PITTSFIELD

Well, it’s official -- summer 2014 has finally arrived! The Berkshires have long been a destination for visitors, from the 1800s when wealthy families came and built their summer "cottages" in the area, to today’s young families looking for a place to establish their own traditions. We also have the perfect location -- right in between New York City and Boston -- within easy reach of millions of travelers.

Take a look around you. At the museums, theaters, restaurants, hotels and inns, or along any Main Street in one of our beautiful towns, parking lots are full-of-out of state license plates. Tourism is evident everywhere around us when we stop to notice. It is a key part of the Berkshire identity and is crucial to our well-being.

That reality comes into focus with a look at the numbers: $390 million in direct spending by visitors, $93 million in payroll to employees in the region directly involved in the tourism industry, and more than $10 million to our local communities through taxes collected from visitors while they are here.

But tourism doesn’t just grow our economy; it also connects us to people from around the world, bringing different cultures together to learn about each other. When visitors come to the Berkshires, they make an enormous impact on all of us who live and work here. Looking back over the past few years, we can be grateful that the tourism industry fared remarkably well during the recession and rebounded quickly.

Accommodating a healthy tourism industry does pose its challenges at times. As residents we all feel this when we encounter the significant increase in people in our area throughout the summer. But inconveniences can be tolerated if we just remember to focus on the benefits.

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When I wait at a red light behind a car with out-of-state plates, I always think about their contribution to the area. Visitors are really temporary taxpayers. They contribute dollars to every community they stop in through sales and lodging taxes; and those dollars go back to our communities to help pay for our schools, streets, sidewalks, fire and police protection -- all the things that we need. Nationally, it has been estimated that tourism tax revenues save an average household in the U.S. $900 a year.

Here in the Berkshires, we have the greatest group of tourism businesses in the state. We can be proud that the quality of a Berkshire travel experience continues to make us such a popular visitor destination. The Berkshires are well known as a beautiful place with great cultural amenities and four season outdoor recreation, fresh air and amazing food.

But we have an even more precious resource -- our people. At the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, we hear again and again from visitors that the local people they encounter are so helpful and knowledgeable. This impacts a visitor’s trip immediately when they can see from the locals how eager they are to show off the region they are proud to call home. This one-on-one interaction with visitors does so much to make sure our reputation as a great place to visit lives on. It is you who may actually be the Berkshires’ best "tourism asset" of all!

Lauri O. Klefos is president & CEO Berkshire Visitors Bureau, www.Berkshires.org. The Berkshire Visitors Bureau is the official destination marketing organization for Berkshire County, representing more than 680 area businesses. The bureau is dedicated to promoting the Berkshires as a premiere year-round travel destination and providing free, comprehensive information to maximize visitor spending in the region.