Regional tourism districts retain threatened funds

Hartford - Regional tourism districts will receive the $3.1 million that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy originally had proposed eliminating in the coming biennium.

But the two-year budget reduces overall tourism funding by about $2.9 million, providing $24 million over two years for the statewide tourism campaign instead of $30 million, as the governor had proposed earlier this year.

The cut will "certainly have an impact, but not as great as if the districts were cut by $3 million, speaking as a lodging facility in the tourism industry," David Labrie, owner of Niantic's Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, said Thursday.

The state was able to demonstrate via a research firm's study that the statewide campaign generated $161 million in tourism spending with the $15 million invested in fiscal year 2012. But regional tourism districts and local businesses convinced state legislators that funding regional tourism districts would provide unique and much-needed expertise for small businesses.

Ed Dombroskas, executive director of the Eastern Regional Tourism District, said he and others followed the legislative process closely, testified before the state's Appropriations Committee and made presentations to local legislators to make the case for the local districts.

"I think that is really what turned the tide in terms of convincing them that … the work that we do is important, that it does have a very positive effect on the tourism economy in the region," Dombroskas said.

The funds for the most part go to small, individual businesses and entities, he said. It takes individual contact with those businesses or organizations to convince people from outside the state or outside the region to visit Connecticut, he added.

Labrie said he was concerned when Malloy proposed having all tourism marketing money organized by the state.

"We would lose some of the talent and knowledge we have locally," Labrie said.

Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said the chamber was in the process of organizing a press conference for next week to discuss the state's budget and the "new realities of tourism."

"Everybody is very happy, and that is all I will say right now," Sheridan said.

For now, the Eastern Regional Tourism District, with its two full-time and two part-time employees, will be able to stay in business, Dombroskas said. The annual budget of the office, which includes private and public funding, is $827,000, he said.

"We will have to go and present to the legislature again … in order to earn the trust of public dollars" in the future, he said.


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