Tuesday October 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's hospitality industry continued to recover steadily this summer and autumn from the recession-induced doldrums of recent years.

"I think we're climbing back toward pre-recession figures," said Berkshire Visitors Bureau Pres ident and CEO Lauri Klefos, citing an estimated gain of 2 to 5 percent over last summer and fall as measured by visitation and spending.

But, she noted, the increase was not as substantial as last year's upsurge "when people started traveling again."

"It's a slow creep, but we continue to see an increase," said Carl Pratt, general manager of the 114-room Cranwell Resort and Spa in Lenox. Bookings for families and corporate groups were strong in July and August, he added, crediting wedding parties as an especially bright spot.

At North Berkshire's tourism bellwether, the 125-room Williams Inn, 33-year owner Carl Faulkner reported occupancy down slightly for the entire year so far, but September and October were better than last year.

The proximity of Williams College and the expanding Sterling and Francine Clark Art museum kept business on an even keel, aided significantly by tourists from the United Kingdom, Germany and especially Australia, said Faulkner.

"When you've been in this business as long as I have, you take every day as it comes," he said.

According to Smith Travel Research, which surveys 24 major Berkshire hotels and inns representing 1,580 of the county's approximate 4,200 rooms, the July occupancy rate of 68 percent was up by 7.4 percent from 2011, while August occupancy at 66 percent ratcheted up by 4 percent.

"We really had an upward bump this summer," Klefos said, citing strong anniversary-season programming at Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and Shakespeare & Company. But indoor museums were hurt by near-ideal weather that kept most visitors outside during the day.

Positive box office results at Barrington Stage, Berkshire Theatre Group at the Colonial in Pittsfield, and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival helped fuel tourism, said Klefos.

At the Hampton Terrace bed & breakfast in downtown Lenox, owner Stan Rosen described a 5 percent gain in occupancy for this year so far, compared to 2011, which had seen a 12 percent increase from 2010.

Rosen, who bought the 14-room inn 13 years ago, credited strong bookings this past spring, followed by sold-out summer weekends. Fall foliage mid-week business has been down because of cloudy, rainy weather, he said.

Based on his experience, Rosen believes that Berkshire tourism is relatively recession-proof. "We never saw a dip during the recession," he said.

Aggressive marketing, with heavy reliance now on social media, is the key to success, Rosen said.

The Hampton Inn's bottom line has been buttressed by the Living Social daily deal website, which listed his $299 coupon for a two-night stay on weekends before the summer and mid-week during high season. Rosen said he redeemed 230 coupons this year.

Rosen credited the Berkshire Visitors Bureau's website, berkshires.org, as far and away his leading source of referrals.

Outdoor adventure parks and recreational areas thrived this year, Klefos said, especially Jiminy Peak's Adventure Park in Hancock, Catamount's Aerial Adventure Park in South Egremont, and hikes on Mount Greylock State Reservation.

For future growth, the BVB continues to expand its promotion to Boston-area residents and to international travelers.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.

Tourism at a glance . . .

n Total rooms available: 4,200 (approximately)

n Number of visitors, 2011: 2.6 million

n Number of visitors, 2010: 2.5 million

n 2012 room occupancy rate (year to date): 45 percent

n 2012 room occupancy rate (summer): 67 percent

n 2012 visitation, tourism revenue (estimated): 5 percent, up 2 percent from 2011

n Berkshire Visitors Bureau's state support: $313,000 (2012); $300,000 (2011); $100,000 (2010); $500,000 (2009)

n Tourism spending: $327 million (2011)

n Lodging tax revenue: $16.6 million (2011)

Sources: Berkshire Visitors Bureau; Smith Travel Research; Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; Eagle archives.