Tourism ef­forts could use some im­prove­ments

The News-Times - - OPINION - Stacy Gra­ham-Hunt Stacy Gra­ham-Hunt is mem­ber­ship di­rec­tor at the Arts Coun­cil of Greater New Haven. She can be reached at sta­cy­gra­[email protected] gmail.com.

When I’ve trav­eled out­side of Con­necti­cut, for va­ca­tion, fam­ily re­unions or col­lege, and people learn that I’m from the Nut­meg State, they act like they’ve seen one of the seven won­ders of the world. “There’s black people in Con­necti­cut?” they’ve asked.

I thought about this re­cur­ring ex­pe­ri­ence while I sat and lis­tened to Randy Fiveash, the di­rec­tor of Con­necti­cut Of­fice of Tourism, de­scribe his of­fice’s mar­ket­ing ef­forts to bring more vis­i­tors to the state dur­ing Arts Ad­vo­cacy Day at the Capi­tol a few weeks ago.

“Who are you try­ing to get to Con­necti­cut? What’s your of­fice’s tar­get mar­ket?” I asked Fiveash later that day. In my mind, it couldn’t have been people of color, since no one even knows that black people ex­ist in Con­necti­cut.

He said there were sev­eral markets, but mostly New York and Bos­ton, he said with a smile. He of­fered to email me the mar­ket­ing plan that his team cre­ated and handed me his card. I felt like he was blow­ing me off. I didn’t be­lieve that he was go­ing to email me the plan, but I said “OK,” and smiled back. He even­tu­ally sent links to in­for­ma­tion that didn’t an­swer my ques­tion.

Then I thought, “Does this re­ally mat­ter? Should I re­ally pur­sue his an­swer?”

Yes. Con­necti­cut spends 4 mil­lion tax dol­lars on tourism mar­ket­ing each year, ac­cord­ing to the Con­necti­cut Of­fice of Tourism. If I’m fi­nan­cially con­tribut­ing to these mar­ket­ing ef­forts, I should at least be rep­re­sented in the mar­ket­ing. People out­side of the state at least know that people like me ex­ist within the state.

I started to con­duct my own re­search on Face­book.

“Raise your hand if you’re black, and when you’ve trav­eled out of state, some­one has asked you, ‘There’s black people in Con­necti­cut?’” Within a short time, 130 re­acted and 100 people left com­ments, say­ing that this in fact was their ex­pe­ri­ence.

For­tu­nately, I at­tended Con­necti­cut Arts Day on Thurs­day. It was a day of arts work­shops and pre­sen­ta­tions, spon­sored by the Con­necti­cut Of­fice of the Arts, which took place at the Col­lege Street Mu­sic Hall and the Omni Ho­tel in New Haven on Thurs­day. The Con­necti­cut Of­fice of Tourism pre­sented a work­shop on their mar­ket­ing ef­forts to in­crease tourism in the state. I saw an op­por­tu­nity to get my ques­tion an­swered. “Who is your tar­get mar­ket, Con­necti­cut?” I got an an­swer.

Moms, ages 25 and older, with house­hold in­comes of $100,000, was who the tourism of­fice was most in­ter­ested in con­nect­ing with, said Rose­mary Bove. This trans­lated to me as mid­dle-aged, rich, white women living in Long Is­land and Man­hat­tan.

I told Bove about my ex­pe­ri­ence about be­ing black and “sur­pris­ingly” from Con­necti­cut, and asked her how their of­fice mar­keted the di­ver­sity within the state, and how they came up with that spe­cific tar­get mar­ket. She said all or­ga­ni­za­tions are in­vited to cre­ate a free list­ing page on ctvisit.com and that even though they have a spe­cific tar­get mar­ket, con­cluded by their re­search, they try to in­clude many or­ga­ni­za­tions on their web­site.

Af­ter she gave her an­swer, I scrolled through their In­sta­gram page and I wasn’t convinced. Fol­low­ing Bove’s com­ments, an­other pre­sen­ter from the tourism of­fice, Jean He­bert, said that their of­fice makes sure to also high­light at­trac­tions that cater to people with dis­abil­i­ties. While I ap­pre­ci­ated this ini­tia­tive, I wanted to tell her that I was black, not dis­abled.

He­bert over­sees the list­ings, deals, and cu­rates ar­ti­cles about the events tak­ing place at or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out the state. She fa­cil­i­tates the de­ci­sion­mak­ing about which or­ga­ni­za­tions are el­i­gi­ble to have a free list­ing and have their events in­cluded in the ar­ti­cles that are dis­trib­uted and viewed to thou­sands of people out­side of the state. This didn’t seem like an in­clu­sive process to me. It was also hard for me to imag­ine that racial di­ver­sity would be on the fore­front of the minds of a staff that didn’t seem so di­verse.

I also thought about people in their early 20s, who had money, fewer re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and were look­ing to spend money on the week­ends, be­cause I used to be one of them. On the week­ends, my friends and I loathed the thought of be­ing stuck in Con­necti­cut. “There’s noth­ing to do here,” we’d say. We’d pack our bags and spend the week­end and our money in New York. Imag­ine how much ad­di­tional in­come the state could make if we be­came a place where young adults wanted to hang out on the week­ends.

Dur­ing the con­fer­ence, I met David Kooris, the deputy com­mis­sioner of the Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment, and told him about my ex­pe­ri­ences and con­cerns. He said he was open to sit down and talk about ways to high­light the di­ver­sity in the state to at­tract more di­verse tourists. I also hope my work at the Arts Coun­cil can help close the dis­par­i­ties.

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Gil­lette Castle State Park, in East Had­dam, is one of the state’s top tourist at­trac­tions.

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