By MItchell Young
HARTFORD: The date has been set and registration is open for The Connecticut Governor’s Conference on Tourism [registration link] on May 4th at the Connecticut Convention Center.
The confab comes at a time that Connecticut’s largest tourism draws, the Foxwoods and the Mohegan Casinos are bracing for significant competition from new casinos, in neighboring Massachusetts and New York.
The Nutmeg tourism industry is said to employ more than 60,000 people, nearly a third at the two Casinos and their immediate vicinity. The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development [DECD] says, that overall tourism employment grew 13.6% in the past ten years and the Department of Tourism says that more than 1.6 million people visited Connecticut in 2015.
Beyond the Casinos, Connecticut has a host of successful attractions from across the state, that themselves receive many thousand of visitors from within the state, the region and beyond, including: The Stepping Stones Children’s Museum and the Norwalk Aquarium both in Norwalk, Yale University, Lake Compounce in Bristol, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville , The Connecticut Science Center, and Mark Twain House in Hartford and Mystic Aquarium, and the Mystic Seaport.
In spite of the continuing economic vitality of the industry the Malloy Administration eliminated funding to the state’s tourism districts in the previous budget. Statewide spending proposed at $8.25 million a year for the next two years is an increase from $6.29 million but down to 60% of what tourism agencies received in 2011.
Governor Dannell Malloy isn’t the first Governor to take the budget axe to tourism spending, his predecessor Governor Jodi Rell cut funding for tourism to $1. In 2010 then, newly elected Malloy, in the face of a $3 billion dollar looming deficit, cited the roll of tourism as economic development, adding back $15 million to the state’s budget.
The Connecticut Tourism Coalition met in early February at the Essex Steam Train attraction to discuss a legislative agenda and the tight budget was front and center.
The New London Day’s, Brian Hallenback, reported that John Bourget CEO of Avon’s Witan Intelligence a marketing “research and strategy firm” told the group, they should be fighting for three times the allocation Malloy was planning.
The DECD’s own deputy Commissioner Tim Sullivan said previous cuts had already stalled visitor growth that occurred in 2014 and 2015.
At 15%, Connecticut has the highest total hotel tax in the country. An agreement recently reached between Airbnb the house sharing vacation site and the State Department of Revenue will add another $500,000 per year to state coffers, which inlcude just over $100 million each year in hotel tax revenues.
Sources: Various CT agencies.