Summer tourism, one of Connecticut's major economic pillars, is just days from its traditional Memorial Day weekend starting gate.
This season, short- and extended-stay visitors to and within the state are expected to once again contribute about $11.5 billion to Connecticut's economy. Another $1.15 billion of state and local tax revenue is generated by travel and tourism. That all supports an estimated 110,000 tourism-related jobs, authorities say.
None are more expectant of another strong season than the Hartford area and its attractions — the riverfront anchor Connecticut Science Center, Mark Twain House, the State Capitol, a July pre-2014 World Cup soccer tourney in East Hartford, among them — plus the usual retinue of restaurants, lodgings, retailers and entertainment venues.
"We had an excellent year last year,'' said Matt Fleury, chief executive officer of the Science Center, which is holding its marketing budget flat this year. "If we can repeat last year, we're going to be very happy here.''
The state's $15 million tourism marketing campaign — tagged "Still Revolutionary'' — remains in full gear. Connecticut's TV, radio, print and online ads have blanketed the East Coast with their image-laden invitation to millions of experience-seekers.
But hitting their tourism targets won't be a slam dunk. Due to the state's ongoing budget pressures, its tourism promoters are having to scramble to do more with fewer dollars. The state's tourism commission has had to suspend millions in tourism-aid grants normally offered to aid merchants and venues with their marketing.
However, that doesn't mean the state can't — or won't — make its voice heard among the clamor from neighboring states hawking their tourism wares, authorities say.
"Our job … is to sell the entire state,'' said Randy Fiveash, who directs the state's tourism office.
And that includes Hartford. The "Still Revolutionary'' promotion, which his office oversees, has plenty of overt and subtle references to Hartford's appeal as a destination.
The agency's spring/summer commercials feature, for example, a flyover shot of Hartford's riverfront, with the Science Center, the next-door Connecticut Convention Center and Old State House, all visible on the city's skyline.
Moreover, the video's accompanying theme music is from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, whose conductor Carolyn Kuan stars in a companion clip promoting the symphony.
On CTVisit.com, the tourism agency has made the Hartford region a central component of its "52 getaways'' feature — one for each week of the year — which in 2012 cast a spotlight on 45 Hartford area attractions, Fiveash said. Hartford's Mark Twain House was one.
So far this year, the site's "This Weekend'' page has been viewed more than 106,000 times, he said.
"There's always something that's important that's going on in Hartford,'' Fiveash said. "We try to find them.''
One of state tourism's ongoing challenges is convincing folks who live in or are already familiar with Connecticut to visit more than just one venue at a time. Hartford's night life, restaurants and cultural vistas — including The Bushnell Theater, The Atheneum and TheaterWorks — should command more of visitors' attention — and dollars — Fiveash said.
"We've got to get them out of the habit of coming just for one thing,'' he said. "We want them to enjoy more things.''
To stoke that, many Hartford area venues, restaurateurs, merchants and state and regional tourism promoters, and other stakeholders, say they regularly meet to stay abreast of potential opportunities from upcoming conventions and other group visits.
Al Ferranti, managing partner of the area chain that runs the Agave Grill on Allyn Street downtown, is encouraged at what he sees as mounting passion for building Hartford's success at tourism. He says more of the city's destinations are on the lips of cabbies and hotel concierges.
"There seems like there's more of a buzz,'' Ferranti said.
Michael Van Parys runs the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau. Formerly the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau, its offices are alongside those of Fiveash's tourism agency, in One Constitution Plaza, with a clear view of some of downtown's major visitor attractions.
On top of the dozen futbol teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean who will vie in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup games from July 7-28 at East Hartford's Rentschler Field, Van Parys noted the USA gymnasticscompetition returns to Hartford's XL Center Aug. 15-18, after a three-year absence.
"We have a great summer coming forward,'' he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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