Thomas A. Kershaw Receives a Lifetime Achievement Award

At its annual meeting, the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) presented Tom Kershaw with a lifetime achievement award for his many years of working to promote the tourism industry in Massachusetts. His involvement in the tourism industry began when his local bar, the Bull & Finch pub was chosen as the inspiration for the setting of the new TV series, Cheers.

He was invited to become a member of the Board of the GBCVB. After a few years, he was elected to be Vice-Chairman of the Board. Shortly afterwards, he was chosen to be the Chairman of the Board and served as Chairman for 18 years (1986-2004).

Pictured (left to right) are Daniel Donahue: Chairman of the Board GBCVB and President, Saunders Hotel Group. Tom Kershaw: Hampshire House Corporation (Cheers, 75 Chestnut and Liberty Wharf, Hampshire House), and Martha J. Sheridan, President & CEO, GBCVB.

At his first meeting as Chairman of the Board in January 1987, he discovered that the Hynes Auditorium was being converted to the Hynes Convention Center, but there was no funding provided to operate the new center. He immediately established a committee of The Board to look into ways to establish a funding mechanism for operation of the new center. With the support of the GBVCVB Board, he created the Massachusetts Tourism Coalition. This group, using lobbyists and public relations firms was able to have the legislature establish the Tourism Fund that took a portion (35%) of the Room Occupancy Tax collected by the state on every hotel room rented in Massachusetts and direct those funds to support several organizations involved in promotion of the industry. The Massachusetts Convention Center received 38%, Massachusetts Office of Tourism & Travel (MOTT) 40%, The Regional Tourist Councils (of which GBCVB was one)19% and Mass International Trade Council 3%.

When the fund was created the total collection of Room Tax was $52 million. The 35% that went to the Tourism Fund was around $18 million. These funds allowed the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to promote visitation to our state. By the year 2000, the collections of the Room Tax exceeded $100 million. By feeding the goose that lays the golden eggs, we were able to grow the number of eggs considerably. In 2015, prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Room Tax collections had risen to $162 million annually.

Everything was going fine as the Tourism Fund grew and the money available to promote travel to Massachusetts increased. Then what happened? The money in the Tourism Fund grew yearly at a greater rate, then the need for promotion dollars. The resulting excess was earmarked by the legislators for the members pet projects.

As administrations changed and the need for funds to support other projects emerged, the Tourism Fund was suspended, and the money was used elsewhere. Kershaw and several other industry leaders realized we needed a group to work to find funds to promote the industry once again. The Massachusetts Visitors Industry Council (MVIC) was established by the stakeholders, in most cases owners of businesses serving the tourism industry (hotels & attractions). MVIC is still active promoting the interests of the industry. Kershaw serves as Chairman of MVIC.

Kershaw served as Chairman of a group that retained researchers at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard Kennedy School. In their report known as “The Harvard Study,” this group suggested that the industry, in connection with the legislature create the Advisory Commission of Travel & Tourism (ACT&T) with representation of all the industry sectors, the government agencies, and industry leaders. Kershaw became the Chairman and served from 1992- 2020.

While Chairman, Kershaw realized the legislature and the administration needed to know more about the tourism industry structure, contributions to the Commonwealth, and its need to promote itself. Kershaw created year-end reports about the results of the previous year-end and the needs in future years. These reports have been described as “The Encyclopedia of the Tourism Industry in Massachusetts.”

The officers and Board of the GBCVB have recognized Kershaw’s continued involvement in the promotion and development of the tourism industry – Definitely his life’s work, this recognition by the industry was well deserved.

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