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State to spend $4.5m courting foreign tourists

Massachusetts is getting ready to introduce itself to more of the world — and hoping to attract a stream of new international visitors in the process.

Armed with an additional $4.5 million from the state, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism is focusing on the international market, running TV and print ads in Canada, promoting Beacon Hill garden tours at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, and holding a workshop for tourism operators who are interested in attracting Chinese visitors.

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Of the 21.3 million tourists who visited Boston, the Berkshires, and Cape Cod last year, more than 2.1 million were from other countries, a 10 percent jump over the year before. International visitors stay longer and spend three times as much as domestic travelers, making them a particularly appealing group.

The market for international tourism has increased dramatically as the middle class expands in emerging nations such as China and India — and takes more vacations. The number of tourists around the world has jumped more that 40 percent since 2000, climbing to nearly 1 billion last year.

“The global tourism environment has just become so competitive,” said Betsy Wall, executive director of the state tourism office. “Everybody in the world is fighting over these visitors. Everybody wants them. So we don’t want to be passive about this.”

The state’s tourism budget has dwindled since the recession, falling from about $12 million in fiscal 2009 to less than $7 million in 2012, with just over $1 million dedicated to international tourism.

The extra money for international travel promotions in fiscal 2013 bumps the tourism budget to nearly $11 million.

Foreign families will be urged to not just drop off their children for college, but to vacation in Mass.

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About half of the state tourism office’s international budget will go into a collaborative marketing effort with Brand USA, a federal agency that promotes the United States as a destination.

The travel office is planning to spend $400,000 for what is thought to be the state’s first TV spot in another country. The ad, to air in Canada in the spring, is a retooling of a 2009 TV campaign featuring the “Colors of Massachusetts,” including the green Berkshire Hills and red lobsters and cranberries.

The additional money also gives the Massachusetts tourism office the means to court Brazil, India, and China for the first time, countries with a strong student presence at Bay State colleges. The agency plans to partner with academic institutions to encourage families not just to drop off their children for school, but to vacation.

Tourism efforts will also include attending trade shows in these countries and offering workshops to introduce tour operators to the unique cultural needs of their residents.

International visitors are a “bread and butter” market on Cape Cod because they spend more and don’t cancel when they see a little rain in the forecast, said Michele Pecoraro, vice president at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s more of guarantee that comes with an international booking. They’re weather proof.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter
@ktkjohnston.
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