October 24, 2016

Not your grandfather's Central Mass.

Christina Andreoli sits with the master brewer and co-founder of Wormtown Brewery, Ben Roesch, in the brewery's new tasting room in its Shrewsbury Street location. Through September, Wormtown estimates 85,000 visitors came into the tasting room since it opened in 2015 with more than 125,000 people expected to come to the tasting room by year's end.
One effort to reach beyond the typical Central Massachusetts visitor was POW! WOW! Worcester in August, which brought internationally-recognized mural artists such as ABOVE from Germany and Askew One of New Zealand and local talent together to paint walls around the city over the course of a week.
While most outreach is designed around a 90 mile tourism radius for Central Massachusetts, Pow Wow Worcester hit another layer of tourism by bringing that international attention, Williams said. Pacheco, who was a regional co-leader of the event, said it managed to both get locals engaged with their city and downtown for possibly the first time in a long time, but also hit that international layer.

In the year since Discover Central Massachusetts took over as the regional organization managing tourism efforts for 35 area communities, the landscape of Central Massachusetts tourism has shifted with an emphasis on sports, premier destinations and organizations reaching towards international audiences.

Last year, an act of legislation killed the Central Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau that had long been withering on the vine under a lack of funding and support from surrounding communities. The decision designated a new organization – that was eventually named Discover Central Massachusetts (DCM) – as the new standard bearer and receiver of state tourism funds for 35 communities in Central Massachusetts.

DCM President and CEO Christina Andreoli has undertaken efforts to rebuild a tourism coalition among the communities, many of which had formed their own tourism organizations. This effort has included on-the-ground connections as well as bringing representatives from various areas onto the organization's board.

That board is made up of 28 members from throughout Central Massachusetts. Jeannie Hebert, president and CEO of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, is on the board and said for a long time, promoting tourism in Central Massachusetts was a dark space. The DCM has done a great deal already to promote the region, she said, citing a collaboration that resulted in advertising in Logan Airport promoting the region.

"We have representation now, which isn't something we have had in a long time, especially in the Blackstone Valley," said Hebert.

That collaboration is already paying off for the organization, with funding having gone up from $130,000 to $189,000 from the state in the organization's second year. This funding is in addition to $500,000 from the city of Worcester as well as private funds, said Andreoli. Ultimately, the new organization is focused on bringing together marketing efforts while also soliciting events and conferences to the area.

What is Discover Central Mass?

The role of DCM is to highlight existing tourist pulls while recruiting new events to come to the area. A major component of the work DCM does is bringing tournaments to sports complexes like the New England Sports Center in Marlborough as well as various concerts, events and conferences to the DCU Center in Worcester.

"The Central Massachusetts market is a driving market. They are going to come from Boston and Connecticut and Southern New Hampshire and the edge of New York state. They are coming for family, school and to see friends and visit," said Francois Nivaud, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The new team from DCM has brought an energy to tourism in the region, Nivaud said, coming along at a transformative time for Worcester and the region through an influx of new restaurants and businesses drawing new crowds to the area.

Family, art & beer

Among these new attractions is beer, and plenty of it. In the last few years, Worcester's Wormtown Brewery has opened a tasting room; Framingham's Jack's Abby Craft Lager undertook a massive expansion that now includes a restaurant and announced plans in September for another expansion; and Rapscallion Brewery in Sturbridge has established itself as a destination with music and apple picking on site.

A 70-acre destination location from Tree House Brewing in Charlton, set for an early 2017 opening, will only add to the tasty pull of the region once it opens.

These new attractions aren't limited to beer. In the last five years, a number of family destinations and artistic institutions have arisen. While the Hanover Theatre may seem a bit old hat to those within the city, an upcoming expansion is set to turn the Theatre District into a proper destination. Up in Fitchburg, the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark resort has given families a unique reason to venture up into a Central Massachusetts community that has also seen a concerted outreach effort from its art museum.

"There's a lot of great spaces in Worcester that have some novel opportunities that are different types of business and are not your grandfather's business," said Hebert. "We want to attract a younger audience and make (tourism) sustainable."

The early figures are showing small positive returns from these efforts. Tourism spending in Central Massachusetts increased from $504 million in 2014 to $523 million in 2015, even as DCM was only got up and running in August 2015. Last year, the industry employed 3,306 people, up from 3,220 employees in 2014.

Attracting untraditional visitors

Kyla Pacheco is the co-founder of Action! Worcester, which has the goal of connecting college students and professionals to the city. She has been conducting surveys at city events as part of an Americans for the Arts' Arts & Economic Prosperity Study. As part of those surveys, she has gone to many events throughout the city.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for those who know Worcester, Pacheco said many visitors are coming in for cultural events or even just to visit friends and family in the community. As Worcester continues to develop its night and restaurant scenes, people who would not traditionally be considered tourists are becoming increasingly interested in visiting. Once they are here, she said, they get hooked.

"We've got a movement where when people come in and experience one thing… It's hard not to want to check something else out or be near something else you want to check out later," Pacheco said.

The entire city, from businesses to cultural organizations to officials, also are pulling in the same direction, she said, and it shows to those who visit the community.

"There's a real growing together… so that there is a common agenda and that is to make Central Massachusetts a great place to live work make and play. Each of us has our own niche of where we fit in," said Erin Williams, Worcester's cultural development officer and the executive director of the Worcester Cultural Coalition.

Standing out from the three B's

Pushing Central Massachusetts forward will be about attracting and supporting events of a similar scale as POW! WOW! Worcester in August, Andreoli said.

"We want to attract planners and organizations," she said. "Our goal is to market those (events) to a wider and more diverse audience to grow that market share for the region."

Ultimately, all efforts will be about the elbow grease the region is willing to put into the effort, said Hebert.

"We're never going to be one of the three B's: Boston, Berkshires and beaches, so we have to strive harder and we have to be the best," Hebert said.


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