Tourism contributes more than $1 billion in annual economic impact throughout 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. He examined survey data from visitors to 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 2022, the cumulative economic impact from tourism reached $1.3 billion for the Pioneer Valley.
“What really makes Western Mass special is that we have something for everyone,” said Mary Kay Wydra, 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.”
Although the study didn’t break down the impacts on individual counties or municipalities, Wydra pointed to several attractions that bring tourists to different parts of the region. For Hampden County, which includes the cities of Springfield and Holyoke, popular attractions 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 a point of attraction for visitors, while Franklin County features popular outdoor activities including Berkshire East in Charlemont.
“We’re a compact area, 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 by domestic travelers contributed $160 million in revenue to all municipalities in Hampshire County, an increase of 22 % from 2021. This brought the district back to nearly 100% of the level of spending before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were really over the moon about it,” Jackson said. “It’s phenomenal that people are ready to hit the road again.”
Jackson said the two main draws for tourism in the county are outdoor recreation and the arts and culture scenes in Northampton and surrounding towns. Music venues are prominent throughout the county, including The Drake in Amherst, the Marigold Theater in Easthampton and the Northampton Academy of Music, and numerous festivals take place throughout the year.
With the re-opening of the venerable Iron Horse Music Hall in May, the amount of live entertainment is only expected to increase further.
“Almost every night of the week, there’s live music, and it’s not just one genre, it’s in 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 on hotels, retail or restaurants, reached $872 million. Tourists generated an additional $136 million in tax revenue across all area municipalities, and overnight visitors tended to spend about three times more than day trippers.
Jackson also said more overnight visitors will increase the amount of tourism spending in Hampshire County. Northampton is currently home to several notable hotels, including the Northampton Hotel and Fairfield Inn and Suites, with another hotel planned for the former Daily Hampshire Gazette site at 115 Conz St.
But Jackson also credited some smaller inns, such as the Old Mill Inn in Hatfield and the Boltwood Inn in Amherst, for offering more of a country charm that draws visitors.
“People visit because of the cozy inns, especially during the winter,” Jackson said. “But they get booked up year-round because they attract a lot of cyclists, and we have a really nice bike path that goes from Easthampton through Northampton, all the way to Amherst.”
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 important sources of tourism were the cities of Philadelphia, Hartford, Providence and Albany.
“That was fun for us to see,” Wydra said of those spots. “Because that’s where we spend most of our marketing money.”
The study also showed that the tourism industry supported more than 11,400 jobs in the three counties – an increase from last year and a sign of increased tourism in the region.
“For many people, working in hospitality and tourism is their first job,” Wydra said. “Some people stay in it and there is 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 release of the study came at a time when the hospitality sector in the region continues to navigate a post-COVID-19 environment that caused major disruptions to the industry.
Alexander MacDougall can be reached at [email protected].