Connecticut House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz has convened what's described as a blue ribbon panel on tourism in the state.
The panel was established as a way to give the legislature an accurate picture of the state of tourism in Connecticut, as well as offer policy recommendations aimed at boosting the industry. Aresimowicz expects the panel's scope to encompass the entire state, not just the state Capitol.
“Going around the state and doing some regional meetings and bringing in people to talk about what's important in their area, and how we can do better in the funding,” Aresimowicz told the panel at its first meeting. “Can we come up with streams of funding that are self-sufficient and that we are no longer subject to the political whims of Hartford?”
Tourism is a big business in Connecticut. According to a 2016 tourism study, the industry brings in nearly $15 billion in sales, contributing $1.7 billion in tax revenue and accounting for about 83,000 jobs in the state.
Members of the newly convened panel also said tourism is good investment, claiming that for every dollar invested in tourism, eight dollars are returned to the state. But in the first meeting, it became clear that state investment in tourism, or lack thereof, will be a big issue for the new panel.
“You know a part of the frustration on my part is that it seems like we spend so much time and effort getting the few dollars that we have,” said panel chair Don DeVivo. “That effort could be spent developing tourism and actually getting the word out and doing something positive rather than just trying to fight for our survival and money.”
State spending on tourism has been erratic at best over the last decade. Former Governor Jodi Rell famously cut tourism marketing from $4.1 million to just $1. In 2012, Governor Dannel Malloy launched the $15 million "Still Revolutionary" tourism campaign, but state investment in tourism has dropped significantly since then.
Several panel members complained that $1.2 million in state funding that was supposed to be given to the three regional tourism districts in July was never received.
Aresimowicz said the final report will include the input of the many people working on behalf of tourism throughout the state, as well as the public at large. He expects the panel to have recommendations for the General Assembly by the beginning of March.
Governor-elect Ned Lamont has also made tourism a priority in his upcoming administration, forming a policy committee whose focus is on tourism, arts and culture.