"You don’t cut the golden goose that’s bringing you all this revenue," said Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the North Central
"You don't cut the golden goose that's bringing you all this revenue," said Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the North Central Mass. Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- With half its state funding slashed by the governor's recent budget cuts, the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association is scrambling to continue promoting North Central Massachusetts to tourists, who annually pump millions into the local community.

"You don't cut the golden goose that's bringing you all this revenue," said Roy Nascimento, president and CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association.

Last month Gov. Charlie Baker cut $7.6 million from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, including half of the funds allocated for marketing at regional tourism offices around the state.

This fiscal year, Johnny Appleseed Trail Association was slated to receive $168,814, or about 25 percent of the organization's annual budget. Like other regional tourism offices in the state, the sum was reduced by half, to $84,407.

"That's basically decimated our marketing and income" for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, Nascimento said.

The remainder of the trail association's funding comes from private donations, membership fees and contributions from hotel taxes in partner municipalities and towns.

Local tourism has grown significantly in the past decade. In 2004, tourism in North Central Massachusetts accounted for $14.3 million in economic activity, 286 jobs and $2 million in payroll, according to the association.


Advertisement

In 2015, tourism brought $127 million in economic activity tourism, according to Nascimento, and accounted for 900 jobs, $26 million in payroll, $6.6 million in state taxes and $2.9 million in local taxes, according to the chamber.

Statewide, according the trail association, tourism is the third-largest industry in Massachusetts, spurring $18.5 billion in direct spending and supporting more than 132,000 jobs.

Though regional revenue from tourism includes a variety of services, the hotel tax provides a "little snapshot" of its effect, Lawlor said.

From fiscal year 2015 -- which spans July 2014 to June 2015 -- to fiscal year 2016, hotel revenue in Fitchburg saw an 8.2 percent increase to just over $1 million. The increase is largely due to the opening of Great Wolf Lodge, he said, and he expects the trend to continue this year.

During the same period of time, Leominster saw a 27.5 percent increase, Gardner saw a 12.4 percent increase and Westminster saw a 16.7 percent decrease in hotel taxes.

Chamber Public Affairs Manager Patrick Lawlor said partner cities pay a portion of the money from hotel taxes -- $50,000 from Fitchburg, for example -- to the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association. The association hopes to add several more partner cities, such as Devens and Sterling, in the coming year, he said.

The Johnny Appleseed Trail Association runs a visitor information center in Lancaster, which sees 180,000 visitors a year. It also prints twice yearly the Johnny Appleseed Country Guide, a magazine distributed throughout New England and Canada, and members attend national and local trade shows.

Lawlor described tourism as a competitive industry, and the reduced state funding could impact the region when other states, such as New York, are increasing funding, he said.

Massachusetts, which has a rich history including significant roles in both the American and Industrial revolutions, has in recent years lost market share to other marketing to tourists much more aggressively, Lawlor said.

"We're being outpaced by the rest of the country," he said.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter and Tout @DobbinsSentinel.