LENOX — The summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra has made the Berkshires a premier destination for tourists year after year since 1937.
But what would a summer in the Berkshires look like without one of the area’s biggest seasonal revenue sources that draws nearly 350,000 people annually?
According to a 2018 study on the economic impact of Tanglewood, it could mean the loss of a $100 million impact to the Berkshires, which is known for its cultural arts programs and its historic lodging establishments.
And although no official announcement has been made by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for the status of the Tanglewood summer season, the threat of a global pandemic could play a tune of financial hardship for local businesses that see a rise in traffic during the summer.
In response to the global pandemic of coronavirus, the BSO has cancelled all performances at Symphony Hall and the Linde Center at Tanglewood through Saturday, May 2, in accordance with the state and federal recommendations.
A decision on the summer season at Tanglewood, which includes a July 4 performance by James Taylor, will be made by mid-May, according to the latest BSO announcement.
“The Boston Symphony Orchestra is in daily conversations to assess the advisability of proceeding with all its upcoming programming over the next few months, including the 2020 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular and the 2020 Tanglewood season, in connection with the spread of COVID-19,” reads a statement from the BSO. “We are currently weighing all the possible scenarios for these major summertime offerings and are planning to make a final decision about them by mid-May.”
A 2018 economic impact study by Steven Sheppard, a professor of economics at Williams College, found that the summer music festival helps generate $103 million annually in the state and Berkshire region.
The study also revealed that of the more than 350,000 people attending Tanglewood concerts each summer, nearly 84 percent of visitors come from outside Berkshire County, with almost half of all visitors coming from outside of Massachusetts. The average visitor to Tanglewood spends 3.8 days in the Berkshires, according to the study.
And out-of-towners didn’t limit their stay to just Tanglewood.
Sheppard’s study also found that 13.4 percent of Tanglewood patrons also visit the Normal Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, and 14.2 percent of patrons also visit the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.
“As a major cultural attraction for the region, Tanglewood is responsible for significant amounts of local employment, labor earnings, tax revenues and economic output,” Sheppard noted in the 2018 study. “Our economic model illustrates the wide variety of jobs that exist in the region because of Tanglewood. This includes many jobs in economic sectors not normally associated with cultural tourism, including hospitals, physician services, banking and business administration where labor earnings easily exceed $70,000 per year.”
Under Gov. Charlie Baker’s order of non-essential businesses to close, which is in effect until Monday, May 18, both the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Clark Art Institute are temporarily closed.
The surrounding Berkshire communities also act as a seasonal host for traveling music lovers and musicians performing at the Tanglewood estate, that lies in both Stockbridge and Lenox.
But finding a temporary place to stay may prove to be beyond the bounds of possibility with some area hotels and inns deciding to close their doors for the immediate future due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Lenox, nearby lodging establishments including the Rockwood Inn, The Ponds at Foxhollow, and the Brook Farm Inn closed their doors in line with the mandated closure of non-essential businesses by Baker.
The economic pinch will also be felt by Berkshire residents who offer temporary residencies via Airbnb, which enable them to earn seasonal income by hosting guests from around the world.
A 2017 report from Airbnb found that temporary lodging hosts benefit greatly during the summer months when tourists flock to the Berkshires for the annual music festival.
Airbnb hosts in the Berkshires collectively earned nearly $2 million by sharing their space between June 16, 2017 and September 3, 2017 with Tanglewood performers and patrons, according to the study.
A total of 10,620 Airbnb guests arrivals occurred during the summer of 2017 — a 370 percent increase from 2014 — according to the 2017 study.
In a virtual town hall hosted by state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, with UMass Dartmouth professor Michael Goodman, on Friday, April 17 via Zoom video conferencing software, the two discussed the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the commonwealth and in the Berkshires.
Hinds, the chair of the Senate Revenue Committee, said that programs are in place to help small businesses and institutions, like the Small Business Administration and the Paycheck Protection Program, but called for more help for local businesses in what he called the “gathering economy.”
“Hotels, tourism and the arts … it’s the gathering economy in a way. And you could also add small businesses on Main Street to that,” Hinds said. “It is the case that my office is looking how to go through the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism to create a new fund because it’s clearly the case that not only are these arts institutions impacted, but every restaurant in the area and every hotel in the area as well.”
Goodman said he didn’t have any “good answers” for Hinds, but added that the Berkshire County local economy generally relies heavily on people from New York.
“Our neighbors are having even an even tougher time than we are and the restrictions have those impacts,” Goodman said. “I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that it’s going to be a brutal summer.”
1Berkshire, the official Regional Economic Development Organization and Regional Tourism Council of Berkshire County, declined to comment on the impacts of future announcements or decisions, including the future of the Tanglewood summer season.
In an effort to entertain and engage their online audience, BSO has launched “BSO at Home” to offer online presentations, on-demand streaming services, and behind-the-scenes Youtube videos during the temporary hiatus of live performances.
Since the launch of the online initiative on Monday, March 23, visits to BSO’s website are up nearly 90 percent, according to Bernadette Horgan, BSO’s director of public relations. On-demand streaming of BSO’s concert performed at Symphony Hall on Sunday, Feb. 16 has gathered more than 16,000 views since the launch of “BSO at Home.” The free concert was performed at Symphony Hall after the BSO’s East Asia tour was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The BSO also hopes to create content to fill the void left by the cancellation of the Boston Pops spring season, by building on the success of the “BSO at Home” initiative. A new series of Pops-oriented content, “Boston Pops at Home” is expected to debut in early May, according to Horgan.