March 13, 2019

CT tourism panel proposes sweeping reforms; wants to rebrand state

HBJ File Photo
HBJ File Photo
The Riverfront Recapture has drawn crowds back to the banks of the Connecticut River.
Photo | Contributed
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) launched the Blue Ribbon Panel on Tourism in October.

A state-led panel of business leaders dedicated to jumpstarting Connecticut's $14.7 billion tourism sector says the state must rebrand and divert more tax revenues to help grow the industry.

Those were just some of the recommendations the Blue Ribbon Panel on Tourism, led by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin), delivered in a report Tuesday on how to fuel the sector, which supports almost 83,000 jobs and produces $1.7 billion in annual tax revenue.

The 15-member panel, representing a diverse pool of industry leaders from Interim Foxwoods Resort Casino CEO Rodney Butler to Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh, spent the last five months hosting meetings and public hearings across the state to seek input from businesses and residents on how to better market Connecticut's attractions.

According to the 11-page report, the panel wants to increase the percentage of lodging tax revenue used to support tourism. Currently, 10 percent of annual lodging revenues fund tourism efforts, but the group wants to increase that to 25 percent, which would shift $12 million to the state's arts, culture and tourism fund.

The panel also wants to broaden the 15 percent levy to all paid stays and apply the state's 10 percent admissions tax to secondary businesses.

If adopted, a 27-member council made up of lawmakers, marketing, tourism and business experts would be assembled to oversee use of the additional funds.

Connecticut's branding also needs to be upgraded, according to the panel, which says the state should review its current marketing strategy, branding and slogan to ultimately replace the state's "Still Revolutionary" monicker. Final decisions would be made by marketing and tourism experts.

The panel also recommends the state appoint a commissioner to report directly to Gov. Ned Lamont regarding tourism, arts and culture. That "executive-level" individual would then be tasked with reviving the former Culture and Tourism Commission.

Other recommendations include:

  • Create a five-year strategic tourism plan.
  • Increase and fund five additional regional marketing organizations in the Connecticut Office of Tourism.
  • Open and staff all highway welcome centers around the clock.
  • Ease state Department of Transportation restrictions on highway wayfinding attraction signage.
  • Add "www.CTVisit.com" to license plates.

The tourism panel presented its recommendations Tuesday at a Commerce Committee public hearing in an effort to propel two bills it introduced last week.

One of those measures, H.B. 7307, would require the committee to conduct a study related to tourism and its effects and impacts on the state and its economy and submit a report of the findings by Feb. 1, 2020.

Meantime, H.B. 7306 would task commissioner-elect David Lehman of the newly reshaped state Department of Economic and Community Development to implement the panel's recommendations and submit a report on the plan by February.

Neighboring states spend nearly twice as much on the arts as Connecticut does per capita, according to the report. Data provided the panel shows a return on investment of $3 to $1 for tourism and $7 to $1 for arts and culture.

"Tourism should not be simply viewed as a cost but as an investment in our economy that creates jobs and helps pay for the programs and services vital to all our residents," Aresimowicz said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that the panel's report proposed to add funding for a new Statewide Convention & Sports Bureau (CSB). However, one already exists -- the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau (CTCSB). The report meant to say the state should re-establish funding for CTCSB.

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