Connecticut squandering decades of tourism investment

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The home page of the state's tourism website, CTVisit.com.

Long before Dannel P. Malloy became governor of Connecticut and invigorated statewide tourism efforts with $15 million in his first budget, the legislature established regional tourism districts.

Through budget cut after budget cut and multiple consolidations, these districts have consistently and effectively promoted tourism in Connecticut in ways that the State Office of Tourism does not and cannot. That is why every state in the United States has some form of regional tourism districts that are a public/private partnership.

Gov. Malloy is gambling with the tourism industry. He has made a risky bet that private/public regional tourism districts are not needed in Connecticut and that the State’s growing tourism dollars are purely the product of the centralized Tourism Office.

tourism districtsIn all of the excitement about the successful “Still Revolutionary” Campaign and the revitalized CTvisit.com, it is being forgotten that effective tourism outreach requires both big picture and little picture thinking and activity. The enormously important work of creating a positive image of our state to encourage visits and spending must be augmented by making known the actual things to see and do, places to go and eat and shop and stay.

The State Office of Tourism is seriously understaffed but, even more critically, it is simply not oriented to the private sector and the thousands of small businesses that are the backbone of what actually makes Connecticut “Still Revolutionary.”

It is also not effective at keeping in touch with the hundreds of media outlets and tourism promoters that make what we have to offer known to tourism consumers.

It would be impossible to relate in a short article all that the tourism districts do for Connecticut tourism. The three Districts have posted online a summary of their activity. 

Some of these activities may continue with the State Office but, even if the Office of Tourism were able to fund new positions, these employees would be starting from scratch and squandering the decades of connections and intellectual capital that the employees of the districts represent.

But it’s not just paid employees that need to be considered. The three districts have volunteer boards of directors that represent and actively advocate for the tourism interests of 134 of the 169 towns in Connecticut. These Boards of Directors also include tourism industry representatives from 22 businesses. The facilitated collaboration of these 156 generous men and women evaporates with the end of the districts. The districts have posted a complete list of their boards here.

The districts have proposed a better plan and one that has already been presented to the administration by the Tourism Caucus of the legislature. Essentially, the proposal is to fund the districts for six months. In other words, their budgets would be cut by half, as happened to many other statewide entities. During that time, the districts would commit to providing the fiscal metrics that would demonstrate their critical role in generating tourism dollars, further define their role to streamline their operations even further, and to explore sources of private funding for their operations.

The state would then be able to make an informed decision about the future of the districts based on data. The districts were already engaged in exploring all of this. The governor short-circuited these initiates when he abruptly, and without any warning, cut off all state funding.

The fact is that the constituencies whose well-being the governor is jeopardizing are not, primarily, the regional tourism districts, but the thousands of attractions, lodging establishments, restaurants, shops, etc., and everyone who works for them and all Nutmeggers who benefit from the tax revenues they generate. The districts have even identified a new tourism-related revenue stream, a small portion of which could be tapped to continue the work of the districts, i.e., the recently negotiated agreement with Air B&B.

The abrupt elimination of the regional tourism districts throws away decades of state investment in their grass-roots efforts. We strongly encourage Gov. Malloy to take the necessary steps to continue the work of the Rregional tourism districts, at least for the next six months.

The detailed proposal of the Districts to the Governor and his administration can be found here.

Stephen Hard is Chair of the Central Tourism District.

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