State officials offer ideas to boost Martha’s Vineyard tourism

State officials offer ideas to boost Martha’s Vineyard tourism

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State Representatives Tim Madden, and Cory Atkins (D-Concord) and State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D-Newburyport), Co-Chairmen of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development led a public hearing to discuss the economic impact of the arts, culture, and tourism on the Islands. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

State Representative Cory Atkins and State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, co-chairmen of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development, joined State Representative Timothy Madden for a public hearing and forum on tourism at The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center Tuesday morning.

The hearing was one of several stops on a “listening tour” across Massachusetts to gather information on the needs of the tourism industry in various regions. The state lawmakers were joined by Betsy Wall, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and Anita Walker, Executive Director of Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Art-and-Tourism-hearing-1.JPGA near capacity crowd of local Island artists, business owners, and members of the tourism industry on Martha’s Vineyard turned out to ask questions, voice concerns, and discuss the issues.

Ms. Wall led off the forum with a discussion of her agency’s strategies for attracting tourism to the state, which includes promoting travel through the website She stressed the importance of accommodating a growing international population of tourists, especially from China. Ms. Wall stressed the importance of taking advantage of social media and other technology-driven campaigns which focus on the tendency of travelers to make “last-minute, digitally driven” decisions.

Ms. Walker had a message for Vineyard employers and employees. “The people are coming,” she said. “You are responsible for creating a product they want.”

Ms. Walker pointed out that Massachusetts was the only state with a Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development. She said public input is important for the lawmakers when they return to Beacon Hill.

During the public portion of the hearing, Christine Todd, Executive Director of the Oak Bluffs Association, and members of the Dukes County and Martha’s VineyardAirport Commissions asked how Island organizations could “respond to growth in the tech world, and better communicate with tourists” through mediums like the web.

Ms. Wall said that technology was “a very serious investment” on the part of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Last year, the office offered digital audits to tourism councils in Massachusetts, and responded with reports on how the councils could improve their web presence.

Several business owners highlighted what they described as the chicken and egg conundrum of seasonality on the Vineyard. Businesses cannot afford to stay open due to lack of tourism, and tourism diminishes due to a lack of open businesses. “Getting into as many markets and demographics as possible is the best strategy,” Ms. Walker said.

Rep. Atkins added that while remaining open for business in the off-season is risky, businesses should consider “who can risk doing the stretch for a while” to boost tourism opportunities.

“You’re sitting in one of those places,” Rep. Madden, who represents the Vineyard, added, referring to the Film Center, which he said is a good example of a business thriving in the off-season.

Senator Ives recommended Vineyarders increase the tourism economy by “leveraging natural assets,” such as the fishing industry.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel and Kerry Scott, owner of Good Dog Goods, in Oak Bluffs said that the Vineyard should focus more on eco-tourism. One example might be to emphasize the Vineyard’s wealth of “farm to fork dining,” said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Senator Ives mentioned that other ecotourism projects, including the recent fishing pier in Oak Bluffs, often require cooperation from other agencies. “We’re here to advocate for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, but we need to understand what other agencies need our advocacy as well,” she said.

The panel was treated to a long list of ideas and suggestions that included making the most of unused real-estate such as the two Oak Bluffs movie theaters, creative placemaking through establishing groups of artists, and how to receive small business grants. The lawmakers said these local anecdotes could help them make legislative decisions.

“We’re going to bring what we heard today to our colleagues in the Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development, and the larger legislature,” said Senator Ives. “And we ask you to bring it to your colleagues too.”


    1. I will use an analogy a friend used, relating a story about someone complaining about the increased price in stamps. When you pay that 49 cents to mail a letter from say Oak Bluffs, MA to Baton Rouge, LA you pay for your mailman to take the piece of mail and bring it to your local post office. You pay for the person who picks up all of the outgoing mail at your local post office to bring it to the sorting facility. You pay for the person who sorts it in to the correct outgoing bin at the sorting facility. You pay for the person who then flies all the mail from MA to LA or a regional airport in the area (not to mention the cost of the plane and the fuel and the crew etc). You pay the person who sorts the mail in the sorting facility in LA. Then you pay the person who takes it from the sorting facility to their local post office. And then finally you pay the mail man who delivers it to the correct box in Baton Rouge. All for 49 cents….
      When people complain about prices on the vineyard they fail to account for many of the hands that have to touch the goods to get them here, and granted some places inflate prices to capitalize on the summer market while it is there, but is it really that bad?

        1. A very fitting analogy more appropriate for the supermarket saga. I find the off season awesome for anyone looking for QUIET. A delicacy to many living in an urban environment. Not just summer could be an appropriate tone while the masses are clogging the place. Mailing lists from hotels with winter pricing to repeat not so expensive and tax deductible. If you stay here a week in the summer we will give you ONE free night off season. Eat at our place multiple months this season we will 2/1 weeknights off season.
          This article depicts a meeting where no new ideas or genuine brain storming was presented. Hosting more sporting events that close roads down is no challenge off season. Ice skating and hockey events work in other distant places. If they are willing to go to Lake Placid why not here? It is cheaper and more accessible here. Sitting back and saying we have a cool website does not SELL anything. The choice of looking at the phone on your desk or using it shows an orientation towards success.

        2. A terrible analogy? Ok….so a bottle of Budweiser that costs you $3.50 at Anybaranwhereonthemainland costs your $4+ here. Why? Because off island you order beer and and beer distributor drops it off at your door. To get beer delivered to the island the distributor drops the beer off at Cape Cod Express, who then puts together all of the orders for your store from many different distributors, loads it on to a truck, puts the truck on the boat, and then drops it at your door which adds an extra charge from each distributor on to your bill.

          1. The simple answer to your analogies would be BECAUSE THEY CAN.

            When you listen to all this Buy Local crap to support local businesses then you’re paying for their BECAUSE THEY CAN methodology. How is it I can go on amazon, BJ’s, Costco’s website and get lower prices, delivered, without an island attitude with a thank you? It is unfathomable to me that if these businesses competed with the internet in the 21st century for commodities then they will be extremely successful. Instead it’s a BECAUSE THEY CAN charge more for the tourists and the locals are just collateral damage.

            This does not occur for all businesses on the island but some goods for sure. Some customer service places and dining establishments are different. I think those places have much larger hurdles to perform on lower margins but when you’re getting a roll of toilet paper (insert good or product here) delivered and you simply put it on the shelf for a larger markup and claim you have shipping costs and other costs not associated with off island places, then you’re just BSing your customers.

  1. Make it easier to get here. Expand the ferry schedule by using the equipment more efficiently. Bring back guaranteed standby. Of course that was the ‘tool’ used to limit the number of tourists years ago so…

  2. People come to Martha’s Vineyard because of the natural beauty of the island. Just keep working to preserve it and everything else will take care of itself.

  3. Wait. Are there actually people that want this place to be like summer year round? That is insane. They better not be the same people talking about the need for affordable housing.

  4. Tourism, especially of the Vineyard variety of seasonal tourism, will always be a matter of being “caught between The Rock and a hard place (mainland)”. (pun intended)

  5. How about cleaning up the ad hoc dumps that are all over the Island? Maybe enforcing some reasonable zoning rules on how many vehicles and boats that haven’t moved in a decade can be on a residential property? Enforcing laws on littering?

    Or…let’s just build some casinos and put up a bridge.