Tourism in Berkshire County is not only thriving but booming, according to a report presented by the Berkshire Visitors Bureau to the Lenox Select Board this week.
At nearly $426 million, direct visitor spending surged by 5.3 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, according to tax-based state figures provided to Berkshire Visitors Bureau President and CEO Lauri Klefos. International tourism, up 9 percent, fueled the overall increase.
The tourism industry supported 3,774 Berkshire jobs, the state reported, with a total payroll of $103 million.
With its multiple arts and entertainment attractions, as well as historic sites such as The Mount, Lenox took a jumbo-sized $170 million cut of the spending, about 40 percent of the county total, Klefos noted, citing statistics from the state Office of Travel and Tourism.
"That's good, healthy growth," Klefos told the board, since the town saw an $8 million increase in spending compared to 2013.
Average hotel occupancy reflects continuing improvement for the hospitality industry — nearly 54 percent of rooms were filled at 24 properties surveyed by Smith Travel Research for the 12 months through this past September. That's up sharply from 48 percent for the previous year.
June and September saw spikes in visitation, Klefos pointed out, with average occupancy just above 62 percent in June and 59 percent in September. The July figure was 71 percent, while August saw 73 percent of rooms filled.
Klefos attributed the strong showing to robust programming at area arts and entertainment sites — especially the expanded, renovated Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, with a major Van Gogh exhibition as a huge draw. The museum reported more than 200,000 visitors for its season.
Favorable weather and lower gas prices also helped, she added.
Over the past five years, countywide tourism spending increased by 25 percent. "That's $70 million more coming into the county than five years ago," Klefos said.
Her report showed that the median age of Berkshire visitors is 52, with a median household income of $100,200. The state-supplied figures indicate 80 percent are married, 55 percent are college educated, and most are from the New York and Boston metro areas, followed by Hartford-New Haven and the rest of Massachusetts and New England.
While here to engage in multiple activities, 80 percent of the visitors sought out museums and historic sites, 59 percent headed for arts and entertainment venues and 37 percent participated in outdoor recreation.
The BVB presentation by Klefos and marketing director Lindsay Schmidt was tied to a $26,000 funding request to the town for the bureau's multimedia promotion of Lenox, part of the organization's countywide mission. Klefos also presented her upbeat report to the visitors bureau's annual meeting on Thursday night.
Selectman Channing Gibson explained that he and his colleagues are asked by residents "all the time, 'how can they keep building hotels and motels, is there really enough demand for all these rooms?' "
As many as 600 new rooms have come online recently or are in various stages of development from Pittsfield to Great Barrington.
In Lenox alone, construction is underway for developer Joseph Toole's 92-room Courtyard by Marriott on Brushwood Farms just north of town.
Hotel owner Vijay Mahida and his brother Pravin are planning a $20 million, 114-suite and event center on the site of the Magnuson Hotel (the former Econo Lodge), to be branded as a Marriott Residence Inn.
His 95-room, $25 million proposal for a boutique hotel in Great Barrington is undergoing review by the Select Board amid some opposition.
The 112-room Elm Court Inn approved by Lenox and Stockbridge town boards is tied up on appeal at Massachusetts Land Court, while plans are still evolving for an inn on the Spring Lawn property adjacent to Shakespeare & Company.
Recently opened in Pittsfield were the Hilton Garden Inn, also a Mahida project, and the Hotel on North in the heart of the city.
"We're very pro what's happening right now regarding development or redevelopment of properties," Klefos said. "Some properties are in need of renovation and rejuvenation, and at some of the older places we've been seeing a decline in their satisfaction ratings by visitors."
"Now, especially with social media, that kills us when somebody comes and sees a property that they're paying a good price for during high season but isn't meeting their expectations," Klefos said.
"Demand is continuing to increase," she noted, justifying investment in the area by major national companies such as Hilton and Marriott. "Flagship properties bring a whole different group of travelers to the area." Loyalty programs offered by such chains often motivate regular customers to seek out branded hotels in order to score points and perks.
By the numbers ...
The Berkshire tourism industry, at a glance ...
Average hotel occupancy (Oct. 2014-Sept. 2015): 53.7 percent
Direct tourism spending, 2014: $426 million
Total economic impact, 2014: $681 million
Hospitality industry jobs: 3,374
Total payroll: $103 million
Average age of visitors: 52
Average household income: $100,300
Additional hotel rooms planned, countywide: 600
Note: The additional rooms represent recent openings and projects under development.