Last summer, gubernatorial candidate Dannel P. Malloy visited Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium to announce a plan for developing and promoting tourism in Connecticut. He noted that the industry generates more than $11 billion in revenue for the state, including $1.1 billion in hotel, gasoline and sales tax revenues.
Malloy then pledged $15 million to market the state. Now, despite having to cut spending and increase taxes to balance the budget, the governor is keeping his word and sticking to his commitment. In addition, he called upon Connecticut businesses help pay for an advertising campaign before the start of the state's new fiscal year July1 so that potential tourists could be reached before the critical July-August peak summer season.
Nearly $1 million in private funds was raised. The state freed up $1.6 million to help jump-start a summer 2011 campaign. That campaign includes extensive advertising for state attractions in key markets, including New York and New Jersey, and a revamped state travel and tourism website where special discounts, incentives and travel packages are offered.
Last year, Connecticut was the only New England state with a net decline in visits to attractions. One of the governor's key challenges to the state's tourism industry was to think beyond local regions and to join forces statewide. This allows the creation of structures and mechanisms so Connecticut can present itself in a unified way as a great place to visit and do business and compete more effectively with the other New England states.
Malloy argued, successfully, that to recharge the state's economy and dormant tourism industry, funds from the public and private sectors should be used to develop an exciting identity for Connecticut — that Connecticut is a beautiful, fun and unique destination.
Essentially, the governor is seeking to centralize state-based marketing to concentrate resources. This allows for two things to happen. First, it provides greater resources to market Connecticut in the critical New York and Boston regions where media is among the most expensive in the nation. Second, the governor envisions tourism as an industry whose success is essential to overall economic development and job creation in the state.
The numbers tell the story. A 5 percent growth in travelers to Connecticut will result in an additional 5,500 new jobs within the state and $575 million in economic impact. Let's put aside the myth about low-paying tourism jobs. The vast majority of jobs within the tourism industry are well-paying, permanent positions providing health care and other benefits.
In May, the Greater Mystic Visitors Bureau became the first tourism entity in Connecticut to fully endorse the governor's request for private investment in statewide marketing. Members of the of the organization committed $400,000 to the summer campaign and collaborated with Connecticut Executive Director of Culture and Tourism Kip Bergstrom, working with his professional marketing staff to develop and implement the summer 2011 campaign.
Early returns on the campaign are impressive. Unique visits to the Greater Mystic Visitors Bureau website, Mystic.org, are up 40 percent from the same period in 2010. Purchases of the Mystic Pass, which includes admission to the two major Mystic area attractions as well as discounts at hotels, restaurants and retail shops are up more than 50 percent over last year.
None of this is meant to suggest that Connecticut's primary economic activity or job creation effort will be tourism. Marketing the state as a good place to visit, however, is a proven way to attract business start-ups and retain existing employers.
In addition to providing entertainment, many of Connecticut's top cultural attractions such as Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport, the Connecticut Science Center, Mark Twain House and Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Goodspeed Opera and the Garde Arts Center, just to name a few, also provide educational programs for schools that offer a refreshed learning experience and sense of place that is vital to growing the literacy and skill base of workers.
Creative, effective and competitive employers know the value of having top attractions and cultural experiences in their backyard. Connecticut needs to seize the moment and get the word out that we are one state, united as a top destination for leisure travelers, conventions and new businesses that seek a highly skilled, sophisticated workforce.
Stephen M. Coan is president and CEO of Sea Research Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that includes Mystic Aquarium, Institute for Exploration, The JASON Project and Immersion Learning. He is also chairman of the Greater Mystic Visitors Bureau.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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