Berkshire Visitors Bureau launches 'Taste Berkshires' food tourism initiative

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PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County is known more for its cultural attractions than its culinary expertise.

But two county organizations believe that those who come to the Berkshires for the culture would also travel here to visit its dining establishments if they knew a little more about them.

With a little financial backing from the state, the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the Berkshire Farm & Table organization have teamed up to launch "Taste Berkshires," an initiative aimed at marketing the Berkshires as a year-round destination for food experiences.

The BVB received a $75,000 grant from the state Office of Travel and Tourism to launch the initiative, according to President and CEO Lauri Klefos. She said the state is interested in the program because it provides a new message for travelers.

The campaign is scheduled to begin in January, and will include a media reception in New York City in March, at which food writers will be given a meal prepared by a team of Berkshire County chefs who have cooked at the James Beard House for the last five years.

"The chefs would stay an extra day in New York City," Klefos said. "We've invited national food writers to the dinner, and we will talk to them about experiencing the Berkshires."

Klefos said Taste Berkshires also plans to hold other events in Boston and New York, and hopes to increase visibility to the area via food bloggers.

"The purpose is to introduce people in both of those markets who haven't been here before," Klefos said. "Twenty-seven million people travel now on a food-related experience.

"It's not a new geographical market, but it's a new message," she said. "We hope it brings young people."

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Berkshire Farm & Table is an organization of culinary artisans, farmers and food makers that creates and produces local food events, markets those events to the public, and uses them to help build the region as a destination for culinary tourism, according to the organization's website.

Angela Cardinali, the group's founder, said her organization has been participating in exchanges with the Berkshire Visitors Bureau for the past few years.

Cardinali characterized the partnership between the two organizations as a "first step" toward the evolution of the message that the Berkshires are both a "source and a destination" for food.

"We have a strong local audience for food," Cardinali said. "But I do think there's an audience of people who come to the Berkshires on a regular basis who are not aware of the food resources."

Culinary tourism, now known as food tourism, is growing exponentially every year, according to the International Culinary Tourism Association, and is a $52 billion a year industry in the United States alone, according to the World Food Trade Association. Those who travel on food-related junkets spend almost $100,000 in American money per minute, 24 hours a day, on food and drink while traveling in the United States.

The majority of food travelers are not wealthy -- they have only average to slightly higher incomes, according to the World Food Trade Association. But they are mostly middle-aged to younger, and tend to be better educated than other travelers.

Klefos said the Berkshires aren't currently known as a destination for culinary travelers, but that many people who travel here don't know about the county's locally grown food movement and the number of restaurants that participate in it.

"We talk about dining all the time in the Berkshires as a place to travel to, but we don't make the connection to locally grown," she said.

"Our visitors here are very sophisticated travelers," she said. "A culinary experience is a great way to attract them."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
(413) 496-6224


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