Sen. Somers: “We have great momentum” on CT tourism

January 23, 2023

Arts, culture and tourism caucus has a number in mind: $58.5 million

(From The Day of New London)

A windfall of federal money helped rescue arts, culture and tourism in Connecticut in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, at the same time creating some momentum that lawmakers, organizations and businesses are eager to sustain.

They figure it’ll take $58.5 million in state funding in each of the next two fiscal years.

A bill seeking the appropriation of that amount to the Department of Economic and Community Development in 2023 was referred Friday to the legislature’s Commerce Committee.

It specifies that the money, to be taken from the state’s General Fund, be spent on statewide tourism marketing, support for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, and workforce development.

The legislature’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Caucus, co-chaired by Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Republican, and John-Michael Parker, a Madison Democrat, aired the pitch behind the proposed legislation during an online meeting a week earlier.

During the session, Somers cited a recent reversal in Connecticut tourism’s fortunes.

“When I first became a senator seven years ago, we were struggling,” she said. “But this sector has blossomed. We have great momentum. We just need to push it over the finish line.”

With museums, theaters, hotels, restaurants and other destinations shuttered amid the pandemic, the legislature reorganized its approach to funding arts, culture and tourism and committed a total of $30.7 million to Connecticut Humanities, the nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.

“The arts/culture and tourism sectors are working together for the first time,” Jason Mancini, Connecticut Humanities’ executive director, said. “The timing is right for this investment.”

The $58.5 million being sought in the next fiscal year includes $25 million for the Connecticut Office of Tourism’s statewide marketing programs; $17.5 million for the Connecticut Cultural Fund, which provides grants to arts and cultural nonprofit organizations; $8 million for line-item earmarks contained the the budget; $5 million for Connecticut Humanities and the Connecticut Office of the Arts; and $3 million for workforce development.

While ultimately it would be up to the legislature to decide how to fund the appropriation, Mancini said possible sources include the state’s occupancy tax on hotel rooms, the tax on car rentals and revenue from online gambling.

During the online meeting, state officials previewed a film recapping the tourism office’s accomplishments in 2022.

“Connecticut tourism is looking pretty different these days,” the film’s narrator says. “Edgier, more energetic, more diverse and inclusive.”

Noelle Stevenson, who was named the state’s tourism director in December 2021, said her office has worked to position Connecticut as a global destination, focusing on sports tourism, LGBTQ+ tourism and multicultural tourism.

Data compiled by Stevenson’s office shows Connecticut’s $10 million tourism budget in the current fiscal year has brought the state into line with other states’ tourism spending. Rhode Island and New Hampshire each spend $11 million, while Massachusetts spends $12 million and Maine $18 million. New York, on the other hand, spends $60 million.

Connecticut’s additional spending has enabled the tourism office to upgrade its website,, which was visited more than 7.1 million times in 2022, according to the office. That was more than 100,000 more visits than the site recorded in 2019 and 2020, and made it the most-visited tourism website of any New England state.