(Updated at 12:00 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made good on a campaign promise today to boost Connecticut’s tourism industry by announcing he was able to raise close to $800,000 from private companies in order to jump start its marketing efforts.
Unwilling to let the summer slip away from him, Malloy sent out fundraising letters in April to 42 companies to ask for their financial support in putting together a $2.6 million marketing campaign to lure tourists to the state.
Malloy and the General Assembly approved $15 million in funding for statewide marketing efforts in the state budget, but that money won’t be available until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The budget is also pending ratification of the $1.6 billion state employee concession package.
Not known for his patience, Malloy and Kip Bergstrom, director of Culture and Tourism, set out to raise $1 million privately through letters it sent to a variety of different companies, including the state’s two casinos, two utility companies, and dozens of hotels and entertainment venues that would benefit from this type of marketing.
In the letter, Malloy explains why he has set forth to raise the money.
“Because those funds will not be available until July 1, we have found a way to reconfigure $1.6 million of state funds in this year’s budget, which if leveraged with $1 million of private funds, will enable us to mount an effective spring/summer campaign targeted at the peak summer leisure travel season,“ Malloy wrote in an April 29 letter to potential donors. “I am writing to ask you to make a contribution of $??,000.00 to this effort.”
Bergstrom said the general business donors that don’t necessarily receive a direct boost from tourism, such as Connecticut Light & Power or United Illuminating, will receive recognition.
“It’s a less tangible benefit,” said Bergstrom.
Malloy asked for various amounts from each of the organizations and the campaign, just $200,000 short of its goal, is still ongoing, according to Bergstrom.
“It was an incredible mistake to cut the tourism marketing budget to $1,” Bergstrom said Sunday. “It caused a reduction in tourism, revenues, and taxes that the state will have to recover from.”
Malloy himself said back in March that it was a mistake not to invest in tourism marketing.
“We made a gigantic mistake in my opinion of doing what we’ve been doing over the past couple of years in cutting back, cutting back, and cutting back with respect to culture and tourism,” Malloy said. “It’s going to take us a few years to undo that damage unfortunately.”
Bergstrom said Sunday it will take time for the industry to recover from that decision. The decision was made on former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s watch in an effort to cut the budget.
When Bergstrom was appointed back in March Malloy said he would be in charge of pulling together some strategic partners, such as the casinos and hoteliers, who will help contribute money toward the production of a Connecticut television advertisement that he hopes will go up on the air before July 1.
Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of the Sea Research Foundation in Mystic, called the pre-season tourism funding a “game-changer.”
“The state has not marketed pre-season for at least five years and it’s critically important to get the word out early and to keep delivering messages to people encouraging them to come to Connecticut,” he said.
Coan said that tourism attendance in Mystic has been down about 10 percent since tourism funding was cut. He noted that it may take time, years perhaps, before the state’s tourism industry recovers, but he said if attendance rises 5 percent this year it would be a step in the right direction.
Asked if he would appear in the ads, like former Gov. John G. Rowland and his wife Patty did, Malloy said appearing in the ads was not appealing to him.
Overall, the tourism and cultural heritage industry brings $14 billion in economic activity to Connecticut annually and about $9.4 billion in personal income, according industry experts. The industry brings in about $1.7 billion in state and local revenue, and it employs about 110,000 people—about 6.5 percent of our workforce.
And like other industries the tourism industry has been plagued by the recession.
A January 2010 report from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research examined statistics for the state’s traveler welcome center and major attraction visitors, air passengers, casino slot machine revenue, hotel occupancy, traffic and leisure and hospitality employment.
The report showed downward trends in almost all of those areas, but it also predicted a turnaround by 2011. According to the report, demand for room occupancy is forecasted to grow 3. 2 percent during 2011, but is not projected to return to 2007 levels in the foreseeable future.
The report also found that slot machine payments have steadily decreased since 2007 and are not expected to recover through the end of 2011.
The campaign Malloy announced today at the Connecticut Science Center will include a television and radio advertisements, upgrades to the CTVisit.com web site, and several glossy publications which will be distributed in Connecticut and New York newspapers.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this story