Tourism numbers still lag behind pre-recession levels

Posted
Sunday October 24, 2010

The crowds were similar to previous years, and there was a slight gain in total spending. That's the consensus on the just-concluded peak period for tourism in the Berkshires.

The crowds were similar to previous years, and there was a slight gain in total spending. That's the consensus on the just-concluded peak period for tourism in the Berkshires.

According to statistics tracked by the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, the number of year-round visitors remains at about 2.5 million -- most of them in summer and fall -- and visitor spending increased to $337.2 million from $319 million.

"We had a better summer than last year," said Laurie Klefos, president and CEO of the visitors bureau. "But it still hasn't gone back to pre-recession levels. This was the summer of slow recovery."

Meanwhile, the visitors bureau reported that the hospitality industry employs about 11,000 people and injects more than $500 million into the area's economy.

"Overall, we've had a gain of about 10 percent for June through August in room occupancy," Klefos said.

According to Smith Travel Research, which monitors 24 major inns in Berkshire County, occupancy averaged just under 63 percent in July and August, compared with last summer's 60 percent, after a strong increase in June over the same month last year.

Mixed results came in from restaurants and retailers.

"What I'm hearing is that they saw more people, but spending levels were less," Klefos said. "What hasn't changed is that people are still cautious when it comes to spending. We've tried to be cautiously optimistic, but like other resort areas, we haven't seen the rebound in spending that we would have liked."

State support for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau plummeted from $500,000 last year to $100,000 this year. Bureau members helped fund advertising and promotion in the New York and Boston metro areas, where most overnight visitors live.

The visitors bureau also is focusing on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

Klefos acknowledged the Berkshires "were blessed with great weather and really strong programming" this past summer.

Highlights included the three James Taylor-Carole King shows at Tanglewood over the July 4 weekend, the Wilco alt-rock Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA in mid-August, and the seasonlong Picasso exhibit at the Clark Museum in Williamstown, which broke attendance records.

Significant gains were notched at Jacob's Pillow Dance in Becket and at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, which reports a 15 percent increase in visitations.

Berkshire County remains primarily a three-season resort area, with spring still a challenge, Klefos said. Berkshires tourism at a glance

Annual visitors: 2.5 million (80 percent in summer and fall)

Direct visitor spending: $337.2 million (2009), $319 million (2008)

Total economic impact: $536.1 million (2009), $507 million (2008)

Hospitality industry employment: 11,000 (estimate for 2010 and 2009)

Annual hospitality industry payroll: $91.7 million (2009), $85 million (2008)

Local taxes generated (rooms and meals): $8.9 million (2009 and 2008)


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