MA Welcomes Fall Festivals and Foliage, Expects Rush of Tourism

pumpkin-patch-ma-businessFall in New England has always attracted crowds of hikers, bikers, zipliners, wine-drinkers, leaf-peepers, shopaholics, and anyone simply hoping to enjoy the crisp autumn air. However, over the past few years, seasonal sales have been better than ever. Some believe the region’s success can be linked to a growing interest in fall-themed festivals and the development of destinations like Salem, MA, nationally known for its Halloween-oriented history of witchcraft.

Massachusetts Businesses Benefit from Booming Tourist Industry

Many families and individuals vacation in the fall—traveling during the school year usually means fewer crowds, lines, competition for lodging, etc. This helps keep businesses profitable after the summer rush—hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, and others reap the benefits. Even athletics teams and associated companies (e.g., those responsible for ticketing, facilities maintenance, entertainment, food, etc.) have reported an uptick in “post-season” sales due to the longer tourist season.

History of Massachusetts Is Ideal for Autumn Holidays

Stories of the Salem witchcraft trials have long fascinated tourists traveling to Massachusetts. The town commemorates the trials every year with a fall festival known as Haunted Happenings, which kicks off with a parade on October 1. The event began in 1981 with a “Witches Weekend” and is now a month-long series of trolley tours, ghost tours, films, nighttime ghost stories, and walkthroughs of the House of the Seven Gables. The city is full of other attractions like museums and haunted houses designed to promote the “spooky” history of Salem while demonstrating top-of-the-line Massachusetts hospitality.


A tour of Makepeace Farms in Wareham, MA, is a popular activity during the annual Cranberry Harvest Celebration.

Fall Festivals Across the State

While popular, Salem is certainly not the only place in Massachusetts to partake in the autumn festivities. New Bedford offers the Working Waterfront Festival at the end of September, spotlighting one of America’s largest fishing ports. Visitors to Cheshire, MA, can view glass-blown pumpkins and other artisan crafts at the Fall Arts Festival. Families love the Cranberry Harvest Celebration in Wareham and, in Newburyport, the Great Pumpkin Lighting and Stroll is a must-attent event for anyone visiting in October. And, of course, visitors will still continue to pour in to the state to seek out the incredible turning of the leaves.


Pumpkin Flavors Fuel Food and Beverage Industry

A visit to Massachusetts in autumn would hardly be complete without some food-and-drink indulgence. The commonwealth’s food and beverage industry boasted a “banner year” in 2014, and the industry predicts $13.8 billion in sales by the end of 2015. Massachusetts, which some consider to be the birthplace of craft beer, has at least ten different pumpkin beers available throughout the season. Visitors can add Mercury Brewing Company’s Stone Cat Pumpkin Ale, Samuel Adams’ Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Blue Hills Brewery’s Pumpkin Lager, to their list of annual autumn rituals. Those headed to Western MA can enjoy a break at Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters in Shelburne and a taste of their Pumpkin Spice blend.

The sheer quantity and range of fall activities in MA (see more here), makes it a wonderful destination for just about anyone. What do you and your family like to do every fall? Send us recommendations in the comments section below and we’ll read them while sipping our pumpkin spice lattes!

How Legislation Is Fighting Airbnb in Massachusetts


Airbnb is an online community that connects short-term renters to people with space to rent. The company began in 2008 as “Air Bed and Breakfast” and was imagined after its founders rented out airbeds in their home. Six years since its humble beginning, Airbnb has shortened its name and inflated its offerings to include small rooms for international travelers, villas for high-end business travelers, and just about everything in between. The company makes it easy to find both simple spaces and those with all the comforts of home. Hosts can post pictures and descriptions of the spaces they have available; travelers can then reserve those spaces on Airbnb’s secure website.

Airbnb Offers an “Authentic Experience” for Travelers

basic-hotel-room-doesnt-compare-to-aribnbairbnb photo

There are many benefits to using a service like Airbnb, including the opportunity to meet people from around the world without having to pay for an expensive hotel room. Airbnb hosts also tend to provide more personalized services (e.g., welcome baskets and access to cooking- and crafting supplies) that outclass those offered by most hotels. Airbnb is becoming a popular resource for small towns around the world that hope to attract tourists but have limited lodging options. Building a new hotel can cost between $300,000 and many millions of dollars, so smaller towns simply can’t afford lodging for the tourists they hope to attract. Airbnb and other short-term rental companies offer a less-expensive alternative to hotels.

