Tourism efforts could use some improvements
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.
Gillette Castle State Park, in East Haddam, is one of the state’s top tourist attractions.