The Explore Holyoke website offers an online resource for events in Paper City

HOLYOKE – The City of Holyoke is looking to boost tourism with the new Explore Holyoke website, an online resource for cultural, dining and entertainment options.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Aaron Vega unveiled the website during a presentation last month at the Holyoke Senior Center. In a recent survey, 60% of respondents called for an online community calendar. Explore Holyoke now meets this need.

Vega said a community calendar has been under discussion for more than a decade.

“We are thrilled that the technology is there for us to create this website,” he said.

A Massachusetts Gaming Mitigation Fund grant supported the website, past and ongoing tourism and event studies.

CDE Vision, a Holyoke company, designed the Explore Holyoke website.

Vega wants Explore Holyoke to be the go-to resource for residents and visitors, whether they are planning a weekend getaway or looking for a farmers market, gallery opening, or dining and entertainment options.

The website offers the possibility of submitting an event online, with the aim of “populating” the community calendar. The community calendar accepts one-time and recurring events like Noche de San Juan or the weekly Race Street Farmer’s Market.

The Planning Office reviews and posts all event submissions. “We’re not looking for political events or restaurants posting their daily menus there,” Vega said. “It’s event-driven, and we want it to be a source and a tool that people in and around Holyoke will use to see what’s going on.”

Users can click “Explore the City” to find arts and cultural events, food and drink, entertainment and recreation, retail shopping and sales, heritage and history, and parks and recreation. Additionally, the city will collaborate with the Greater Holyoke Chamber on the website.

A blog feature will search for stories from the community about experiences at a restaurant, local event, or attraction.

The results of the Holyoke Historical and Cultural Tourism Plan were also released recently.

Shannon Walsh of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission said the tourism strategy study included input from the Planning Office, a stakeholder advisory group, residents, visitors and cultural groups. The 2020 plan identified the city’s “most valuable tourist assets and services”. He noted key priorities for “long-term and sustainable changes in Holyoke’s tourism economy” to increase visitor numbers.

The priorities are to create a positive perception of Holyoke, to design effective and coordinated strategic marketing and to support the flagship destinations. The study listed the following tourist assets in Holyoke:

The Children’s Museum, Heritage State Park, Connecticut River, Gateway City Arts, International Volleyball Hall of Fame, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke Mall, State. St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Road Race, Nueva Esperanza, Holyoke Canal System, Victory Theater and Mount Tom Preserve.

Walsh said tourism is the Commonwealth’s third-largest employer. More than 4 million tourists visit Pioneer Valley each year, generating $662 million in annual revenue. However, the study concluded that Holyoke has “untapped tourism potential” and is losing visitors to other regional sites.

The study estimated that Holyoke lost $126 million in annual tourism revenue. Historical and cultural tourism or heritage tourism was not the focus of the 2020 study. The group added the category as an amendment.

The Historic Preservation Advisory Council said, “Heritage tourism creates jobs and business opportunities, helps protect resources and often improves the quality of life for local residents.

The amended plan will identify the city’s historical and cultural assets, provide a framework for strengthening historical and cultural tourism, examine similar case studies, and develop an action plan for how Holyoke uses available resources.

The advisory group will submit an updated study to the Planning Office in the coming months. A recently completed digital survey showed the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Road Race, Celebrate Holyoke, Gateway City Arts offerings and Wistariahurst programs topped the list of events.

Top priorities for survey participants included food options, affordability, nature and hiking trails, cultural offerings, safety and low crime, and family activities.

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