Having spent nearly a year at an almost-complete standstill, Connecticut’s tourism industry is optimistic that widely available vaccinations and warm weather will bring visitors to — and within — the Nutmeg State soon. 

“We’re really looking forward to opening the door to people that want to come see us,” said Mark Twain House Executive Director Pieter Roos.

Like many other attractions, COVID-19 forced the Mark Twain House in Hartford to close and experience lost ticket revenue, furloughs, salary cuts and layoffs. But now it is ready to reopen with so many virtual and in-person programs that Roos said he can’t even list them all. 

And though he doesn’t know how many visitors to expect, Roos is hopeful that he and his staff will welcome back a healthy number of faces.

“We think it’s promising that even in the depths of the pandemic, people would still come to the front doors and want to know if we were open,” Roos said.

There’s a lot at stake for tourist businesses and the state economy. Tourism generates $15.5 billion in traveler spending and $2.2 billion in tax revenue in Connecticut, according to Department of Economic and Community Development data. It also supports over 120,000 jobs. 

Mark Twain House and Museum (Courtesy of the Twain House)

There are indicators that people are ready to travel and, more importantly, travel close to home here in Connecticut. In a survey by the state Office of Tourism, 63% of potential northeastern travelers said they’d feel comfortable taking a trip shortly after being vaccinated, and 81% said they’d be most comfortable staying within 100 miles. 

“For us, that’s great,” said Director Randall Fiveash. “It’s New York, Boston and all of Connecticut. It’s our sweet spot. So we’re in a really good position to draw those people in.”

Connecticut will launch a hefty multimedia marketing campaign to encourage travelers to the state in weeks ahead. It will span digital platforms like social media, streaming and in-state TV. Connecticut’s tourism website will also get a boost from new content.

Similar to last year’s “So Good to See You, Connecticut” campaign, the 2021 plan is expected to begin around Memorial Day and cost around $1.2 million, according to Fiveash.

The Office of Tourism hasn’t yet announced its theme, but Fiveash said that the messaging will tell people it’s safe to get out and come to Connecticut.

“There’s so much pent-up desire for travel and people want to get out, but they want to get out when it can be safe and they can do things safely,” Fiveash said. 

The campaign will emphasize how Connecticut’s tourism businesses are adhering to coronavirus guidelines. At tourist staples like the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, protocols will include masks and social distancing for guests and deep cleaning will continue to be routine.

“The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is committed to responsibly fighting the spread of the COVID-19 virus and keeping our guests, employees and loved ones safe while mitigating risks in advance of the Museum’s 2021 reopening, planned for late spring,” the tribe said in a prepared statement. 

Fiveash believes that with a successful vaccine rollout, relaxed travel advisories and safety guidelines, the next few months will be positive for Connecticut tourism.

Additionally, initiatives like Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent implementation of free weekend bus service throughout the state for the summer months are expected to be helpful. The move will make Connecticut attractions and businesses reachable to residents without cars during the state’s busiest part of the tourism season.

“People really want to feel normal again and support businesses that have suffered. We’re very optimistic,” Fiveash said. 

He wants not only for out-of-state travelers to know that there’s a lot to do in Connecticut, but for in-state travelers to know it as well. The upcoming campaign will focus on making residents familiar with all that Connecticut has to offer.

“We need to let people know that there’s so much to see in their own backyards,” Fiveash said.