Official: Tourism marketing is 'back in business'

Mystic Can a new marketing campaign do for Connecticut what the Battle of Antietam did for the country 150 years ago?

Kip Bergstrom, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, believes it can. He believes the as-yet-unnamed campaign, to be launched later this month, can unify the state conceptually, helping knit together its "tapestry of towns and cities."

At Antietam, he said, Union soldiers marched into battle as citizens of the states they represented. The survivors marched out as citizens of a nation.

We have a strong sense in Connecticut of belonging to the towns where we live," Bergstrom said during a Tuesday morning meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. But what virtually no one seems to have, he said, is a sense of the state as a tourist destination.

In New Jersey, for example, many focus group participants were unaware that Connecticut has a coastline. "People think of Connecticut as a place you drive through," Bergstrom said.

Connecticut tourism officials set out to change that perception earlier this year, bolstered by unprecedented support from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state legislature, which appropriated $15 million for the cause in each of the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years.

"We're back in business," Bergstrom said.

In January, the state hired Chowder Inc. of New York City to lead the branding campaign. Chowder added three other agencies to the team, including two from Connecticut.

Bergstrom said the campaign will target those who vacationed in the United States in the last year and who are between 25 and 64 years of age and have household incomes of at least $75,000. In connection with the campaign, the state's tourism office is soliciting state residents' stories about Connecticut "people, places and experiences" at www.myCTstory.com.

In addition, the office has upgraded its website, www.CTvisit.com, and enhanced its social media presence. It now boasts 80,000 Facebook "friends," up from 5,000 a few months ago, according to Bergstrom.

Research related to the campaign has confirmed that few potential visitors have much knowledge about Connecticut, enabling marketers to fill in "a blank slate," Bergstrom said.

"No one in this room knows everything that's in Connecticut," he said. "It's town by town a tapestry of towns and cities," each of which has its own history.

Bergstrom said 20 percent of the country's so-called "1 percent" have chosen to live in the state. "They could live anywhere, but the place they call home is Connecticut," he said. "It's a deep experience. That's what we're trying to tap into."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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