Destination: Hampshire County. Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday signed an economic development bill that will improve Hampshire County's ability to attract tourism dollars by setting up a state-funded, locally controlled council to market the area.

    For Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, this represents the culmination of 24 years of effort to get Hampshire County recognized as its own tourism destination separate from Franklin County and the Springfield area.

    The county has many campuses, museums, festivals, summer theaters and other attractions and deserves a larger percentage of the estimated $15 billion spent on tourism annually in Massachusetts.

    Two years ago, Smith College President Carol Christ convened a summit in Northampton on ways to promote cultural tourism in the region. A committee that arose out of that summit has identified the arts, education and agriculture as the potential drivers for this effort. Collaboration by museums throughout the county has set a standard for what Rosenberg has called the "creative economy" of the county.

    When the new Hampshire County Tourism Council gets established, sometime in the next year, it should concentrate on reaching out to potential visitors and coordinating its efforts with other councils in the Pioneer Valley.

    It should promote Northampton's concerts and downtown scene and encourage campus visitors to sample the other attractions in the area.

    It should encourage visitors to the cultural destinations on the Hampshire College campus to have a meal or shop in downtown Amherst.

    Every trip to the area, and every extra day that campus visitors spend here, means more economic vitality for Hampshire County. Indirectly, that will benefit every resident.

    The money for the 13 current tourism councils in the state comes from the hotel/motel tax. Hampshire County has a large and growing number of hotel rooms, and so other parts of western Massachusetts have been benefiting from the tax dollars generated here.

    The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau have done a great job promoting tourism. Our county's new council should work with these groups on regional marketing efforts.

    The next step should be to discuss with Franklin County officials how they can work with Hampshire County to successfully launch our own council.

    When it is known how much state money will support this effort, planning can begin on what techniques would be most effective in attracting tourists. The council could consider packages that combine attractions and overnight stays, for example.

    It should also consider new strategies.

    In Amherst, everyone knows that the prime attractions, other than the campuses, are the Emily Dickinson Museum, the National Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

    Promotion of increased visitations is fine, but why not also encourage all the Jehovah's Witnesses who gather at the Mullins Center every summer to visit downtown Amherst?

    Why not encourage visitors to one destination to visit another?

    Residents of Hampshire County already know that its cultural attractions help make this a great place to live.

    Now it's time to make the case that these attractions make it a great place to visit.


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