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To tourism's benefit, state's reopening enters new phase

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In a synchronized bid to jump-start tourism, state officials announced a $1.2 million marketing campaign Tuesday, the eve of the second phase of Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to reopen “nonessential” businesses, including hotels, motels and other forms of lodging.

As of Wednesday, leisure travelers — tourists — can once again put up for the night in Connecticut.

And they’ll have things to do.

Restaurants can start serving indoors Wednesday, and theaters, gyms, museums, zoos, aquariums and amusement parks are eligible to open. So are nail salons and tattoo parlors.

“It’s really imperative, with phase two starting, that we reinvigorate revenues for tourism businesses,” said Randy Fiveash, the state’s tourism director. “We’ll be promoting the state to people in the state and to people in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We want people to look at us through fresh eyes.”

Dubbed “So Good to See You, Connecticut,” the tourism campaign will launch Monday and continue through Labor Day, featuring ads on social media; new content on the state’s tourism website, CTvisit.com; and a TV campaign scheduled to start airing in July.

Fiveash endorsed the notion that phase two constitutes the unofficial start of tourism season, which typically begins on Memorial Day.

The coronavirus pandemic interfered this year, prompting a mid-March shutdown of nonessential businesses.

While restaurants were allowed to serve outside and some retail businesses and offices were allowed to partially reopen May 20 in phase one, hotels, motels, inns, B&Bs and other lodging establishments have been limited to providing rooms for health care workers, first responders and workers employed in other essential businesses. They also could accommodate members of vulnerable populations and those facing homelessness.

All told, there were 16 permissible exemptions, according to John Lombardo, general manager of Saybrook Point Resort & Marina in Old Saybrook and a member of the board of directors of the Connecticut Lodging Association.

Since the shutdown, he said, the state’s hotels and motels have endured a room occupancy rate of about 14%.

Although under the state reopening guidelines Saybrook Point can use only half of its 104 rooms, the resort is almost booked solid for some upcoming weekends, Lombardo said. The resort has spent a half-million dollars on upgrades, including a new patio and an outdoor sound system, and has adopted such new cleaning protocols as the use of electrostatic sprayers to disinfect public spaces and guest rooms.

“Most hotels do 70% of their revenue in 40% of the year, from Memorial Day into September,” Lombardo said. “What we don’t know is what the next three to four months will bring. We’ve got weddings on the books for the fall but it depends what happens (with the coronavirus).”

“We’re grateful that the governor is moving to phase two,” said Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Lodging Association. “We see this as an opportunity to capture some business this weekend. We’re hearing some hesitancy on the part of B&B owners who don’t feel they’re ready yet, but the industry as a whole is eager to get back in business. This is an important time of year for the parts of the state that depend on tourism dollars.”

As of Tuesday, 41 lodging establishments in New London County had “self-certified” with the state Department of Economic and Community Development, indicating they intend to reopen.

Gradually reopening

While art museums can reopen Wednesday, the ones in southeastern Connecticut are tending to wait a while longer.

The Lyman Allyn Art Museum will reopen June 30, and will offer free admission throughout the summer. Its first exhibition will be “Peter Anton’s Sweet Dreams: Confectionary Sculpture,” which was supposed to open June 6 but will now open July 18.

The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme will reopen to museum members July 1 and to the public July 7. Admission only will be available with 24-hour advance online ticketing. Visitors can get details on admission requirements and purchase tickets on the Flo Gris website, florencegriswoldmuseum.org, starting June 26. Its first exhibition will be “Fresh Fields: American Impressionist Landscapes from the Florence Griswold Museum.”

It hasn’t been determined yet when the Slater Memorial Museum, located on the campus of Norwich Free Academy, will reopen.

At Mystic Seaport Museum, spokesman Dan McFadden said indoor exhibits will not reopen until July 3. At that time, a new exhibit will be unveiled in the Thompson Building.

More options at the casinos

Southeastern Connecticut’s casinos, which partially reopened June 1, are not bound by the governor’s phasing schedule. Nevertheless, they are expanding their offerings this week.

“The (Mohegan) tribe has decided not to get stuck on ‘Phase Two,’ so we’re just opening more things in accordance with what the state’s doing,” said Jeff Hamilton, Mohegan Sun’s president and general manager. “We’re evaluating the environment in the state, making sure it’s safe. We’re opening our restaurants for inside dining Wednesday and most of our (retail) tenants will be opening Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.”

The casino’s Sky Tower hotel, which had not been taking reservations from out-of-state residents, will begin doing so, Hamilton said. Demand for rooms has been growing, he said, prompting Mohegan Sun to open more and more of the 1,200-room hotel while keeping the casino's 400-room Earth Tower hotel closed.

“For Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts, every (coronavirus) metric we’ve looked at shows things are moving in the right direction,” Hamilton said. “We’ve heard people are excited to go to dinner. We’re going to have capacity restrictions and disposable menus. We’re posting menus outside the restaurants and asking people to use their phones to take a picture of them.”

A casino comedy club will begin hosting shows this weekend, and Hamilton said he hopes to schedule a scaled-back event in Mohegan Sun Arena before the end of summer.

Foxwoods Resort Casino has reintroduced gaming in The Fox Tower, and will open inside dining at a half-dozen restaurants Wednesday. It has increased room capacity in its Grand Pequot Tower hotel and on Tuesday reopened Monza World-Class Karting, its go-kart track. Drivers’ helmets are disinfected after each use with a “UV helmet sanitizer,” according to a Foxwoods news release.

Foxwoods is planning to show outdoor drive-in movies several nights a week in a lot at the intersection of Route 2 and Foxwoods Boulevard, starting July 2.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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