Short-Term Rentals Prompt Legislative Concerns for MA

Despite the benefits of the service, some legislators are expressing concerns about Airbnb. In Massachusetts, state representatives Aaron Michlewitz and RoseLee Vincent have tried to introduce legislation that would be among the strictest in the country for short-term rentals. The measures would legalize the rental process but impose strict safety and registration requirements, as well as a 5% tax on rentals (to match the tax for hotel rooms). The taxes collected would support the tourism industry. The bill would also allow cities and towns to run inspections of short-term rentals to enforce safety codes. San Francisco, Portland, and the state of New York have begun to introduce similar regulations on short-term rentals, though many have found these rules to be ineffective.


New Hospitality Regulations Increase Massachusetts Tax Revenue

In 2011, Massachusetts collected $562 million in hotel tax revenue; individual cities in the commonwealth collected an additional $358 million. In 2014, short-term rental sites in the city of Boston alone collected over $10 million in sales . . . and the industry shows no indication of slowing. In fact, as discovered by Rich Vetstein on The Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog, “A recent Boston Globe article [found that] Airbnb’s website currently lists nearly 3,500 properties for rent in the Boston area—a 63% increase since July 2013.” That number continues to spike. Because traditional lodging such as hotels is so closely monitored, legislators feel that the short-term rental industry should see similar regulations.

Airbnb offers a valuable service to travelers, but it is critical that the service be safe and reliable for all who use it. By implementing laws that increase the safety of short-term rental units and require Airbnb to improve the state’s economy through tax revenue, Massachusetts is taking a step to regulate an industry that, to date, has seen little regulation in the United States.

What Do You Think?

Have you used Airbnb, or are you somehow involved in the hospitality industry? Do you think these regulations are necessary? 

Massachusetts Looks to Regulate Short-Term Rentals

The “sharing economy” has taken the United States by storm. In less than a decade, companies such as Uber, Handy, and Airbnb have become well-known brands and, in some places, market leaders. But the laws regulating these companies and their users can often seem like a gray area. Now some lawmakers are taking a close look to see if it’s time for state legislation of these activities.

Airbnb is the latest company to experience such    scrutiny. Founded in 2008, the website allows its users to list, find, and rent short-term housing. The site is popular among users who are seeking an affordable alternative to hotels. The site is also popular among property owners looking to rent out extra space, whether it be an entire house, an apartment, or just an extra room.

But not everyone is enamored with Airbnb. Renters have complained of substandard or even dangerous accommodations, and owners have complained of renters who have damaged their property. Beyond user complaints, Airbnb has also felt backlash in communities that see it as a way to evade land-use laws and taxes. Neighborhood residents often find that properties in quiet, residential areas are turned into de facto hotels or flophouses.

Airbnb claims that most of its users rent out properties on only a temporary basis and that it simply connects interested parties to one another. To that point,  its critics respond that the company has effectively created an online marketplace for transient housing. They also claim that Airbnb has taken too much housing off  market for local residents, thereby creating housing shortages.

Many states are now considering state legislation that would formally regulate the short-term rental market that has proliferated as a result of Airbnb. In Massachusetts, state legislation has been proposed that would require registration of all short-term lessors of property. The legislation would also impose safety standards and allow local governments to inspect properties for safety violations. The law would also impose a 5% tax on such rentals, similar to the tax levied on hotel stays.

If the law passes, Massachusetts would be the first state to regulate the short-term rental market. Some cities have already done so, including San Francisco, Portland, and Philadelphia. As sites such as Airbnb continue to grow, more states will have to determine if and how they are going to regulate their activities.

Worcester hotel development brings rooms, room for growth

Over the course of the next two years, Worcester will see the opening of at least three new hotels, bringing an estimated 360 new rooms to the city. The expansion of hotel space is vital if the city hopes to draw and retain tourist and convention revenues.

XSS Hotels, a hotel development and management company, plans to open a 100-room Hampton Inn in early 2016. The company is also looking to build a 150-room Renaissance Hotel downtown to compliment the new CitySquare project. Homewood Suites will be breaking ground on a 110-room hotel located in close proximity to Union Station by the end of this year.

While the new rooms are a good step forward, they are making up for lost ground. In 2010 the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lincoln Square closed when the owners defaulted on a mortgage. Those 243 rooms were converted into dorms and classroom space by MCPHS University. Fortunately, the Crowne Plaza’s closing wasn’t due to a lack of customers. Today, seven hotels in Worcester provide 745 rooms. The need for additional lodging is displayed in the occupancy rates with 75% of beds full throughout the year, which is significantly higher than the 65% national average. This means that the 360 new rooms will help stabilize the market and keep any one establishment from being overburdened.

