Tourism's Trials

 

Connecticut may lead the nation in per-capita income, but when it comes to tourism promotion, it’s dead last, the result of massive state budget cuts and reordered legislative priorities.

The legislative majority—with Gov. Jodi Rell’s approval—has slashed tourism marketing to $1. As a result, there are no radio or TV commercials planned for 2010 or 2011, no billboards, bus placards or Connecticut Vacation Guide. The state also had to drop out of Discover New England, the international travel promotion program, so now the world will learn about five New England states rather than six. By comparison to our $1, Vermont spends about $2.5 million to advertise tourism annually while Massachussets will budget $3.1 million to market its tourist destinations this year.

As the state budget deficit has soared, tourism promotion has become one of the victims—despite the fact that its sole purpose is to support a $9 billion industry and 110,000 Connecticut jobs. A recent UConn study shows that tourism produces $1.15 billion annually in state and local tax revenue and $5.4 billion in personal income. Yet while tourism support has fallen among the state’s priorities, money for corporate relocation continues to flow. The Department of Economic and Community

Development recently offered $9.5 million in loans, $75 million in tax credits and $5 million in sales-tax exemptions to woo the Starwood Hotels headquarters from White Plains to Stamford. Jobs to be shifted here: 800. (Starwood expects profits of well over $100 million in the current fiscal year.)

Nationwide, travel spending by consumers will grow 4.8 percent this year, according to the U.S. Travel Association, including international visitors attracted by the weak U.S. dollar. The Connecticut travel industry rightly fears it could miss out on this growth, and the revenue it brings, without state support.

One tactic tourism officials have tried are travel inserts in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York Sunday newspapers. “This is a magazine-class, glossy format that people will pick up and take with them,” says Randy Fiveash, Connecticut director of tourism. “We’re trying to develop these kinds of things that are partner-driven, at least until the legislature sees the value of tourism and puts money back in the budget.”

The state is also investigating new media: page-flipping digital magazines, tourism videos on YouTube and e-mail newsletters to a database of 600,000 people. But even these cost money and have limitations.

“The new media are important, of course,” says Ed Dombroskas, executive director of the Eastern Regional Tourism District and former state tourism director. “But we’re in a competitive marketplace. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York are all competing for the same people in the New York metropolitan area. We need to convince them that our area has what they need for a vacation.”

Businesses are trying to do their part by responding with value-added packages, including attractions, meals and lodging, which can be posted on the state website (ctvisit.com). Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium sell a combined Sea Everything: Mystic Pass Card, with admission to both institutions, plus discounts for 35 hotels, restaurants and retailers.

In addition, the state’s three regional tourism districts—condensed down from five—and other destinations such as the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, are also trying to make do with dramatically reduced state support, or none at all.

“A major part of our presence was through state advertising,” says Michael O’Farrell, Mystic Seaport public relations director. “[The cuts are] a significant loss.”

Tourism's Trials

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