‘Looking for the staycation’: Worcester County relying on locals to supplement fall tourism with trips to pumpkin patches, breweries, restaurants

What lies beyond the pandemic? MassForward is MassLive’s series examining the journey of Massachusetts’ businesses through and beyond the coronavirus pandemic.


Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Worcester’s largest venue, the DCU Center, has canceled 212 events through the end of the year.

More than 370,000 fewer people will congregate around the facility this year due to nearly every event being wiped out by the virus, according to Smith Travel Research.

The number likely climbs closer to about 700,000 when including all of the events across Central Massachusetts through the end of 2020.

Fewer events lead to fewer hotel bookings. Restaurants see their out-of-town visits decrease. The same is true for retail shops.

“The fall is usually a strong time [for tourism] because of the amount of conventions and meetings that take place,” Executive Director of Discover Central Massachusetts Monique Messier said. “The attendance that brings into the region and Worcester is huge.”

Massachusetts requires visitors from certain high-risk coronavirus states to either quarantine or receive a coronavirus test upon arrival.

With that in mind, Discover Central Massachusetts, as it did in the summer, has focused on residents already living in the area to boost tourism in the fall. Unlike the summer, though, many families usually remain in Worcester County rather than vacationing to Cape Cod or Maine – even during a pandemic – in the summer.

“The activities that are around are still robust,” Messier said. “There is still plenty to do, but with the winter coming in, fall will continue to go on but when the winter comes you’ll see dips happen.”

Discover Central Mass created the “Pumpkin Passport” to remind people living in Worcester County of all the fall activities occurring. Many, if not all, are outside too.

The Pumpkin Passport grows daily with activities from pumpkin patches in Douglas, pumpkin carving in Barre and craft class in Worcester.

Central Massachusetts is a destination in many ways for pumpkin beer with Worcester’s breweries offering their own takes on Oktoberfest brews and pumpkin ales. The list also features some of the city’s best restaurants offering pumpkin-inspired dishes like Birchtree Bread Company and Quinn’s Irish Pub

While the Hilton Garden Inn, located across the street from the DCU Center, continues to see its business travelers decline, it has experienced a bump in the number of local customers.

“We are seeing some really nice pick up in the leisure market,” Director of Sales & Marketing Hilton Garden Inn Emily Mulhane said. “We are seeing some people who are looking for the staycation. They’re from the area but they want to get out of their house.”

Across the state, museums, libraries, roller rinks, arcades and performance venues were allowed to open to 50% capacity is located in a low-risk community. Low risk is determined by the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. Any community with 8 or more per 100,000 people testing positive, such as Worcester, is deemed high risk.

Despite rising case totals in Worcester, across Massachusetts and the country, Messier said most event organizers are holding out hope that by mid-2021 in-person conventions will resume.

“They are hoping they can have their events,” Messier said. “I would say spring and then the rest of the year, you’re seeing a lot of dates are booking up and being put on hold.”

Many of the conventions are now virtually conducting events. In many ways, online events are cheaper for both the host and the attendees. However, Messier is confident that the conventions that power Worcester tourism will return.

“I think you’re going to see a big shift in the industry,” Messier said. “I don’t think that meetings are going to go away. Face to face is always the best, but I think this is going to be a new added element to the industry.”

For now, Discover Central Massachusetts plans to skate through the fall and into the winter with outdoor and engaging activities.

Fewer ideas exist as the calendar turns to December and January in an area accustomed to below freezing temperatures accompanied by snow and freezing rain.

“With the cold coming it will be tough,” Messier said. “It will be a hard winter. Our small businesses, our hotels, they will need support and they will need our locals to support them.”

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