This column is the second in a series that speaks with cluster collaborators. Lindsey Schmid, 1Berkshire’s Senior Vice President of Tourism & Marketing, sat down with hospitality and tourism thought leaders—Kristy Edmunds, MASS MoCA’s new Director; Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality; Jenny Hansell, President of Berkshire Natural Resource Council; and Kate Macguire, Artistic Director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG)—to discuss the future of tourism in our region, along with new trends that may affect this industry both long term and short.
Lindsey: Share with us your role at your organization and one thing that truly excites you about being in the tourism industry.
Jenny: I’m the President of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. We protect ridgelines, river corridors, farms, and forests throughout the county, and help people get out into nature by building and maintaining trails, and by creating new ways to invite and welcome people onto the land.
Kristy: My title is Director of Strategic Communications and Advancement at MASS MoCA. For me, it’s always been such a privilege to work in a field that brings people so much joy in an area with such incredible creative talent and energy, not to mention natural beauty. To be able to live here is to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Sarah: I am the Chief of Keeping Everything Moving Forward With Positive Energy and A Smile On My Face [at Main Street Hospitality]. Not sure what that acronym is but that is what I do every day, and I take the role very seriously. Being a third-generation innkeeper comes with a tremendous responsibility that I am grateful to have. It’s exciting to come to work because we get to serve people every day, 365 days a year, and not one of those days is the same.
Kate: The Berkshires is a premiere cultural destination—an intersection for nature and the arts. We know that the arts and nature feed our souls, and—at least in my history on this planet—right now this nurturing could not be more important. I have been with Berkshire Theatre Group since March 1995. We are on our way to celebrating 100 years of providing theater and entertainment, beginning with the founding of the Stockbridge campus in 1928. During that time, a great cluster of institutions has grown around us in celebration of the arts. The industry of tourism in the Berkshires is not only a primary engine of economic activity, but a critical need in terms of our health and democracy. The impact of what we do in the arts cannot be measured in terms of singularity. A seat in a theater, or a walk in the woods, can have an immeasurable impact on the well-being of our society. As the Artistic Director and CEO, I am more dedicated than ever to being a part of the transformation and strengthening of the cultural landscape of the Berkshires.
Lindsey: Explain recent challenges that your industry has faced and how have you have overcome and grown from these challenges.
Sarah: Travel fosters human connection, growth, and happiness, and this pandemic has severely hindered much of that connection. Now we have flung open our doors again and our people are so excited to help guests create new experiences and cook amazing food and deliver incredible hospitality—oh, it makes me so happy!
Jenny: The pressure on real estate prices, especially since the pandemic, has created the potential for new challenges. There are several ways groups like ours are able to protect land. Sometimes the landowner donates the entire parcel to BNRC or local land trusts. Sometimes they choose to keep the land in the family but limit its future development through a mechanism called a conservation restriction. Another way is that we, sometimes with a partner like the state, purchase the land at or near market value. And if the value keeps going up, it makes it that much harder to protect land that may have important habitats, or gorgeous views, but also has the potential to be developed.
Lindsey: Are there any COVID pivots that have actually made your business more successful?
Kate: When I say the words “all were inspired to continue,” I say them in recognition that the work that was done to mount a 12-person musical in Pittsfield and a production in the heart of winter outside of a barn in Stockbridge inspired an entire industry to go on. Our staff and trustees received calls from around the world. Moreover, industry professionals and executives often told us that we wrote the blueprint for how to proceed with work safely in the middle of a global pandemic. The initial pivot to persevere and determine a path forward has changed all of us that work and govern BTG forever. We were already a part of an organization that had always produced art through world wars, depression, and so many other dark periods in our history, and we, with the incredible support of health officials locally and nationally, as well as the daily conversations with members of our union at Actors’ Equity Association, kept going. We met audiences and artists who were indeed groping for a measure of hope, and that fundamental reminder of what it means to be human that experiencing live theater always gives us. Now in 2022, we remain optimistic and committed profoundly to serving our community. We never take our role as a leader of the arts here in the Berkshires for granted.
