Boston’s tourism bureau is hoping to present a new face for the city as it embarks on its biggest-ever marketing campaign.
The previous way: highlight the city’s centuries-old brick buildings, Revolutionary War-era locations, and Independence Day celebrations. The new tagline: “Boston Never Gets Old.”
The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau on Tuesday launched a $7 million campaign, designed by local ad agency Allen & Gerritsen, that is aimed at showcasing Boston’s wide range of cultures and neighborhoods. The historic sites are still in the mix, but the ads’ creators want to show there’s much more than history to this city. The campaign also involves a makeover for the bureau itself, which now plans to do business as Meet Boston, with a refreshed logo.
One of the goals is to shake off Boston’s reputation as cold and unwelcoming, and its stereotypes of arrogance and racism.
“We had to retell the story. We had to show a different city,” said Dan Donahue, president of Saunders Hotel Group and chair of the tourism bureau’s board. “People have a sense of Boston as a racist city. We had to show different. We had to be different. Boston is the definition of what America is [in terms of diversity].”
A&G chief executive Andrew Graff said the ads will run in a variety of media — broadcast, billboards, digital — starting out locally, then expanding to northeastern markets within driving distance, and eventually to key “fly-in” markets early next year. “Boston Never Gets Old,” Graff said, is intended to reflect a city in perpetual motion. The ads, among other things, will underscore just how many neighborhoods are in the city (23, by A&G’s count) and how many languages are spoken here (more than 75).
“It makes me really excited about my city,” said Nia Grace, owner of Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen. “It touched on the things that make us special like our cultures and our diversity. ... It’s a Boston I’ve never seen displayed like that before in advertisements.”
The “Boston Never Gets Old” campaign carries similar themes to the “All Inclusive Boston” multimillion-dollar effort that the city of Boston launched last year, primarily with federal COVID-19 recovery funds; the tourism bureau participated in that city contract. Bureau chief executive Martha Sheridan said both campaigns are part of a trend among large cities across the country to highlight areas beyond their traditional tourism destinations.
The bureau previously did not have much money for marketing, in part because nearly all hotel taxes collected in Massachusetts go straight to the state’s general fund, with only a small portion spent on tourism. But Sheridan’s organization got a big boost in early 2021 when the state Legislature included a provision in a broader economic development bill that allowed regional tourism bureaus to impose new assessments on hotel stays on top of the lodging taxes. Sheridan had lobbied on Beacon Hill for the concept before the COVID-19 pandemic. But state lawmakers became more favorable toward allowing these “tourism destination marketing districts” to provide an additional tool to help the hard-hit sector recover from the lack of travel in the early months of the pandemic.
The hotels in Boston and Cambridge in June of last year became the first regional group to vote in favor of the assessment — Sheridan said she doesn’t like to call it a tax because it’s self-imposed and all the money stays within the industry. The city councils of both cities then approved the assessment, which adds 1.5 percent to a visitor’s hotel tax bill and is generating more than $20 million in its first year. The tourism bureau decided to put the first tranche of those funds toward a big campaign and a rebranding, and hired A&G for both jobs in July.
“They appreciated how important it is for their city, but also for their business, that Boston is portrayed as a city that’s constantly in motion, on the move, never getting old,” Sheridan said. “We’re hoping it gives people a whole new feeling about Boston and it gives people who have been here before a reason to come back and see what they might have been missing.”
The bureau’s media purchases will keep the ads running through early April, but it’s likely that the campaign will be extended, particularly if it resonates with visitors.
Donahue, for one, is hopeful. He was among the many hoteliers who applauded the new campaign at a launch party that the bureau held at Big Night Live on Tuesday. The common consensus: It’s about time that Boston has a big marketing campaign that can compete with those in other similarly sized cities.
“We are finally at the table,” said Donahue, whose company’s properties include the Lenox Hotel and two hotels in Revere and Somerville. “We are at equal par with our competition across the United States.”