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Cutting Tourism Budget Pulls Rug Out From Industry

Mike McGarry

June 27, 2010

All the politicians say they want to create jobs, but apparently not in the hospitality industry.

Connecticut has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in visitor facilities, and then cut the funds needed to market them. This is a classic example of being penny-wise and pound-stupid. It is destroying the hospitality industry in Greater Hartford.

As The Hartford Business Journal reported, the state cut the budgets of the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Connecticut Central Regional Tourism District over the past two years from $3.4 million to $1 million. Both agencies lost their leaders and more than half their staffs. In addition, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism's budget to market the state to visitors dropped from $4.9 million in 2009 to $1 one dollar this year.

The result, as the Journal rightly says, is a "lethal injection" to the tourism and hospitality industries. What a shame. We finally have what we need to draw visitors a clean, safe downtown; a fine, well-run Connecticut Convention Center, a still-viable XL Center, a modest but serviceable Expo Center; a Science Center and an expanded Nook Farm. We have a good supply of hotels and motels in every price range and renowned restaurants for every taste. The Greater Hartford area should be a destination for conventioneers, tourists and business visitors.

All this is in danger because of a thoughtless, cheap legislature, cutting the life out of a powerful job-creating industry.

How does one dollar for marketing draw visitors to the Mark Twain House? How dumb is cutting marketing dollars from the Connecticut Science Center, just as it reaches the goals it promised?

One would think that all the caterwauling and grand speeches about jobs by the Democrats running for higher office would have some effect on the Democratic legislators. Jobs in the hospitality industry are good jobs offering great opportunity to those without expensive degrees. A dishwasher becomes a busboy, a busboy becomes a waiter, soon a floor manager, and then a partner and with luck an owner. Few businesses offer such opportunities.

If you look around the state, we have much more to offer than casinos. I recently attended the state Republican Convention in Hartford, where a vast majority of the delegates came from a distance. Every hotel room was booked, restaurants were full, gas stations and retail shops did business from Blue Back Square to Buckland Hills. Why did we get the convention?

Because Scott Phelps, then the president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, jumped at the chance and had the resources to lure it here. Now, Scott is gone and the bureau has lost much of its ability to secure new business.

The few million dollars "saved" by our legislature will soon be dwarfed by the loss of business that will come by being so cheap and shortsighted. When the waitress working herself through college loses her job (and opportunity), we know who to blame the Democrats who run the legislature and claim to be the working man's party.

Revenue from sales taxes, hotel taxes, car rental taxes or income taxes paid by hospitality workers will all drop if we are not competitive in the visitor marketplace. The legislature's penny-wise parsimony will doom any growth or investment in a once-viable industry.

The state just gave $3 million to Frito-Lay to "save 500 jobs." How many jobs will be lost by cutting just a few million dollars from a diverse and proven industry? Ask those who serve you hotel managers, restaurant owners, convention goods and service suppliers and they will give you the facts. Then pick up the phone and call your legislator.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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