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April 5, 2023

Prime Destination: As warm weather approaches, tourism officials tout New Haven, region to visitors

PHOTO | ADOBE STOCK.COM New Haven restaurants, theaters and other tourist attractions are gearing up for what they hope will be a busy summer.

Avelo flights are zooming, New Haven’s got a new hotel on Long Wharf and the city rated a mention in the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2023” feature.

Local economic development officials hope to leverage the recent spate of good news to make 2023 a good year for the city and region’s tourism industry.

There’s some difference of opinion among experts as to whether business has fully bounced back from the pandemic, but all agree there’s plenty happening here to offer people on vacation.

Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of Visit New Haven and the Connecticut Lodging Association, has been feverishly promoting the city by attending conferences and trade shows and meeting with tour groups both domestic and international.

“I’ve been showing them around the city, and they’ve been exploring on their own,” Kozlowski said. “We’ve toured the Yale campus, the New Haven hotel, the Hotel Marcel and pizza, of course.”

She has spotlighted local attractions such as nightlife, museums and the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center. Guests have visited regional highlights too, such as the Mark Twain House and shoreline communities like Old Saybrook.

These familiarization tours are a way for travel industry professionals to get a quick flavor of a city or region. Kozlowski has met with or plans to meet with representatives from Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland and Ireland. Aer Lingus is resuming flights from Bradley International Airport to Ireland.

Avelo has barely been flying 18 months and the numbers have far exceeded expectations, Kozlowski said. In March, Avelo marked its one millionth passenger at Tweed New Haven Airport.

Much of the travel on Avelo is outbound – think folks going to Florida. But about 15% is inbound, people visiting New Haven.

Plans are in the works to promote New Haven to the cities Avelo flies to, including through flight giveaways and stories in local media. Avelo has multiple destinations in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, plus cities such as Washington D.C., Chicago and Nashville.

“Everywhere I go I pitch that we were selected to be in the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2023” feature. There were only 11 U.S. destinations chosen. It’s pretty special,” Kozlowski said. “We are working with the city and the office of Arts, Culture and Tourism and the Shops at Yale to create buzz around the New York Times piece.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s budget includes a proposed $50,000 to support Visit New Haven.

“This is a new allocation intended to support outreach to the Avelo markets and to support the New York Times ‘52 Places’ story,” said Michael Piscitelli, city economic development administrator.

Overall, Kozlowski believes hotel occupancy has not entirely bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hotel occupancy numbers are below 2019 numbers, particularly for the start of 2023.

Jan Jones, the University of New Haven’s program coordinator for tourism management at the Pompea College of Business, believes the travel industry has rebounded from the pandemic.

“Tourism is really looking good,” Jones said. “Research is saying people want to get out and do stuff. Domestic and international travel will be up this summer. We have rebounded but we still have things to figure out.”

Lingering issues remain, such as finding adequate hospitality staff.

“We are trying to get people into the workforce,” Jones said. “I think you will see a lot of the services back that were minimal in previous summers. Restaurants are dealing with supply chain issues, looking for chefs. Stability is needed but all indications are that people will be back out traveling, even with higher costs.”

‘Find Your Vibe’

The state Office of Tourism plans to continue its “Find Your Vibe” campaign, said spokeswoman Michelle Bonner.

“The Find Your Vibe campaign exceeded expectations last summer, fall and winter, and we are continuing it this year as well, reflecting a vibrant, dynamic and holistic view of Connecticut,” Bonner said. “The new look and feel really resonated with travelers as we saw out-of-state visits to the CTvisit website ( increase by more than 94%, and we saw an increase of 73% year-over-year in referrals to partner websites from CTvisit.”

The campaign will again feature a mix of media to reach more people across the country and internationally, including inflight video on targeted JetBlue flights and takeover of the large digital billboards in the Moynihan Train Hall in Penn Station in New York City.

The state is also trying to reach new audiences with some high-profile television marketing and advertisements, including during the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four, Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 15 finale (3 of the 16 drag queens are from Connecticut – one placing 5th), and a new partnership with Marriott Media Network.

“In addition to featuring just how much there is to do in Connecticut, there is significant emphasis on demonstrating the state’s inclusiveness and diversity,” Bonner said.

Key attractions

As city and state officials gear up for a successful summer tourist season, leaders at hotels, attractions and museums are doing the same.

New Haven aims to draw visitors to its array of museums and art galleries, many of which are free. One of the newest is NXTHVN in the city’s Dixwell neighborhood, which in addition to educating artists and curators, offers gallery exhibits to the public. Yale University Art Gallery is another popular destination for tourists, also free.

The city offers various hotel options, such as the six-story, 130-room Cambria on Dwight Street, which opened in 2022 and features decor honoring products invented in New Haven, from Frisbees to lollipops.

Billed as the nation’s first fossil fuel-free hotel, the 165-room Hotel Marcel opened in New Haven in 2022. Part of the Hilton chain, the hotel was designed by Westport architect Bruce Becker. His firm transformed the iconic, brutalist Armstrong Rubber headquarters on Long Wharf into a net-zero hotel operation, with 12 Tesla superchargers and 12 Level 2 EV chargers at the ready. That building was designed by Marcel Breuer, hence the hotel’s name.

Hotel Marcel General Manager Ben Watson said the venue is excited to welcome some larger groups in the coming months.

“In the coming weeks we are launching our new spring menu, opening for weekend brunch, and kicking off a happy hour that we know will be a favorite of locals and hotel guests,” Watson said.

A cruise ship provides a tour of the Thimble Islands archipelago off the coast of Branford.

A tour of the Thimble Islands off the coast of Branford is frequently a draw for locals and tourists alike.

Mike Infantino, captain of the Sea Mist cruise ship, offers narrated tours of the Thimbles, where, according to legend, Captain Kidd buried his treasure. The Sea Mist operates from May through around Columbus Day. July and August are its busiest season, when it operates seven days a week.

“We’ve rebounded from the pandemic, people seem to have come out of the woodwork,” Infantino said. “Most of what we do is repeat business. All our old customers came back, and many new ones. It’s been good.”

In preparation for its busiest tourist season, Infantino plans to offer a daily happy hour cruise to bring in new customers, and a second boat is in the works.

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