Report: Tourism brings $1.3B to three-county region

Kelsey Wilson speaks to the Northampton Rotary Club at the Old Mill in Hatfield.

Kelsey Wilson speaks to the Northampton Rotary Club at the Old Mill in Hatfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Darren Chevalier, a family member of the owners of the Old Mill in Hatfield, works on a repair at the inn on Monday afternoon.

Darren Chevalier, a family member of the owners of the Old Mill in Hatfield, works on a repair at the inn on Monday afternoon.

Kelsey Wilson speaks to the Northampton Rotary Club at the Old Mill in Hatfield.

Kelsey Wilson speaks to the Northampton Rotary Club at the Old Mill in Hatfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

A map at the entrance of the Old Mill in Hatfield shows all the places people have come from to stay at the inn.

A map at the entrance of the Old Mill in Hatfield shows all the places people have come from to stay at the inn. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

A map at the entrance of the Old Mill in Hatfield shows all the places people have come from to stay at the inn.

A map at the entrance of the Old Mill in Hatfield shows all the places people have come from to stay at the inn. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-12-2024 4:55 PM

Modified: 02-12-2024 8:34 PM


Tourism contributes more than $1 billion in annual economic impact across Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties, according to a recent study released by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The study was the first of its kind released by the bureau, which works with regional chambers of commerce and tourism councils to help promote the region. It examined survey data from visitors to the three western Massachusetts counties, as well as looking at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and lodging and meals tax receipts from various municipalities, among other sources. It found that for the year 2022, the cumulative economic impact from tourism totaled $1.3 billion for the Pioneer Valley.

“What really makes western Mass special is that we have something for everyone,” said Mary Kay Wydra, the president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Obviously we’re New England and we have the four seasons, but we have great indoor and outdoor attractions.”

Though the study did not break down the impacts on individual counties or municipalities, Wydra pointed out several attractions that bring tourists to different parts of the region. For Hampden County, which includes the cities of Springfield and Holyoke, popular draws include the MGM Springfield casino resort and the Six Flags New England theme park. For Hampshire County, the scenic and walkable downtowns of Northampton and Amherst serve as an attractive point to visitors, while Franklin County features popular outdoor activities including Berkshire East in Charlemont.

“We’re a compact area, in between the Connecticut and Vermont borders,” Wydra said. “You can do a lot within an hour’s drive.”

Vince Jackson, executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, said that for 2022, the most recent year available, tourism spending from domestic travelers contributed $160 million in revenue across all municipalities in Hampshire County, a 22% increase from 2021. That brought the county back to nearly 100% of the spending level before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were really over the moon about that,” Jackson said. “It’s phenomenal that people are ready to get on the road again.”

Jackson said the two highlights for tourism in the county are outdoor recreation activities and the arts and culture scenes in Northampton and surrounding towns. Music venues are prominent across the county, including The Drake in Amherst, the Marigold Theater in Easthampton and the Academy of Music in Northampton, and numerous festivals that occur throughout the year.

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With the reopening of the venerated Iron Horse Music Hall in May, the amount of live entertainment is only expected to grow further.

“Almost any night of the week, there’s live music, and it’s not just one genre, it’s across a variety of genres,” Jackson said. “So we’re bringing in different audiences.”

The Convention and Visitors Bureau study showed that 4 million visitors came to the region during 2022, and that direct spending by visitors, such as for hotels, and retail or in restaurants, totaled $872 million. Tourists generated a further $136 million in tax revenues across all municipalities in the area, and overnight visitors tended to outspend day-trippers nearly threefold.

Jackson also said more overnight visitors would increase the amount of tourism spending in Hampshire County. Northampton is currently home to several prominent hotels, including Hotel Northampton and the Fairfield Inn and Suites, with another hotel planned at the former site of the Daily Hampshire Gazette at 115 Conz St.

But Jackson also credited several smaller inns, such as the Old Mill Inn in Hatfield and the Boltwood Inn in Amherst, for providing a more countryside charm that attracts visitors.

“People do visit because of the cozy inns, especially during the winter,” Jackson said. “But they are booked year-round because they attract a lot of bikers, and we have a really nice biking trail that goes from Easthampton through Northampton, all the way to Amherst.”

Meaghan Killeen, one of the co-owners of the Old Mill Inn, says it has undergone several renovations since the new owners purchased it in 2021, revamping it to reflect its history. She said the inn attracts visitors looking for New England foliage and parents whose children attend the five colleges and the region’s boarding schools, some coming from as far away as Australia and Africa. 

“People are looking less for commercial hotels and more for smaller, boutique-style inns,” Killeen said. “We’ve been incredibly busy.”

According to the Visitors Bureau study, tourists from Boston and New York City made up the largest share of visitors to the Pioneer Valley, together accounting for more than half of all visitors. Other significant sources of tourism were the cities of Philadelphia, Hartford, Providence and Albany.

“That was gratifying for us to see,” Wydra said of those locations. “Because that’s where we spend the majority of our marketing money.”

The study also showed that the tourism industry supported more than 11,400 jobs across the three counties — an increase from the previous year and a signal of growing tourism in the region.

“For a lot of people, working in hospitality and tourism is their very first job,” Wydra said. “Some people stay in it, and there’s a career ladder. They can follow others and move on.”

The study was commissioned by the bureau in early 2023, with research conducted by Tourism Economics, a tourism industry firm. The study’s release came at a time when the region’s hospitality sector continues to navigate a post-COVID-19 environment that caused large disruptions to the industry.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.