WEST SPRINGFIELD — Western Massachusetts tourism marketers stressed to Greater Springfield mayors the importance of their industry at a June 14 roundtable talk at the Eastern States Exposition grounds.

“We’re trying to tap into you, the local officials, to empower you to be part of our mission,” said Brenda McGillicuddy, of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Explore Western Mass.
McGillicuddy was speaking to Mayors Christopher Johnson of Agawam, Domenic Sarno of Springfield and John Vieau of Chicopee.

Johnson agreed with the message of the roundtable, saying afterwards his biggest takeaway was how important tourism is to the region.

“Attractions like Six Flags, like the Big E, and not only the Big E when it’s operating in September, but all the events that they have here on a year-round basis … that adds not only to the tax coffers, but also to employment and other businesses in the area,” he said.

GSCVB President Mary Kay Wydra said the Western Massachusetts tourism industry is worth $1.3 million a year.

Citing a study by Tourism Economics, she said direct spending from regional tourism in 2022 equaled $872 million, or $2.3 million a day, and contributed $136 million to state and local taxes. The industry also supported 11,466 jobs that year, growing 7% from 2021, making it the third biggest industry in the region.

As well, the region saw 4 million visitors in 2022, the majority of whom came from the New York City and Boston areas. “Day trippers” made up 27.2% of tourists, but 72.8% stayed overnight.

GSCVB officials stressed that the region’s residents, including the mayors, needed to promote it more. McGillicudy said that studies show that Western Massachusetts residents were proud of where they live, but were less likely than tourists to promote it as a place to visit.

“We want more residents to be excited about Western Mass.,” she said. “We want them to promote Western Mass. the same way that tourists do.”

Ray Berry, founder and president of White Lion Brewing, also stressed collaboration between organizations involved in the industry, including the cities, the venues, and others.

“We can’t operate in silos,” he said. “Those days are over. We must be able to work as a collective body, to move the needle in the right direction.”

All three mayors said they supported the industry. Calling himself a “firm believer,” Sarno said it spreads money throughout the region. He also said it fills an economic gap left by people working from home, and boosts the morale of municipalities.

“I’m a big believer of it and it’s good for the bottom line or budgets, businesses, but it’s also good for the psyches of towns,” he said.

He cited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, events organized by the MGM Springfield casino, Springfield Thunderbirds games, and pride events as things that encourage visits to Springfield, the latter drawing 10,000 to 12,000 people, he said. Cultural and arts events, he said, encourage people to stay the weekend.

“Sometimes you got to spend a little money to make money. The spinoff effects are there,” he said.

Vieau said Chicopee is trying to reestablish its downtown. He cited the ongoing renovations of a library into a “flex space” for arts and entertainment; and the relocation of the farmers market to Wisniowski Park.

“That’s what really promotes tourism in Western Mass, having those wonderful experiences and people feeling safe,” he said.

He also mentioned the Post 9/11 and Service Dog Memorial Park, Chicopee’s first dog park, which honors the veterans and service dogs of the War on Terror. The park, at the entrance of the Westover Air Reserve Base, opened earlier this year.

“It’s this very unique space,” he said. “I’m hopeful when people walk through and get an opportunity to see it, they’ll talk about it someday and, again, maybe draw some people to come to Western Mass.,” he said.
“You know, the air shows are wonderful and we’re excited to have them,” he added.

Johnson told the story of how Agawam almost lost Six Flags New England in the 1990s, when its owner was debating between rebranding what was then known as Riverside Park, or building a new amusement park in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Johnson said there were traffic problems when Six Flags bought the park. He recalled a restaurant owner saying he wanted Six Flags to “go somewhere else.” Johnson said he told him to ask his customers about the park. Within a few weeks, the owner, Johnson said, learned that local electricians, masons and others had work because of the park.

“I cannot think of a better corporate citizen than Six Flags New England,” he said.

Peter Carmichael, president of Six Flags New England, said the park hires 3,000 seasonal employees, 80% of whom live in Massachusetts. Over two-thirds reside in either Agawam, Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, West Springfield or Westfield.

After the roundtable, Johnson said the Opal Inn & Suites, Shield Hotel’s 42-room hotel proposed for 1422 Main St., Agawam, will benefit the town’s tourism industry by giving visitors to town a place to stay, which the town currently lacks.

“There’s a need, so it’ll fill that need,” he said.