Extra rooms also help increase the town’s capacity for hosting large events, creating a symbiotic relationship with Worcester’s growing number of conventions and tournaments. The DCU center boasts over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space for trade shows, conventions, entertainment, and private functions.  The adjoining arena has the capacity to accommodate anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 attendees for concerts and sporting events, each one a potential customer of gas, food, souvenirs, and, of course, lodging. Developing more hotels in the area will help Worcester be a better host to these large events, and help business and the city itself earn more.

Worcester could also hope to bring NCAA regional tournaments as part of the March Madness events, or other competitions. Unfortunately, the NCAA hasn’t been to Worcester since 2005, in part due to the lack of accommodations for guests. Recently, the Massive Comic Con was held at the DCU Center and welcomed 5000 attendees, most of whom were visiting from out of town and quickly filled the city’s current hotel offerings.

Of course, new hotels are only part of the solution. Worcester city government needs to offer a streamlined approval service for new construction applications and business licenses. Tax schedules, while needing to be favorable to the city, must also be competitive and attractive for potential developers. The coming rooms are a good sign of growth, but also a reminder that there is always room to improve.

Berkshire County Rep. Proposes Change to Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers

Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Berkshire County, Massachusetts has presented a bill that, if passed, would gradually increase the minimum wage for tipped workers in the state until they are paid the same as other minimum wage workers. This is an addition to the current law, which will increase minimum wage for tipped workers to $3.75 per hour from the current $2.63 by 2017. Standard minimum wage for those employees who do not receive tips was raised to $9 in January.

Massachusetts currently defines tipped employees as those who earn more than $20 per month in tips and who, with minimum wage plus tips, make at least $9 per hour. While employers are legally required to make up the difference for tipped workers who do not reach the $9 per hour threshold, restaurant worker advocates say that many avoid actually doing so. This is especially true for restaurants that employ large numbers of undocumented workers.

The bill is supported through the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Boston advocacy group’s “One Fair Wage” campaign, which seeks to end wage theft by employers. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, this type of theft results in employee loss of more than $50 billion per year.

Beyond the wage theft issue, many labor and gender relations experts believe that a landscape in which employees must work for tips leads to a culture of sexual harassment by customers. According to a report by the ROC, 78 percent of women and 55 percent of men who work in restaurants report experiencing this type of harassment. Their research also shows that restaurant servers, who are traditionally tipped employees, are three times more likely than other types of workers to live in poverty.

As expected, restaurant owners argue that moving away from the current system would make it difficult for them to create jobs because of the resulting economic loss. Stephen Clark, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, argues that in Massachusetts, most servers make at least $13 per hour, with some topping out at as much as $30 per hour.

California and Nevada have both enacted similar legislation.

Central Massachusetts Stands Out in Nursing Home Rankings

It seems that Massachusetts may be the best place to go for rehabilitation and aftercare. Eleven of Central Massachusetts’ nursing homes have received the top rating in U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of best nursing homes.

The list for 2015 bestows five-star status to four Worcester facilities: Beaumont at University Campus, Holy Trinity Eastern Orthodox Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Jewish Healthcare Center, and Notre Dame Long Term Care Center. Other area nursing homes earning the distinction are: Blaire House and Countryside Health Care, both in Milford, Coleman House in Northborough, Sandalwood Center in Oxford, Shrewsbury Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Shrewsbury, Whittier Westborough Transitional Care Unit, in Westborough, and St. Camillus Health Center in Whitinsville.

Millions of Americans will spend at least some time in a nursing home this year, either for rehabilitation after a hospital stay or as long-term residents. The Best Nursing Home 2015 list, released in February, is intended as a resource to help find the best place to receive aftercare. The list covers ratings for nearly 16,000 nursing homes across the country. Of those included on the list, only 3,392 or 21.7% received a rating of five stars.

The Best Nursing Homes list is a searchable database providing valuable information about the type of care received, facility health and safety standards, and staffing. The profile for each facility displays any health and safety violations, performance ratings in various clinical categories, and the amount of time that nursing staff spends with residents.

The information is presented with comparisons between the state averages and national averages for each category. For instance, nurses at Beaumont at University Campus spend an average of 1 hour and 39 minutes with patients, only one minute behind the national average. Users can even access the general results of previous fire and health inspections, with citations for an violations the facility may have received.

This is the seventh year the magazine has produced its annual list of aftercare facilities. The list draws on data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid services, a federal agency that sets and enforces standards for nursing homes. For those in need of aftercare, rehabilitation or long-term care, the list is a valuable resource to help find the best nursing home and understanding exactly what puts that facility ahead of the rest.

