Mohegan exec says states' tourism dollars well spent

Hartford - It fell to Mitchell Etess Tuesday to sum up the effectiveness of the state's renewed commitment to tourism promotion.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority chief executive spoke near the end of the daylong Connecticut Conference on Tourism, and didn't waste words.

"It worked," he said.

Relying on data prepared by the Connecticut Office of Tourism, Etess said the state's "Still Revolutionary" marketing campaign had helped the leisure and hospitality sector recover from recession. The sector has added twice as many jobs as it lost, he said, and accounts for 38 percent of the state's new jobs reported in 2012.

"Tourism is not an industry," he said. "It's a force."

With the state's tourism infrastructure in place, "We just need to keep marketing," said Etess, who made little mention of the state's gaming facilities, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, both of which have laid off employees in the last year.

Echoing earlier speakers, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who appeared briefly at the event at the Connecticut Convention Center, Etess said the state must build on its tourism-promotion momentum.

Every year, he said, tourism funding is imperiled, and the $15 million Malloy proposed for the upcoming year is no exception.

After $15 million spent on marketing in fiscal 2012 put Connecticut back on the tourism map, cuts that reduced the fiscal 2013 appropriation to $9.5 million had a measurable impact, according to the state tourism office. Gains in the awareness of the state as a tourism destination dropped 50 percent, as did gains in the awareness of the state's tourism advertising.

Etess urged listeners to call their legislators while budget decisions are being made and to embrace the idea that Connecticut is a tourism state.

"It's up to the private sector to make the case (for tourism funding)," he said. Because, when you think about it, "Each and every person is part of the industry."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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