Tourism rebounds from pandemic, with Franklin County’s outdoor recreation seen as draw

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-31-2023 4:56 PM

Tourism spending finally rebounded from the pandemic in 2022, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, with Franklin County seeing $79 million of the total $24.2 billion that was injected into the state economy.

By comparison, in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts saw $20.8 billion in tourism spending. The $24.2 billion comes from 21 million domestic and international travelers, and has supported 131,200 jobs.

“Tourism plays such an important role in our state’s economic vision,” Executive Office of Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao said in a statement, “and we’re excited to see the industry had a positive impact in 2022, generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in spending.”

Jessye Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, which also acts as the Franklin County Regional Tourism Council, explained that with the area’s world-class fly fishing and artisan beverage scene, tourists come for the Franklin County experience.

Much of the tourism in the county comes from highly successful businesses such as Yankee Candle Village, Tree House Brewing Co. and Berkshire East Mountain Resort/Zoar Outdoor. There are also several big draws from museums and public institutions like Historic Deerfield and the Bridge of Flowers, although tourism is expected to hurt next summer with the bridge’s closure for structural repairs.

“Yankee Candle Village has become a true destination, and we continue to attract guests from all around the world,” Wade Bassett, Yankee Candle Village’s director of sales and operations, wrote in an email.

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Bassett explained that when Yankee Candle Village first started in 1983 it was not a tourist destination, but slowly became an attraction for people across New England and beyond. Many families now have annual traditions of visiting the destination, and subsequently, other businesses in the area, spending their money around the county.

“The connection between fragrance and experience has created a unique and special place for families to build traditions and to enjoy everything Yankee Candle Village has to offer,” Bassett continued.

Deane explained the largest markets for tourism in the area include residents of Boston, southern Connecticut and New York. Many parents and families also end up spending their money in the area when they visit their children at the boarding schools and colleges in Franklin and Hampshire counties.

“We have clientele from all over the country,” said Steve Stoia, co-owner of Centennial House Bed and Breakfast in Northfield and co-founder of the Northfield Area Tourism and Business Association. “When you look [in the parking lot at the Northfield] Creamie, you see license plates from Vermont, Connecticut, New York and farther.”

Post-pandemic outdoors

More people began seeking outdoor adventure during the pandemic. For Franklin County, this growing interest works well with the many rivers, forests and rural landscapes the region has to offer.

“What we need to do is understand our assets,” Stoia said. “We have been marketing Northfield as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts.”

Stoia explained that Northfield has a large amount of high-quality, well-maintained trails for a town of its size, which attracts people to come to the area and spend money at local businesses.

“The rural area and sparse population of Franklin County are elements that make our business so attractive to so many people,” Nathan Marr, marketing manager for Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoor, wrote in an email.

He explained this new era of outdoor adventures has worked well for the company, allowing tourists to visit their business to experience whitewater rafting trips and get closer to nature.

Deane said a new demographic interest in Franklin County has been skiers coming from Vermont and New Hampshire to experience the outdoors that western Massachusetts has to offer.

“They are looking to escape the crowds,” she explained, saying the outdoor facilities have experienced less popularity than some other New England recreation areas.

The value of institutional support

The Franklin County Regional Tourism Council launched a ski/winter campaign advertising the outdoor industry in partnership with Berkshire East, which received 27.5 million impressions.

“The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and local visitors bureaus do a wonderful job promoting established businesses, such as ours,” Marr wrote.

The council has also partnered with four neighboring tourism groups to promote western Massachusetts. They received a $1 million grant from the state to promote the area’s “shoulder season,” or the travel period between peak and off-peak seasons.

They also created a standalone tourism website, MoretoFranklinCounty.com, which acts as a guidebook.

“I have seen firsthand the value the Franklin County chamber brings to both big and small businesses locally,” Bassett wrote. “They are the conduit to our community and continue to do amazing work driving tourists to our local towns.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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