Hammonasett Beach State Park (via shutterstock)

Connecticut launched a new $1.2 million tourism campaign today that promises to boost the industry following a year of losses from COVID-19.

“We’re kind of really excited,” said Gregg Dancho, the director of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. “We’ve had a year of turmoil which really hasn’t finished yet.”

The campaign, themed “Say Yes to Connecticut,” will span digital platforms like social media, streaming and in-state TV, and will spotlight the state’s hundreds of attractions, including restaurants, museums, historical sites and more. It will promote to both out-of-state and in-state travelers, and will run until Sept. 6.

The aim is to have residents and visitors “Say Yes to Connecticut” after saying “no” to so many things due to the pandemic, according to Christine Castonguay, interim director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism.

“We really wanted to bring forward a sense of optimism and welcoming people back, and encouraging them to say ‘yes’ to all that Connecticut has to offer,” Castonguay said.

Alligator at the Beardsley Zoo (Jack Bradley with permission)

Gov. Ned Lamont said in a release that the message will show travelers the “incredible mix of tourism offerings” in Connecticut and will lead to revenue that will benefit communities across the state.

“The new campaign is a great reminder of that diversity and the growing optimism among travelers that we believe will put people back to work and translate into an industry-wide recovery for tourism beginning this summer,” Lamont said.

There’s numbers to back those hopes up. State 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 123,000 jobs, Castonguay said.

Additionally, in a survey by the state Office of Tourism, over 68% of potential northeastern travelers said they’d feel comfortable taking a trip shortly after being vaccinated and that they’d be most comfortable staying within 100 miles.

“We’re in a great location,” Castonguay said, referring to how Connecticut is right next door to states like New York and Massachusetts. “Say ‘yes’ and eat, stay, play at your local establishment.”

The campaign will emphasize all that Connecticut’s tourism industry is doing to fight COVID-19, like restaurants pivoting to curbside pick-up, attraction tickets going virtual and the Hartford Yard Goats offering vaccines to fans at home games. 

That also includes promotions like “Drinks Are On Us!”, which is a partnership from May 19 to 31 between the state and the Connecticut Restaurant Association that offers free drinks to diners who show proof of vaccination.

“Yes, we are open and yes, we are welcoming everyone back out, but yes, we will continue to keep Connecticut safe,” Castonguay said.

At the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, attendance has been steady since reopening last September, and Director of Marketing Kim Hugo said that lifted restrictions will allow more visitors back to see the museum’s “fantastic world-class collection of art.”

“We hope people will come to downtown Hartford and have a bite to eat at one of the restaurants and then stop by the museum,” Hugo said. “It’s well worth the trip.”

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo reopened last June and still has restrictions in place to keep its guests, staff and animals safe, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

Dancho, who also chairs the Western Connecticut Tourism District, said that the campaign’s positive messaging is really important in encouraging people — especially in-state residents — to visit what’s right here at home. The zoo is excited about the campaign, Dancho said.

“We know there’s pent-up demand,” Dancho said, adding that the zoo can finally open its farmyard, whose construction was halted because of COVID-19. “We’re just moving forward. We’ve been very, very fortunate that we’ve had no real ramifications from the pandemic.”