Connecticut Tourism Growth Outpaces Nation
Connecticut’s tourism industry is seeing a healthy rebound this year, more than doubling national growth rates.
Mystic Aquarium is one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, pulling in 700,000 visitors a year, and it was here, with a friendly Beluga whale named Juno looking on, that Governor Dannel Malloy got to announce good news for travel and tourism in Connecticut.
A survey of 23 of the state's biggest attractions has shown a five percent growth in visitor numbers over this time last year. That compares to a two percent growth around the country.
"That’s a big increase if you had a good winter. We did it without a good winter, which makes it even more remarkable," Malloy said, to applause from the crowd.
And the numbers for Southeastern Connecticut, the state’s tourism hub, are even better, with nine percent growth. Hotel stays are also up, and the amount that visitors spend has increased more than four percent.
But despite the good news, it's still been a trying year for the industry. After a terrible winter came a bruising budget round. The governor’s proposal removed funding from the regional tourism districts, and zeroed out $589,000 earmarked for Mystic Aquarium itself.
The final budget compromise with the legislature restored all but 12 percent of that cash, but Malloy said he still feels tourism spending should be centralized in Hartford.
"I think advertising is the most important thing we can do," Malloy said. "That’s not to say there’s not a role for regional districts. It’s just to say: if you have to prioritize where you think you should spend, I think we should spend on advertising."
Malloy was given a tour of the aquarium by president and CEO Steve Coan.
Coan told WNPR there are no hard feelings. "We understand that in the budgeting process there’s going to be some back and forth on particular line items — that’s part of the process, but we’ve never doubted his support," he said. "There are numerous ways to go about funding and his staff had a particular view on how to make that happen, but their view was never to cut out funding for these kinds of institutions."
For a $14 billion industry that accounts for more than five percent of state employment, a continuing relationship with the state's chief executive is clearly a priority.