Annual tourism conference focuses on building partnerships

Hartford — Between a rising star award for a Mystic business, recognition of casino partnerships and the awarding of a scholarship to a Mitchell College student, southeastern Connecticut was well represented at the 2018 Governor's Conference on Tourism.

The annual conference was held at the Connecticut Convention Center on Wednesday.

The theme of the conference was "partnering for growth." Connecticut Office of Tourism Director Randy Fiveash recognized Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, two of the four platinum sponsors of the event, for their partnerships.

Mohegan Sun President and General Manager Ray Pineault spoke not only to partnerships with Foxwoods but also to those with community organizations, citing Mystic Seaport, Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, Garde Arts Center and Naskart.

During the presentation of five awards, Mystic Knotwork owner Matt Beaudoin received the Connecticut Governor's Award for 2018 Tourism Rising Star.

Beaudoin opened a second Mystic Knotwork location in June, became a member of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in January, brought Amazon Handmade to Mystic in February, and received the Small Business of the Year award from the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut in April.

The other awards went to the student-athletes of Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University (Volunteers of the Year), Woodbury Antiques Dealers Association (Partners of the Year), Madison Beach Hotel General Manager John Mathers (Leader of the Year) and Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce President Lawrence McHugh (Legacy Leader).

Mary Volpe, a rising senior at Mitchell College, was awarded the Richard B. Combs Hospitality Scholarship. The hospitality and tourism major has a 4.0 grade point average and is currently interning at Masonicare at Mystic. The other scholarship went to Eliza Wendel, a Ridgefield native studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The event coincided with the last day of the legislative session, and Governor Dannel Malloy spoke to the importance of the tourism industry of making investments in transportation.

He also voiced the view that neither legislators, nor the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates, understand the significance of the tourism industry.

Another topic that came up was attracting international tourists to Connecticut. One of the gold sponsors of the event was Aer Lingus, which began offering year-round flights between Bradley International Airport and Dublin Airport in late 2016.

Malloy commented that Connecticut saw 156,000 visitors from Canada last year.

Featuring representatives of Aer Lingus, Expedia, TTM and Discover New England, one of 12 workshops at the conference focused on "Our International Visitor — Who — When — Why."

In a workshop on turning bloggers and influencers into allies, Erica Tannen talked about a partnership with Olde Mistick Village. Tannen founded The E-List, a shoreline-oriented newsletter with 23,000 email subscribers.

Her audience is women over 45 "with a lot of money who live on the shoreline," Tannen said, noting that "if I deviate at all from my match, I aggravate my audience, who I have worked 10 years to develop."

Other workshops focused on crisis management, social media, smart phone photography, engaging LGBTQ travelers and turning a town into a destination.

The conference keynote speaker was Kelly McDonald, consumer marketing expert and author.

e.moser@theday.com

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