- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce is trying to do for June what it once did for November - turn a slow period for tourism into a moneymaker. But the state funding that boosted both efforts is in limbo in the Legislature.

A decade ago, the chamber used a matching grant from the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development to promote the region as a holiday shopping destination, and it worked.

“Now, I don’t have to put any money into that. November is packed,” said executive director Janice Crawford.

This spring, the chamber is again using state money to supplement an advertising campaign urging Boston-area residents to use up their lingering vacation days in June while kids are still in school and before the summer crowds arrive. Altogether, the group has received more than $1 million in matching funds in the 18 years Crawford has been the director, but lawmakers are considering significant cuts to tourism promotion funding as they put together a budget for the next two years.

Under state law, 3.15 percent of net income from the rooms and meals tax goes to the tourism division for marketing and promotion. That amounted to $4.2 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, and about $4.7 million for each of the next two fiscal years under Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed budget. The $11.2 billion budget passed by the House, however, would suspend that law and instead allocate $1 million for each of the next two years.

Senators have until June 4 to pass their budget, and they’ve been getting an earful from Crawford and others in the tourism industry. Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, said Thursday there is a “pretty good chance” that the Senate will restore the bulk of the money.

“Certainly both sides agree that funding tourism promotion is critically important,” he said. “We’ve got to attract visitors. We have to be able to sell ourselves.”

Tourism is New Hampshire’s second largest industry, behind manufacturing, and accounts for 68,000 jobs statewide. Visitors spent $5 billion in the state between September 2013 and August 2014, according to the latest data from the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University. It estimates that 12 percent, or $585 million, of that spending was the result of the tourism division’s promotional activities and that every dollar spent by the division sent $9 in tax revenue to state and local governments.

“That in my mind is a pretty solid and sound investment,” said Victoria Cimino, director of the travel and tourism division. “The reality is, if we are not advertising in our core markets, we run the risk of losing market share, which ultimately translates to revenue. Here in New England, there is a competitive landscape of vacation options available to the traveling public, and we need to be front and center to protect our market share.”

That’s what has happened in other states that have cut funding for tourism promotion, said Nan Marchand Beauvois of the U.S. Travel Association. According to its most recent survey of state tourism directors, 29 states increased their marketing budgets in fiscal year 2014-2015 compared to what they spent the previous year, 10 decreased their budgets and five held steady.

But Rep. Lynne Ober, a Hudson Republican who oversees the committee that recommended the budget cuts in the House plan, said she does not believe tourism revenue will drop drastically if the Senate goes along with the House budget. Lawmakers did the best they could with the money they had, she said. And she said unlike other agency heads, the commissioner of the department that includes travel and tourism declined to suggest projects that could be put on hold, hirings that could be delayed or other ways to reduce the budget to bring it in line with revenue estimates.

“When you got down to it, they didn’t want to cut anything and we had to cut something,” she said. “That was probably the cut we hated the most because we had not gotten any help from the agency.”


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