Island business community - challenged but optimistic
As we say goodbye to 2008, the Martha's Vineyard business community and the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce wrap up a year of unique challenges and significant accomplishments, with optimism for the year ahead.
The damage from the Fourth of July fire not only held Main Street in Vineyard Haven hostage for eight hours, but destroyed an anchor business and favorite café, thereby changing the landscape of Vineyard Haven for nearly a year. And we don't need to read the declining Land Bank figures to know that home sales are down, and the housing market is soft. A lack of affordable housing continues to hamper the ability of businesses to recruit and retain professionals as well as seasonal workers. The H2B visa cap paralyzed employers' ability to employ returning and new international workers that supplement our available workforce. High gas prices affected boaters. Building and construction have also slowed, resulting in increased competition among the building trades. We are finishing this year with the economic uncertainty of consumer spending, a volatile stock market, financial institution and auto industry bailouts - basically, enough gloom and doom to make anyone concerned.
File photo by Steve Myrick
But there's good news, and opportunity, here on Martha's Vineyard. Three important factors drive my optimism. The first is that tourism remains the third largest employer in Massachusetts, and despite tough economic conditions, the Massachusetts travel and tourism industry continues to perform above the national average. The second is that Americans are looking for new and innovative ways to sustain and support local communities in environmentally friendly ways - and Martha's Vineyard plays a leading role on a regional and national stage. And lastly, as Americans, and especially as New Englanders, we feel an inherent (and, frankly, hard-earned) right to a yearly vacation.
Here on Martha's Vineyard, we are fortunate to have concerned citizens groups that work to develop grassroots campaigns encouraging us all to sustain our community by buying local. Thanks to our wonderful produce, fiber and educational farms and farmers markets, Martha's Vineyard received national attention and recognition this year. Additionally, the building trades are renowned for architectural innovation, environmentally sound construction, and esthetically pleasing residential and commercial projects. Renewable heating and energy source development has placed Martha's Vineyard in the national spotlight.
In 2008, both the Steamship Authority and Cape Air reported increases in ridership of between 1-4 percent over 2007. Last summer and fall, we saw increases in international travelers, room rates, domestic visitors, and website visits. As the fall season ended, both lodging data and visitor data demonstrated that people were staying closer to home, meaning more than ever, Massachusetts and New England residents are choosing Martha's Vineyard as their vacation destination.
Now, in this winter season, the travel industry faces extraordinary times. Travel Industry of America (TIA) is projecting a decrease in domestic and international travelers in 2009, between two and six percent across the country, but anticipates only a two to three percent decline for the Northeast.
With the anticipated decline in visitors, the chamber will work with travel industry partners to develop innovative approaches to promoting the Martha's Vineyard as a premier destination. The chamber is working closely with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT), the Massachusetts Cultural Coast collective of regional destination marketing organizations, and the Cape and Islands Arts and Artisan Trail to develop and implement new and innovative programs that encourage partnerships with lodgings, attractions and restaurants in the new year, including:
90 TV ads, "a new ad every day," were created to promote all of Massachusetts and feature three Vineyard spots that will air in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.
"50 under $50" campaign: summer, fall and winter to spotlight day trips to Martha's Vineyard.
A collaboration with the Massachusetts Cultural Council to promote cultural festivals through WorldFest, that will feature the Aquinnah Artisan Festival.
New LGBT marketing to support the state's aggressive efforts to reach this market and features Martha's Vineyard as both a wedding and honeymoon destination.
Closer to home, the chamber will also:
Launch a new, easily navigated website designed to welcome visitors and drive revenue and referrals to Island businesses.
Encourage Vineyard arts and cultural attractions to participate, at no charge, in the Massachusetts Cultural Coast's on-line calendar, electronic newsletter and multi-lingual website.
Continue to drive the increasing international visitors by participating in print, radio and web advertising in targeted markets, participate in trade shows and sales missions and host press and travel trade familiarization tours to Martha's Vineyard.
Boost domestic visitors focused marketing with demographics that already have an affinity to Martha's Vineyard: Massachusetts and New England residents, people with an interest in coastal locations, particularly Cape Cod, and on event marketing markets.
Provide visitors, and potential visitors, with information about Martha's Vineyard.
Support business in the shoulder seasons by targeting demographics that travel in the fall, courting the cruise ship industry, and supporting local events.
Support and staff visitor the information center in Vineyard Haven, and support the centers in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. In 2008, over 162,000 people stopped in the visitor information centers.
Lastly, the chamber will build a compelling case for Martha's Vineyard as a vacation and getaway destination, a corporate retreat center and a wedding and honeymoon destination, a nature lover's paradise, a twitter's haven and more, in every season and at every price point. The cache of Martha's Vineyard remains a lure, but it is the people who make each visitor feel welcome and every dollar spent here a joy to part with that will keep our economy healthy. By working together, exercising sound judgment, and supporting one another, I have no doubt that Martha's Vineyard will keep pace in the new year ahead.
Nancy Gardella is the executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.