Jenny: COVID had an extraordinary impact on organizations like ours. In the early days, some conservation groups, especially those with public buildings, closed altogether—even their trails were off-limits for the first few weeks and months. We saw it was crucial to keep the trails open, and we didn’t have the issues of bathrooms and water fountains. Walking in nature was literally the only thing people could do for just about all of 2020—every other public space was closed. So, people flocked to our trails, and as a result, supported us in greater numbers than ever before. We’ve found that to be true across the sector, many groups like ours had their strongest fundraising year yet. We were so glad we could be of service to our community during that terrible time. We would get letters, emails, and phone calls by the dozens telling us that being able to be outside soothed anxiety, calmed fears, gave people a break from being cooped up, and just overall improved their lives. What could be better than providing people with that gift?
Lindsey: Describe your experience working with 1Berkshire and others in this hospitality cluster. Any collaborative initiatives in the works?
Kristy: A great example is the North Adams Exchange, which was a 2018 grassroots initiative that sought to draw visitors to MASS MoCA and downtown North Adams. A collaboration between MASS MoCA, the city, and local creative and business communities, this cohort worked together to develop initiatives such as a walking art tour, an interactive sculpture installation, and a pop-up arts retail business. It was waylaid due to the pandemic, but we’re looking forward to rekindling these kinds of creative collaborations that have the potential to make a real impact on the local economy and the well-being of the community. We also participate in a quarterly PR exchange hosted by 1Berkshire, which has been invaluable in keeping us connected on upcoming events, trends, and concerns in the region.
Sarah: We’re a small business. We own and manage eight hotels, so we believe there is strength in numbers. By partnering with 1Berkshire, we promote the region and our business grows. Our marketing dollars also go farther when we make connections in the membership. We have arts and culture partners all over the county. One of the most inspiring and rewarding parts of the job is to be able to collaborate with renowned arts groups like Jacob’s Pillow, the many museums, Tanglewood, BIFF, BTG, Shakespeare & Co. What amazing luck to be surrounded by all this incredible talent that draws millions to our region!
Lindsey: If you had a crystal ball, what would you predict for our upcoming summer season? Looking forward even more, what would you predict for the visitor economy in the Berkshires over the next few years?
Kate: The world has changed. The migration to the Berkshires from city dwellings is, no doubt, not yet complete, and more and more visitors are joining us as residents. So, I predict a booming season ahead. We are certainly encouraged by the number of audience members we are greeting at the Colonial for the fabulous lineup of musicians coming in the next few weeks. Our students will once again find their way to our stage for their own interpretation of the effervescent Footloose in April. Our enchanting Magic Tree House tour will also be on our stage for lovers of Mary Pope Osborne’s beloved series. Come summer, we see strong sales for Dracula and Once at the Colonial, and also the always intriguing shows at our treasured Unicorn Theatre (see https://www.berkshiretheatregroup.org/on-our-stages/ for all listings). We recognize that words matter, and the stories that need to be told help us understand what it means to be human—they are essential to our vitality. We predict visitors will want to celebrate with us in stronger numbers over the coming years. After all, we know that the Berkshires are one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, and arguably its premiere cultural destination!
Kristy: As long as COVID levels continue to decline, I’m predicting that the Berkshires are going to have one of the best summers ever. Arts and culture destinations, as well as the outdoors activities, are two of the top priorities for travelers—people are looking not just to get out of the house, but for experiences that have meaning and richness, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. This is becoming an increasingly year-round trend here in the Berkshires, as people continue to discover how much we have to offer. I can’t think of another place with as many world-class museums and performing arts centers in such an incredible natural setting.
Lindsey: A big thank you to all of you for your valuable and knowledgeable insights. In my role as Senior Vice President of Tourism & Marketing, and as the Regional Tourism Council Director for the Berkshires, my team and I strive to keep 1Berkshire and our region abreast of the work of all our tourism partners. Together we are stronger, and collectively we promote a cohesive Berkshire brand. To that end, 1Berkshire has recently revamped berkshires.org in time for the high season—the quintessential planning tool for visitors, relocators, and locals. This tool, coupled with all our other promotions, continues to keep the Berkshires top of mind for travelers. We hope you will all join us in welcoming our visitors this summer and beyond and help us drive prosperity to the amazing place we all call home.
We know that visitors to the Berkshires come for many reasons, but some of the most important are outdoor recreation and scenic beauty, as well as culture. It’s very common for people to take a walk on a trail or stop at a beautiful view, then head to dinner, a play, or concert. It’s exciting to be part of the vibrant community that is building a strong Berkshires.
View the full article on The Berkshire Edge.