High gas prices not expected to hurt summer tourism

While rising gasoline prices could harm tourism in some parts of the country, they’re not expected to do much damage in Connecticut, where attractions are near one another and all are within a tankful of gas from Boston and New York.

The high prices could even work to Connecticut’s advantage, said Randy Fiveash, director of the state Office of Tourism.

“Some of those who’ve already said they’re going to drive to some faraway destination — to Florida or wherever — may change their plans because of the gas prices,” he said. “The prices could actually help us.”

As it is, Connecticut’s tourism operators derive about half their business from in-state residents, Fiveash said.

The state, its budget for out-of-state tourism promotion cut to $6.4 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30 and to $4.1 million in the next fiscal year, primarily advertises tourism attractions in the Boston and New York City markets, he said.

On Friday, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded in the state was $3.14, which was 63 cents higher than it was on the same date last year. Nationally, the average price was $2.97, up 60 cents over last year.

Motorists can expect to see the highest gas prices since 2014 this summer, according to Amy Parmenter of AAA Allied Group in West Hartford.

Gas prices typically climb in April and May, as oil refineries switch to a more expensive summer blend of gasoline, Parmenter said. This year, the higher price of oil and stronger demand have pushed prices higher, and the re-imposition of sanctions against oil-producing Iran could continue the trend during the summer, she said.

“The good news is that … (gas prices) are not expected to increase as much as they did in the summer of 2014 when they were closer to $4 than $3,” Parmenter said.

Open House Day

Some 225 destinations in the state, more than 30 of them in New London County, will kick off the tourism season on Saturday, June 9 during the 14th annual Connecticut Open House, offering free or discounted admission and special offers. Among the attractions, historical sites, museums, galleries and restaurants are 32 first-time participants, including 11 businesses at Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Saybrook Point Inn, Marina and Spa in Old Saybrook.

The full list of participants is at www.CTvisit.com/CTOpenHouseDay.

“Open House Day is a perfect opportunity for residents to become tourists in their own backyard and experience what makes Connecticut such a prime New England destination,” Fiveash said in a release announcing the event.

Southeastern Connecticut’s major attractions are touting new exhibits and attractions, including Mohegan Sun, which this week will mark the completion of its $80 million Earth Expo & Convention Center. Barrett-Jackson’s 3rd Annual Northeast Auction of collector cars will be the center’s first event, June 20-23.

Foxwoods, which introduced a zip-line attraction earlier this spring, has other interactive attractions on tap, including an indoor go-kart track and simulated golf and race-car driving games, all of which are expected to open in the weeks ahead.

Mystic Aquarium and Dominion Energy, owner and operator of Millstone Power Station, jointly announced last week the upcoming debut of "Discover Long Island Sound," a new interactive exhibit at the aquarium. The “immersive experience,” scheduled to open June 19, will highlight the local estuary through digital interactives, a hands-on watershed model and a touch experience with native invertebrates.

“It is our goal to increase public knowledge of and appreciation for Long Island Sound and its natural resources and to inspire people to become good environmental stewards of this critical ecosystem,” Stephen Coan, the aquarium’s president and chief executive officer, said of the new exhibit.

Another new aquarium exhibit, "Jurassic Giants, A Dinosaur Adventure," enables guests to travel an indoor dinosaur trail featuring a dozen animatronic dinosaurs.

Mystic Seaport Museum unveiled a Viking exhibit earlier this month, displaying helmets, shields, weapons, glass and artifacts kept at the Gustavianum Musem of Uppsala University in Sweden, as well as an exhibit about the controversial Vinland map. 

In late June, artist Kevin Sampson will help inaugurate the museum’s artist residency program, establishing quarters aboard a vessel docked at the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, where he will engage with the museum community prior to an exhibition of his work.

Sampson began his career in the New Jersey police force and was the first African-American composite police sketch artist in the United States.

5-day festival

Near the end of summer, from Sept. 5 to 9, the 6th Annual Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival is expected to once again dominate the New London waterfront, offering a parade of ships booked for the event, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue demonstration, concerts, dance parties, a schooner race, a maritime career opportunity expo and a chowder challenge.

Without public funding, the festival struggled last year, but has been bolstered by “seed money” this year from the nonprofit OpSail Connecticut organization, said John Johnson, chairman of the executive committee.

“It’s allowed us to plan a five-day event instead of two (days),” Johnson said of the public support, which is being supplemented by private sponsorships. “We’re trying to make this more of a statewide event, involving some shoreline communities from as far away as New Haven and Bridgeport.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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