 1Berkshire that need to market months in advance of the summer tourism season to assure that visitors from Boston and New York not only fill tourism venues but make hotel, motel and bed and breakfast reservations. The Legislature will have an opportunity to address these cuts in a supplemental budget and we anticipate that the Berkshire delegation, which has aggressively advocated for tourism funding in recent years, will again be at the barricades.
It is shortsighted and counterproductive to cut state funding that actually generates revenue, and funding for the promotion of tourism personifies that kind of revenue-generating funding. We invite Governor Baker out west to the Berkshires to see how critical tourism is to the Berkshire economy, and not just during the bustling summer months but during the rest of the year, including the current ski season. Tourists bring money into the Berkshires, and government funding for agencies and venues is instrumental in attracting the tourists who bring the money.