Our Opinion: Tourism pays off for Berkshire County

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We won't know for another year if the increase in visitor spending in 2017 in Berkshire County continued into this year but there is good reason to believe it did. Spending has increased for eight straight years, the county's well-established cultural tourism venues are marketing themselves aggressively and people are obviously responding.

Tourism produced $827 million in spending last year, an eight percent rise from the $764 million spent in 2016. In recent years, tourism spending has a rule increased between 1 and 2 percent. The tourism dollars figures were released by the Massachusetts Office of Tourism, which will release the 2018 figures next December.

The opening of Building 6 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams in June of 2017 was certainly a factor in this boom, and was one of a number of expansion projects undertaken by Berkshire tourism institutions last year, as was noted by 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler (Eagle, Dec. 26). The visitors to the Berkshires' museums, historic sites, theaters, music venues, ski areas and other outdoor recreational venues not only generate revenue for those entities they open their wallets at local bars, restaurants and other retailers and stay at local hotels, motels and B&Bs. The influx of visitors is reflected in the construction of new hotels and a luxury condominium project at Canyon Ranch in Lenox.

The increase in revenue dollars not only attests to the appeal of the Berkshires' tourism venues but their success in marketing themselves to a wide audience. Those venues have worked with each other and with 1Berkshire, which includes the former Berkshire Visitors Bureau, aggressively in recent years to encourage visitors not only to come to the Berkshires to enjoy a specific attraction like a play or concert but to expand their visit to museums and to the enjoyment of beautiful Berkshire scenery.

Good news on tourism is often accompanied by concerns that the county is forgetting its traditional manufacturing base and becoming a service economy. However, this is not an either/or proposition, and while the glory days of General Electric and Sprague Electric aren't coming back, the county has a healthy base of small manufacturers who are critical to the economy. The new Taconic High School and efforts by Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams will help prepare Berkshire students for jobs with those local manufacturers. Tourism will play a role in this effort if a few visitors decide to move here to start small businesses or take a job with one. Other than a few traffic delays at certain times of the year there is no real downside to a boom in tourism — and ideally the boom of 2017 continued into the year that is now coming to an end.

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