In Mystic, a tourism 'star' takes turn at The Whaler's Inn

Mystic — After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with an anthropology degree and a sense of adventure, Amanda Arling launched a career in travel and hospitality.

In seven years with Backroads, an “active travel” company based in California, she spent time in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska and the Caribbean.

And then she arrived in Mystic, where she took a job as general manager of The Whaler’s Inn in December 2016.

It seems safe to say she’s settled in.

Certified as a “rising star” of Connecticut tourism, the 30-year-old Arling has led the Inn, the venerable downtown landmark on Mystic’s Stonington side, through a series of changes that began after its 2015 acquisition by Per Heidenreich, a Greenwich businessman with a background in shipping and philanthropy. More changes may be in store for the property, though Arling, in a recent interview, said she was not at liberty to discuss them.

Earlier this month, Arling accepted the Connecticut Office of Tourism’s 2019 Rising Star Award during a conference at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

“In the hospitality industry, you have to be passionate,” she said. “You can’t fake it.”

Her admirers say her savvy belies her youth.

“She’s so far beyond her years,” said Peggy Roberts, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce. “As a member of our board, she was willing to co-chair the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival, which is a huge undertaking. At the Inn, the changes have been very positive, and she’s been heavily involved in that.”

Roberts described Arling as “a natural collaborator — ready to partner with everybody and get involved in everything.”

As a Backroads “trip expert,” Arling was responsible for mapping out five- to 10-day bicycling excursions. She would scope out potential sites in advance, visiting hotels, restaurants, museums and the like, and factor in travelers’ feedback. It gave her a sense of the way customers see things.

“When I got to the Inn, I was able to bring some fresh insight,” she said. “I had been staying at world-class, boutique hotels every night for seven years.”

Eventually, “living out of a suitcase” got old, Arling said.

“When you’re in your 20s, you want to get away from home, carve out a new path,” she said. “But the farther away I got, the more I wanted to get home.”

A New Hampshire native, Arling said she loves the Northeast.

The Whaler’s Inn comprises a cluster of five buildings along East Main and Cottrell streets. Up until about six weeks ago, Bravo Bravo, the popular restaurant, occupied space in one of the buildings, The Main Inn, which is now undergoing renovations. Bravo Bravo has moved directly across East Main to a new location.

Mallove’s jewelry store moved from another Inn building, The Hoxie House, to a nearby site last year, making way for the Inn’s newly refurbished lobby. Its décor, indicative of the property’s clean, modern style, features artwork from such local outlets as Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic Knotwork and Trade Winds Gallery.

“It’s so much involved in the pulse of the downtown,” Arling said of the lobby. “Somebody you know walks by or stops in for a cup of coffee. You can watch the (draw)bridge go up and boats go by.”

Another Inn building, The 1865 House, also was renovated last year. Altogether, the Inn's five buildings, including The Stonington House and The Noank House, comprise 47 guest rooms, 16 of them in The Main Inn.

Statistically, Arling said, the average guest stay at the Inn is 1.7 days. But stays of three to four days are typical, she said. The Inn employs 25 people.

Arling is quick to vouch for all that Mystic offers.

“We want people to stay at the Inn but also to enjoy everything else that’s here,” she said. “It would be shortsighted to concentrate only on the success of our own business. If we’re sold out, we’re happy to refer people to the Steamboat Inn, the Spicer Mansion or wherever. We’ve got everybody on speed dial.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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