Christine Stuart photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, and Gloria Priam at Priam Vineyards in Colchester (Christine Stuart photo)

Connecticut tourism has come a long way since it got knocked off a map of New England when state officials failed to pay dues to an organization that markets the region.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday that between January and August, visits to 23 attractions around the state were up 3 percent. Looking at just the period between May and August attendance at those same attractions climbed 12 percent, Malloy said.

“The summer season was a big hit,” Malloy said during a visit to Priam Vineyards in Colchester.

The average spent by tourists this summer was $906 per party and represents a 4 percent increase over the prior summer. He said hotel visits, which includes business travelers, was also up 4 percent over last year. That’s compared to 1 percent nationally.

The Groton and Norwich region and the New Haven and Waterbury region are leading the state in the areas of hotel occupancy. Lodging revenue exceeded $285 million this summer – an indication of higher demand – which is up 7.1 percent compared to last year, according to state officials.

Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said it was just six years ago that Connecticut got knocked off the map of New England.

“Due to this governor taking us from a dollar spent a year up to in some cases $10 to $15 million a year in marketing to support state tourism, has really paid off,” Smith said. “It puts Connecticut literally back on the map.”

Malloy said tourism is a major industry in Connecticut. From Mystic Aquarium to the Connecticut Science Center, to historic homes, museums, and a zoo, there are about 118,000 jobs in the industry in Connecticut.

“Tourism is one of our strongest economic drivers and one of our best performers for much of the last few years,” Malloy said.

He said he’s taken “a lot of heat” for standing by the tourism industry and funding advertising campaigns promoting the attractions in the state.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Malloy said. “It’s paying big dividends in Connecticut, so I stand by our commitments to it.”

Connecticut launched the fall version of its still revolutionary tourism campaign, featuring two new television ads that highlight seasonal attractions in the state. It’s a $1.1 million ad campaign.

Malloy joked that he’s not featured in any of the ads, which was a dig at former Gov. John G. Rowland, who did a tourism ad back in 1998 shortly before his re-election campaign. The ad was deemed legal by state officials and Rowland won his re-election with about 62 percent of the vote.

Malloy, who has not been featured in any of the tourism ads, was criticized during his 2014 re-election campaign for spending $600,000 on Department of Economic and Community Development ads touting Connecticut’s business climate.

The next gubernatorial election isn’t until 2018.