Worcester Chamber Looks at Springfield Casinos as Model


Downtown_Springfield,_MAIn what could soon become a blueprint for other regions to follow when planning for urban development, the proposed MGM Springfield casino is being set up to embrace its surrounding community rather than shut it out or physically divide it. According to James Murren, Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, their $800 million casino project planned for Springfield’s South End hopes to establish a new model for the company’s casino communities.

One person closely watching the situation is the President and CEO of Worcester’s Regional Chamber of Commerce, Timothy Murray, who says, “Their vision is to create a new paradigm that’s outward looking and encourages the kind of cross-pollenization of locally owned businesses.”

Murray’s interest in the nearby project is directly related to Worcester’s $565 million CitySquare development project that is still under design. The hope is that the hotels and other needed developments in the downtown area for this project will be assessed carefully.

Murray, former mayor of Worcester as well as the Commonwealth’s former lieutenant governor, compared the potential of this project to those of the past. According to Murray, instead of opening up new possibilities, a project may end up dividing the city like the Worcester Center Galleria ended up doing. During his time as Mayor of Worcester, Murray oversaw the demolition of that mall, the space it once occupied now being used for the CitySquare project.

Muuray said the project, “is about undoing what the mall created and creating a true mixed-use district.”  It’s hoped that MGM Springfield will similarly embrace its surroundings and not  simply create an obstruction to community use of an urban area.


Eight Tips About Holiday Networking

As the holiday season approaches, professional holiday parties will also begin sprouting up. This is the perfect time to begin perfect your networking skill set.

Here are a few ways in which you can master holiday networking and take new connections with you into the new year!


17737-business-man-hand-pv1. Go empty-handed. Your hands need to be free for handing out business cards, taking down notes and phone numbers, and shaking hands. Leave your cell phone, coat, and brief case somewhere else.

Office+Mate+Wall+Clock2. Arrive early. The earlier you can communicate with people, the better. Keep in mind that people don’t want to talk business when that’s all they’ve been doing for the past few hours.

free_corporate_business_card_3_by_pixeden-d45d0ua3. Remember your business cards. There’s no reason not to have a stack of business cards on hand at a networking event. Don’t forget them.

2722635443_177dae870b_b4. Keep the name badge to your right side. Because you will likely shake hands with your right hand at all times, you want your badge to stay on that side. It will be more noticeable when you extend your hand!

8220357873_2f0af0ce6d_z5. Don’t stay with the same people. No matter how intense or interesting the conversation is, move on to new people every so often.

6970660314_f9a835f9f0_b6. Stay interested. Rather than spending your time answering questions, try asking them. Maintain eye contact and don’t let your eyes wander around the room during a conversation.

326205483_138ba5f747_z7. Lay off the alcohol consumption. It might seem obvious, but keep the drinking to a minimum. Even though alcohol might be present at the party, you must still remember you’re making a lasting impression on many of the people there. Avoid drinking altogether, but if you must do so, alternate water or other non-alcoholic beverages between drinks.

Cisco_phone8. Follow up! What’s the sense in going to a holiday business party if you don’t follow up? Catch up with your new connections on LinkedIn or shoot them an email within two days after the party.

Above all, remember to have fun at your holiday event! If you’re having fun, the chances are high that other people are too.

Great Wolf Lodge Provides Jobs for Central Mass

Great Wolf Resorts’ first New England Location will be one of the biggest providers of new jobs in the region, reported the Boston Business Journal. The Wisconsin-based operator of hotels with indoor water parks is targeted to open its Fitchburg location on June 1.

Great Wolf invested $66 million in the project, including the acquisition of a Holiday Inn with a Coco Key water resort. The new construction consisted of an additional 70,000 square feet to the former complex, which totaled 330,000 square feet. Great Wolf added 161 hotel rooms, doubled the water space, and created the company’s first play area with ropes and miniature golf.

While the Holiday Inn only employed 163 workers, Great Wolf plans to hire between 450 to 500 full and part-timers. The state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council approved a $17.2 million tax break package for the resort.

Read more in the Boston Business Journal.

Millbury competes for state’s only casino

Recently, representatives from Mass Gaming & Entertainment LLC (MGE) unveiled their plans for a $200-million slots parlor on McCracken Road in Millbury. The plan will compete with other towns in Massachusetts for the state’s only slots parlor, including nearby Leominster. With traffic already a major concern due to the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley, MGE quickly addressed the issue, saying the project will “improve traffic in the area.”

According to MGE’s plan, the casino will bring 400 permanent jobs to the town and its design will incorporate elements of Millbury architecture. The developer plans to seek LEED Gold certification in using environmentally sustainable building practices and materials.

Residents in Millbury will vote on September 24 to determine if MGE can submit a final proposal.

Read the full article in the Worcester Business Journal.