Hail the return of tourism's high season

Ah, the sounds of summer:

The snip of a scissors at a new restaurant's ribbon cutting.

The thwack of a golf club launching a golf ball airborne.

The plash of an oar propelling a kayak down the Thames.

The clink of glasses raised in a toast to the season.

And, yes, one more, a most vital one: The ka-ching of cash registers all across the region.

The long and wearying winter is but a frigid memory - tourism season has arrived. Visitors start arriving, of course, well before June busts out all over. The season now stretches from early April to early November, slightly more than 200 days. No small matter, that. The Eastern Regional Tourism District - representing the 42 towns that comprise the eastern third of Connecticut - calculates that tourism is a $3.8 billion industry and generates some 58,000 jobs in the region.

On Monday, a welcome sign of this welcome season was the ribbon-cutting for Mystic's newest restaurant and bar, Harbour House, which has replaced The Flood Tide at the landmark Inn of Mystic, recent acquisition of Tim Brown and Michael D'Amato. A collection of local bigwigs and business folk jostled for position in the assembled crowd in Stonington, snapping cell-phone photos of giant shears - as big as a toddler - snipping the red crepe paper ribbon.

"Your presence here speaks volumes in terms of how important this is," state Rep. Diana Urban told the gathering. "This is just so thrilling; it means so much to business in Mystic, bringing people here."

And bringing people here is what it's all about. A recent survey, conducted by the tourism district, in cooperation with Witan Intelligence, Inc., determined - not surprisingly - that the summer high season is exceptionally important to our region.

"The average visitor spends $383 a day," said tourism district Executive Director Ed Dombroskas at the Harbour House event. "For us, as we move into high season, that translates into a lot of economic impact."

That impact is essential to the region's restaurants, hotels, inns, B&Bs, but it also has a spillover effect, boosting businesses with no direct tie to the tourist trade: food markets and clothing shops, bookstores and art galleries and pharmacies.

In the words of Mystic Chamber of Commerce President Tricia Walsh, "What's good for one is good for all. Even if you're not directly in the tourist business, you're affected by it."

The www.mystic.org website does an excellent job of directing tourist browsers to the region's many attractions and possibilities. With its dual slogans (the region's "A breath of fresh air. Between New York and Boston" and the state's "Still Revolutionary"), the site offers Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat suggestions - and more. An events calendar lists theater performances, casino shows, garden shows, museum exhibits. There's also a Deals & Discounts option for hotel and camping packages and specials for restaurants, attractions and shopping.

About four years ago, Mr. Dombroskas says, tourism leaders held a series of brainstorming sessions that ultimately spawned the Tourism Trails - the Ice Cream Trail, the Antiques Trail, the Foodie Finds Trail and the Pet Friendly Trail - all featured on the website.

"Trails became a way ... to get people interested in thinking about the entire area," meaning the Quiet Corner as well as the shoreline, he said.

Another ribbon-cutting this week hailed the reopening of Stonington Vineyards following a total renovation. And just about a month ago, Stonington borough welcomed the new waterfront restaurant Swooner to the location previously occupied by Skipper's Dock. Owners Jeff and Nina Gimmel had been visitors to the area for nearly a decade when they made the purchase.

"There's no better place," Gimmel told The Day recently. "The magic of the place is the setting."

Put it all together and you have, as Ms. Walsh said, "a great start to the season."

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