Numbers show state's investment in tourism paying off

Groton — In the data-driven world of tourism marketing, Connecticut's numbers are looking up.

Over the past two years, the state Office of Tourism's $22.3 million investment in its "still revolutionary" campaign has helped generate $219 million in new spending. In eight of the last 11 months, job growth in the tourism sector has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 among all sectors of the state's economy.

And, state tourism officials say, statistics show that fluctuations in the amount spent on tourism marketing do correlate with the level of consumers' awareness.

As Barbara Cieplak, the office's marketing director, reminded tourism operators at a meeting here Wednesday, "Marketing changes perceptions before it changes behavior."

All told, the state's commitments to tourism and business development totaled $24.5 million in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. Another $12 million is included in the budget for fiscal 2014, and $12 million more has been budgeted for fiscal 2015.

Still, Connecticut is being outspent by New York and New Jersey, Cieplak said.

Randy Fiveash, the state tourism director, told Wednesday's gathering at the Mystic Marriott that the Connecticut marketing team now includes two new members: Adams & Knight, an Avon marketing agency, and MMGY Global, the world's largest travel marketing/research firm, which has offices in New York, Kansas City, Mo., Denver and Florida.

Holdovers from the previous team include FleishmanHillard, a public relations firm, and Media Storm of Norwalk. The state's three publicly funded regional tourism districts also have key roles to play, Fiveash said.

Ed Dombroskas, executive director of the Eastern Regional Tourism District, a 42-town area known as "Mystic Country," told the audience the district is about to launch a new website for tourism-related entities. He said the site — www.Industry.MysticCountry.com — will provide tourism professionals with a database of attractions and organizations as well as a master calendar of events. Operators will have password-protected access to their own database entries.

"It is a work in progress," Dombroskas said.

Jill Adams, president and majority owner of Adams & Knight, said her agency has found that a sizable chunk of travelers in certain Northeast locations and beyond have "neutral" attitudes toward Connecticut as a tourism destination. In New York, for example, 49 percent of respondents were "neutral" about the state, while 31 percent were "positive" or "very positive."

A majority of the state's target audience indicated it's looking for a mix of relaxing and active opportunities, "a mix Connecticut can deliver," Adams said. "But few people know that. Fortunately, they don't associate other states with this dynamic mix either."

A representative of Discover New England, a tourism cooperative that seeks to generate overseas travel business, also spoke at the meeting. Discover New England's 19th annual tourism summit will be held May 19-21 at the Mystic Marriott.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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