Lenox Selectmen hire Berkshire Visitors Bureau to expand tourism


LENOX -- After an extended discussion on how and whether to market the town to expand all-year tourism, the Select Board has decided unanimously to accept a one-year deal from the Berkshire Visitors Bureau to promote the community in 2013.

The cost of the Visitors Bureau proposal, including web design, is $14,938. The package features top-banner prominence for Lenox on the widely viewed Visitors Bureau website in May, September, and November to tout off-season deals and holiday events.

Included is a previously approved presence in the year-round Berkshire Official Visitors Guide, advertising in New York, Boston and elsewhere in New England, and highlights in the bureau's email blasts and newsletters.

"We're getting pretty good value here with advertising in a lot of spots," said Selectman Edward Lane.

Selectman Channing Gibson said leading tourist-oriented businesses such as the Cranwell Resort and Canyon Ranch are gung-ho for the Visitors Bureau's marketing plan.

The Visitors Bureau will guide web visitors to the enhanced Lenox Chamber of Commerce site, lenox.org., which spotlights events, inns, restaurants, retailers and other local businesses. The bureau also will provide for no additional charge additional web-site promotions with an estimated value of $7,800.

Despite support for the plan leading to the unanimous vote, the 70-minute discussion at Monday night's meeting was shadowed by ongoing and deepening doubts about whether town government should lead the effort to market the community, or whether the Lenox Chamber, the town's existing Events Committee or web-oriented marketing firms, such as Winstanley Associates or Studio Two in Lenox, might pursue the mission.

"I'm all for doing this but I'm not sure we're the ones who should be doing it," said Selectman David Roche, who termed the Visitors Bureau's plan "a good marketing ploy."

Selectman John McNinch, touting the Visitors Bureau's marketing prowess, also restated his longstanding belief that the board should not be marketers for the town. "That's not what we were elected for," he said. "I don't want to be bogged down with marketing the town all the time."

Lenox is currently gaining $1.8 million a year in lodging and meals-tax revenue, crucial to holding down property tax increases to 2.5 percent or less each year. Town Meeting voters have approved $162,000 over two years for economic development and tourism promotion, of which about $50,000 remains available.

Roche and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ralph Petillo both suggested using a portion of an expected $100,000 annual increase in the "tourist tax" for marketing expenses. "We should invest the growth to continue the growth," said Roche.

Also on the agenda, but with inconclusive results, was a proposal to hire a coordinator who would locate new attractions while helping promote existing events.

"The one thing we're missing here is the plan," commented Robert Romeo, a veteran real-estate broker, commercial property owner and Chamber of Commerce leader. "The BVB is not the answer to the whole plan, just a segment of it." He strongly advocated a paid, professional coordinator, marketing company or organization hired by the town.

Responding to a query by Gibson as to why the 180-member Chamber shouldn't be the marketing leader, Petillo said he could present such a proposal to the board of directors.

But Town Manager Gregory Federspiel asked rhetorically: "Why hasn't that happened in the past?"

Romeo replied, "It's just not going to happen, each of us is involved in his own thing."

The board also discussed the possibility of creating a Business Improvement District in the downtown historic village -- a first for Berkshire County -- that could be organized by a supermajority of local business owners to take over marketing and economic-development issues. A more detailed discussion is expected at the Dec. 12 Selectmen's meeting.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.


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