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Is Hartford Giving Up On "Destination Marketing"?

By Mike McGarry

February 07, 2013

The current effort to use “Hartford has it” is commendable and many think our hospitality institutions (especially the XL Center, Rentschler and Adriaen’s Landing) should increase service to local residents. However, the reasoning behind the massive investment of the last 20 years is, after all, economic development. Concentrating almost exclusively on local customers is short-sighted, not sustaining or justifying the costs involved.

To the point, some years ago, many of the organizations interested in bringing fresh dollars into the region moved into 31 Pratt Street, downtown Hartford. Then Greater Hartford had its own Convention and Visitors Bureau, a tourism district and the Greater Hartford Arts Council all working together, with the Business improvement district (BID), and the Metro Alliance, in one location.

Today, the C.V.B. has changed to the Connecticut Sports and Convention Bureau. It does fine work and still helps Hartford Convention efforts. But, obviously, it can’t concentrate on marketing Hartford alone. Just a few years ago, the Greater Hartford Tourism District covered twenty two area towns. Now, it is the Central Regional Tourism District serving sixty five towns and cities.

Missing is the general (once accepted) that fresh, new money from “out of the market”: Springfield, Boston, Southern Connecticut and even greater New York had a real multiplying effect on our economy. Jobs, goods and services, new investments and taxes are certainly created when visitors come from a distance from home stay over, eat meals and enjoy the arts and other entertainment. This emphasis is the base of all tourism efforts and the justification for investment in promotion. Have we given up on that segment of our economy?

Of course, the answer we’ll hear immediately is that the money is not there to do any meaningful campaign. We disagree, often, it is imagination or new ideas that catch people’s fancy and, many times, imaginative ideas will bring resources. A local example is Vito’s by the Park, downtown. They have an offer for tour groups “Romance in the Afternoon” with tableside preparation at a reasonable cost. A tour operator from Massachusetts uses Vito’s often, as do senior groups.

Buffalo, New York is another prime example. Back in the mid-90’s, that city and region decided to make gardens a focus. Over the years, contests were held, tours were organized and now, since around 2010, you hardly can find a hotel room from late June until the end of July. A huge success! Just check it out on NationalGardenFestival.com. An old, post industrial city with all the usual urban problems has become a major tourism center with visitors from Canada, the mid-west and much of New York State. And, yes, the locals love it and benefit from the ongoing continuing beautification of their city and region. The actual cost of the effort and promotion has been very modest – everybody cooperated and benefited from the success. We have gardens, tours, and clubs, we could at our scale, do something similar.

Hartford has to think that way. The half dozen or so big organizations: the XL Center, Adriaen’s Landing, Rentschler’s, the Riverfront, the Bushnell, the Wadsworth etc…should combine efforts to tell New York City, Albany and Springfield that “Hartford has it!” Just listing big events in the N.Y. Times and other city papers and getting on their websites would bring editorial attention along with interested visitors.

Attendance at tourism/travel recently shows should be a shared expense. For example, recently, I attended the New York Times Travel show. Dutchess county was there, Westchester County was there, Massachusetts and Delaware were represented but not Connecticut, and no Hartford. Again, shared personnel and resources should have been there.

Yes, “Hartford has it” and it’s time to rethink how to let the wider world know of our great city and region and bring in the “fresh” dollars to justify the billion dollar investment taxpayers have made.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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