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Connecticut, we hardly knew ye — till now

At last count, 31 states plagued by high rates of COVID-19 infections crowded Gov. Ned Lamont’s travel advisory, which isn’t all that advisory any more. On Tuesday, he made it mandatory, complete with $1,000 fines for transgressors.

Anyone arriving in Connecticut from one of the states and intending to remain in Connecticut for at least 24 hours must self-quarantine for 14 days. That goes for Connecticut residents returning home from a visit to one of the “hot spot” states.

No wonder Connecticut’s promoting “staycations.”

“It’s really the main option for vacation travel,” said Jim Bellano, chairman of the Eastern Regional Tourism District’s board of directors. “If you go somewhere else, you’re going to have to quarantine when you come back.”

With the tourism and hospitality industries still operating at less than full tilt because of the coronavirus, a captive audience provides some rewards. The Connecticut Office of Tourism figured that might be the case, announcing in mid-June that it would launch a $1.2 million advertising campaign to promote the things to see and do in the state. Early this month, the office rolled out video touting the new safety features and protocols in place at attractions, hotels and restaurants.

On Wednesday, the office introduced the next phase of its “So Good to See You, Connecticut” effort, releasing a half-dozen 30-second TV commercials featuring 33 businesses across the state.

“Connecticut’s many leisure and hospitality-related businesses, small and large, are central to our state’s quality of life and to its economy,” said Randy Fiveash, the office’s director. “While prioritizing safety during reopening, these businesses have helped bring jobs back to the economy and provided Connecticut residents with opportunities to safely enjoy our state and make new memories.”

Three of the six spots focus on the geographical areas represented by the Eastern, Central and Western Regional Tourism Districts.

Bellano said each of the districts contributed $25,000 to the campaign.

“I’m very happy that in addition to the statewide commercials, they broke out individual ones for each district,” he said. “I’m pleased that with the one on our district, they made a real effort to show the entire eastern part of the state, from Woodstock down to Mystic. It’s a very positive picture.”

The ad focusing on eastern Connecticut includes glimpses of Mystic Seaport Museum; the Last Green Valley hiking trails in the northeastern corner of the state; Mystic Aquarium; the Mohegan Sun Golf Club in Baltic; SuperCharged go-kart racing in Montville; Foxwoods Resort Casino’s zipline; the Taylor Brooke Brewery in Woodstock; and Black Hall Outfitters in Old Lyme.

Dan McFadden, Mystic Seaport Museum’s director of communications, said he sees the emphasis on staycations “to be entirely to our benefit.”

“People who normally might head out to the Cape or Maine are now looking for a destination closer to home,” he said. “We feel like we are getting a second look this summer at what our museum and the town of Mystic has to offer. Although we typically have visitors from around the country, and indeed from around the world, the bulk of our visitors come from Connecticut and neighboring states and we hope the staycation emphasis and promotion will offset the losses from reduced visitors from farther away.”

Stay for a few days

The state’s tourism ads are being streamed online in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which are exempt from the governor’s travel advisory, as are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

But how much of a boost will the emphasis on staycations provide hotels, motels and other forms of lodging? Will travelers staying close to home even need lodging — or might they opt to burn the relatively cheap gas that's available and “commute” to and from attractions?

“It’s a positive that the state is stepping up its campaign to have visitors move around the state and that they’re promoting Connecticut in border states,” said Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Lodging Association. “The more we can get the word out that it’s safe to travel and that Connecticut is welcoming to guests, the better for everyone in hospitality.”

Since partially reopening June 17, hotels have experienced a slight increase in occupancy rates but continue to suffer from a dearth of business travel, Kozlowski said. Bigger hotels like the Mystic Marriott in Groton and the Hilton Mystic, which rely on business meetings, conventions, weddings and other big events, have been especially hard hit, she said.

The ads suggest Connecticut residents should get acquainted — or reacquainted — with their state.

“Say you live in Litchfield Hills or Stamford and you haven’t been to Mystic in years,” Kozlowski said, “Now’s the time. We encourage a midweek stay for a few days. Families can find bargains then and it’s not so busy. We’re seeing how the parks and beaches reach their capacities on weekends.”

By the same token, southeastern Connecticut residents might want to consider exploring other parts of the state. There's water tubing in Bantam and hot air ballooning in Portland. New Britain’s got an art museum and South Windsor an adventure park. Make a few days of it.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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