Cellphones fill role of visitor centers, Ash says

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 5, 2017….As alluded to on a hot mic during the Senate’s May budget debate, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash believes state visitor centers have become outmoded by modern technology and he is skeptical about supplying them with state dollars.

“I think visitor centers were very important to the Commonwealth 20 or 30 years ago. Today I carry two of them in my pocket,” Ash told the News Service, holding up two cellphones. “So I have no problem with people trying to organize to support a visitor’s center in their community. I’m just not sure if I have limited dollars, if that’s the best place to put them.”

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said the Baker administration held back half of a $6 million fiscal 2017 appropriation for regional tourism councils, money she said could be used for visitor centers. The Senate last month included in its fiscal 2018 budget language directing the administration to allocate the full $6 million appropriation by September 2017.

Picked up by a hot mic during budget deliberations, Spilka said, “Jay Ash is so against funding visitor centers. He thinks they’re a waste of money.”

Asked if he wanted to completely eliminate state funding for the centers, Ash said, “I haven’t gone that far.”

An Ash aide told the News Service last week that there are 11 centers that are run by regional tourism councils and require funding from the state or the councils to pay for staff, upkeep and maintenance.

Senators advocating for a failed bid to earmark $200,000 for visitor information centers in the Senate’s $40.4 billion budget said Massachusetts is failing to use its visitor centers to provide a welcoming space for tourists and allow people on the road to use a restroom.

“I know for those of us who go around to other states, you see these amazing welcome centers,” said Sen. Vinny deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican, during the budget debate. “They’ve invested a lot in that because they’re rolling out the welcome mat to people. That’s what these visitor centers are.”

Ash said the function of supplying visitors with information about local offerings can now be largely supplied by looking around on the internet.

“I travel an awful lot. I use my cellphones all the time, get all kinds of good information off of them,” Ash said. He said, “I don’t begrudge anyone that wants to have a visitor center, and if they feel very strongly about it perhaps they can create an experience that would be meaningful, but it’s my experience in talking to everybody that I do that we get our information off the World Wide Web now.”

Copyright 2017 State House News Service