Will Irish eyes smile on southeastern Connecticut?

Taking an excursion to his native country of Ireland is hardly something new for Tony Sheridan, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and former first selectman of Waterford.

Back in 2011, for example, he represented the chamber in greeting the U.S. Coast Guard Academy training ship Eagle when it made a stop in Waterford, Ireland, on the way to celebrating its 75th anniversary in Hamburg, Germany. The tall ship was commissioned there in 1936 and later seized by the U.S. as a war prize.

Sheridan has joined in other chamber trips to the Emerald Isle since. Last year he was among a group of chamber members who flew on the first direct flight from Bradley International Airport to Dublin when Aer Lingus reintroduced international flights at the Windsor Locks airport in October.

At that time, the chamber president said the Aer Lingus link to Dublin and, by way of connections to other Western European countries, could make southeastern Connecticut a player in attracting European tour groups.

Now he is back in Ireland with a group of local tourism promoters making a play for that business.

“It’s the first big-time effort. I’m escorting 35 suitcases full of material Thursday night out of Bradley,” Sheridan told me last week. “We have pulled out all the stops.”

Participating institutions include the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, the Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, the Waterford Hotel Group, Essex Steam Train and the Goodspeed Opera House, as well as Aer Lingus. The Connecticut Office of Tourism and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Services Division are also taking part, as is U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

The advance man, Sheridan will meet the delegation arriving in Dublin at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, meaning 12:30 a.m. local time.

On Monday, the delegation will host a presentation for tour group agencies at a Dublin hotel, including feeding them some local clam chowder and plying them with southeastern Connecticut produced wines. That night the group takes a flight to Manchester, England with its 35 cases of gear in tow to repeat the presentation there Tuesday.

“They’re next door to America, our part of America, a six-hour flight over and back,” said Sheridan of Ireland and England.

The group returns on Aer Lingus Wednesday.

“We have a selection of venues in eastern Connecticut that are quite attractive to many Europeans who have heard about New England but don’t really know New England,” Sheridan said. “We can put together one- and two-week packages that are very attractive. We have two of the largest casinos in the world. We have just about everything one would need: scenery, shopping, boating, fishing, history.”

Can it work? Frankly, I don’t know. We’re not New York or Boston. We don’t have the mass transit Europeans are used to. But we’re New England quaint.

While the U.S. Chamber and Connecticut Tourism Commission helped with planning, the private sector is funding the presentations.

“This is all driven by the private sector. It is private-sector venues that are coming on the trip and spending their own money,” Sheridan said.

Which means they’ll want to see a return on investment. Sheridan has sold this idea hard. At 72, this could be a career capstone or, if it flops, a millstone. It should become apparent by next spring if tourism promoters were able to reel in some tour groups. Follow-up work after this week’s pitch will be vital.

As business trips go, this one appears more promising than most, but hardly a sure thing.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.


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