Trying new strategies to resist a downturn
Tourist-related businesses are using e-mails, collaborations
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Updated: 05/18/2009 11:11:37 AM EDT
Sunday, May 17
PITTSFIELD — Tourist-related business in the Berkshires should no longer go it alone.
To be successful in the current economic downturn, businesses need to collaborate, cross-promote, and rely on technology — particularly e-mail and the Internet.
A panel that included representatives of several tourist-related venues discussed those strategies and others last week at monthly luncheon sponsored by the Berkshire Visitors Bureau.
One of the most successful examples of the collaborations cited has been the "American Icons" admission program that allows visitors to purchase joint admission to four cultural institutions — Chesterwood and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge; The Mount in Lenox; and Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock.
Ellen Spear, president and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village, said she and Laurie Norton Moffatt, her counterpart at the Norman Rockwell Museum, came up with the idea last year while looking for ways for ways to attract more visitors to their sites.
Chesterwood, and The Mount were included because they have similar themes and are near each other, Spear said. Chesterwood, a few miles from the Rockwell Museum, was the summer home of sculptor Daniel Chester French. The Mount was author Edith Wharton’s former summer residence.
The plan allows visitors to purchase joint admission to either two or four of those venues, and receive discounted admission at each site. The policy is spelled out on a small pamphlet that resembles a large bookmark.
"It’s a very simple concept," Spear said, holding up the bookmark, "and it can be explained in this amount of space. We were all willing to promote each other, and we all use the same protocol."
Spear said the policy was "such a raging success" last year, that the four partners decided to do it again this year. The joint admission policy began on May 1 and is good until Oct. 1.
"We’re all seeing visitation rates rise because of it," Spear said.
Attempts by press time to get visitation numbers were unsuccessful.
The strategies are important because the number of Americans taking vacations is expected to be down this summer, according to a new poll conducted in April by GtK Roper Public Affairs & Media. A third of those surveyed said they have already canceled at least one trip this year because of financial woes.
The poll, reported by the Associated Press last week, found that only 42 percent of Americans are planning a leisure trip this summer, a drop from the 49 percent who said they planned to take a summer vacation in an AP poll conducted four years ago.
In the Berkshires, lodging establishments need to use a variety of strategies to be successful, said Stan Rosen the owner of the Hampton Terrace Bed & Breakfast in Lenox.
Rosen said he markets his bed & breakfast by stressing the Berkshires first and his establishment second. To attract visitors, Rosen said he sends out a newsletter five times a year, and also writes a daily blog. He updated his Web site this winter, adding all new photography, an expensive gamble that paid off.
"My January-to-April business is 50% higher than what I did last year," Rosen said.
He also responds to the occasional negative review of the inn that visitors post on travel Web sites. Some of his responses have generated more business.
"I can’t tell you how many people tell me we chose your inn because of the way you responded," Rosen said.
He also sends e-mails to guests after they leave.
"I try and create a reason for them to come back, Rosen said."
Bruce Singer, who owns the Devonfield Inn in Lee, said he has found that people who normally stay between four and seven days have shortened their visits to three to four days. Singer said he is "seeing a lot of softness" in bookings between Mondays and Wednesdays.
"We need to find a way to build the experience during mid-week," he said.
Rosen said that his bookings so far are substantially ahead of where they were last summer.
"I think it’s a matter of getting the message out," he said.
Restauranteur Nancy Tho-mas, who runs Mezze in Willi-amstown, Cafe Latino in North Adams, and allium in Great Barrington, said she cross-promotes all three of her eateries "wildly" with e-mail. Details about one restaurant can be found on another’s Web site, Thomas said. She also promotes drinks that are named after cultural venues, including one called "Jacob’s Pillow."
"We want to be part of the community and a partner to the attractions and inns," Thomas said.
Julianne Boyd, the artistic director of the Barrington Stage Company, said the theater company has instituted several cost-saving measures under the theme "Affordable Theater for All" that make it easier for people to attend performances. Boyd said she also makes use of the Internet.
"I think if we’re going to reach young people we really have to use more of the social media," Boyd said. "Translated from what Stan said to theater, we’re doing exactly the same thing."
Carolyn Edwards, the senior marketing manager for the Prime Outlets in Lee, said tourists see the retail mall as complementing their visits to cultural venues.
"We’re not the primary destination," Edwards said. "We’re an add-on. When we go out and talk about us, we talk about the Berkshires."
Outlet malls haven’t been hit as hard by the economic downturn as other Berkshire venues that rely on tourism, she said.
"The good thing about the retail outlet business is that we were a bit more prepared for the downturn because everyone wants a value," Edwards said.