To the editor of THE EAGLE:
Clarence Fanto’s Dec. 3 column "Berkshire hotel frenzy is a win-win" serves up a heavy dose of wishful thinking combined with more than a dollop of forgetfulness.
He cites some rosy micro-statistics and forgets about some unfortunate macro-realities. He forgets that the leading edge of the baby boom, the population bubble that fueled the dramatic expansion of tourist-based business in the Berkshires over past 30 years is retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day (Pew Research).
Fanto also forgets that at Tanglewood, the engine that drives Berkshire tourism, attendance at all but a couple of blockbuster concerts, is in a downward spiral. According The Eagle, Tanglewood’s star reached its apogee in 1998, declining steadily since and overall attendance this year was down 9 percent. The average Boston Symphony Orchestra concert addresses itself to a sea of gray hair and 40 percent of all retiring boomers (46-65+) haven’t saved a dime (Charles Schwab).
The county’s other cultural attractions face similar challenges. How is the addition of 50 percent additional rooms in Lenox going to play off against this stark reality? Although he admits that current occupancy rates are below this figure, Fanto blithely predicts a 50 percent occupancy rate at these new venues. The columnist insists that travelers will flock to brand names such as Hilton and Marriott to score frequent guest points and this will take place without any injury to the existing mom and pop properties. Big assumption? Would anyone come to the Berkshires and pay an average of $1,200 per couple for a cultural weekend just to win a free night at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin Marriott?
Berkshire tourism has seen a single digit increase or rather rebound since 2008. The plain facts are that competition from these new properties will certainly take a chunk out of the three-night minimums that tourists hate, but most smaller properties insist makes their businesses viable And, as Fanto notes these new hostelries will certainly pull in "hundreds . . ." of low-paying, dead-end service jobs in their wake.
"A win-win"? In 1687, Isaac Newton famously said; "what goes up, must come down." With the bursting of the baby boom bubble our audience is declining and clearly a 50 percent increase in the supply in Lenox rooms means something’s gotta give. Fewer people means less business. It’s simple physics.
RICHARD W. WISE
The writer is a retired Lenox retailer and former member of the town’s Marketing & Events Committee.