Hampshire County unveils brand in effort to lure visitors
AMHERST — For the first time, Hampshire County has its own logo and slogan that will be used as part of a marketing campaign to attract visitors.
“Hampshire County: The Other Side of Massachusetts” was unveiled as the branding mark at a Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council hospitality event Thursday morning at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art that drew business leaders from throughout the area.
“This says, let us tell you the Massachusetts story you haven’t heard yet,” said Rob Stewart, creative director for Transit Authority Figures, a Northampton graphic design company that created the branding package.
The idea, Stewart said, is that when someone is asked if they know where Hampshire County is, their reply is often wondering it it’s close to Boston.
The logo depicts a rectangle representing Hampshire County, the only county in Massachusetts, Stewart said, that doesn’t border another state or ocean, set inside a stylized outline of the state.
Stewart said the council will be able to adapt phrases from the slogan, allowing people to explore other “sides,” such as the first print advertisement, which shows the “sweet side” of Massachusetts with a child picking strawberries at a local farm. This will be published in the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture Farm Products guide.
Stewart presented slides showing how the slogan could be used for effect in other aspects of the county, from its poetic side with Emily Dickinson and its quiet side with Calvin Coolidge to its out side, demonstrating it is a welcoming place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, and its dark side, showing the star-speckled night sky unaffected by city lights.
The Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council was established by an act of the Legislature in 2010, at the request of state Rep. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and its creation was endorsed by the Greater Northampton, Amherst Area and Greater Easthampton chambers of commerce.
Since January 2011, Suzanne Beck and Tony Maroulis, the executive directors of the Northampton and Amherst chambers, have been serving as co-directors, with the Greater Northampton chamber acting as fiscal agent.
Beck said the tourism council is working with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, other regional councils, including the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau, and people in the hospitality industry.
Beck said the council fills a void by creating a stable, long-term strategy to draw people to the area from beyond 50 miles. “Hampshire County has never been stronger in our ability to attract visitors,” Beck said.
While some destination marketing has occurred in the past, such as the Northampton hospitality industry paying for a yearlong billboard in Hartford, Conn., and businesses promoting to the LGBT community in the Boston area, Beck said the council will be much more effective in reaching potential tourists.
“From one year to the next we could never count on the money for advertising to move the needle,” Beck said.
This year the tourism council is receiving $180,000 from the state, part of $6 million divided up by the 16 regional councils. Estimates show that for every $1 in promotional spending, $40 in revenue is returned by visitors.
Maroulis said merchandise associated with the new branding, such as the tote bags handed out to guests Thursday, and eventually bumper stickers, T-shirts and sweatshirts and other products, will be used to promote the area.
“Hampshire County can now market itself and receive funds to market the county,” Maroulis said.
Maroulis said it is important to cooperate with other regional tourism councils because they are portals to bringing in more tourists. Tourism, he said, is the third largest industry in the state.
The branding for the regional tourism council is just the first step in a marketing campaign for the county as a whole.
The council hired Connelly Partners of Boston to find out the reasons visitors come to Hampshire County and to increase the number of those not associated with the colleges or relatives who live here.
Eric Carle Museum Executive Director Alexandra Kennedy, director of the regional council advisory board, said the promotional materials will be targeted to relaxation.
“Visitors feel like they’re on vacation here even when they’re only an hour from home,” Kennedy said.
Connelly discovered that people who come here feel “accepted, uninhibited, welcomed” and appreciate the diversity, the authenticity and independent spirit, the quaint New England feel, the walkable downtowns and lack of vehicle congestion.
Kennedy said this is best summed up in the idea that a visitor can shop in downtown Northampton in the morning and spend the afternoon bicycling on the Norwottuck Rail Trail.
Janet Warren, president of the Greater Northampton Chamber board and MarCom Capital in West Hatfield, is developing the three-year marketing plan.
“This is an exponential strategy, it’s really smart and it really works,” Warren said.
County-wide hotel tax revenues generated $1.37 million for both the state and local taxes in 2011, Warren said, indicating how potent tourism can be.
The website, visithampshirecounty.com, Warren said, will be the digital marketing platform for the regional tourism council. She is asking businesses to assist by linking to it and providing some of its resources to promote the county as a destination. The official launch of the destination website is slated for late May.