Western Connecticut tourism bureau faces shutdown after state budget cut
The Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau lost $420,000 in annual funding from the state with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, according to Chairman Dan Bolgani. Its total budget is only $500,000, with the difference coming from grants and private funding.
The agency, which employs four people and provides marketing, advertising, websites, newsletters and research promoting tourism the region, and arranges trade shows and tours for local attractions as well.
Bolgani said most of its operations have been suspended, as regional tourism advocates make a last-ditch attempt to get the state to reconsider.
“Tourism is an economic driver,” Bolgani said. “It’s an investment, not an expense. We expected state budget cuts, as did many other entities in Connecticut, but we’re confused as to why we were one of the few entities with a 100 percent cut. We are an organization with 30-plus years of expert regional knowledge. We have a proven track record. Now, in the busiest season, we’ve come to a dead halt. We have so much in play at the moment.”
With this new budget cut, he said Connecticut will be one of the only states in the country that does not have publicly funded regional tourism bureaus.
“I understand the governor needs to do what he has to do, but tourism is an investment for the state,” said Irene Dickson, a Norwalk representative on the bureau’s board. “For every dollar spent in marketing and advertising, it generates $10 in tax revenue.”
Betty Cordellos, owner of Connection Tours in Fairfield, is worried about the effect on her small business.
“As a niche tourism business owner since 1997, I rely on the business-to-business pipeline that the bureau provides to reach our target audiences and markets across the country,” Cordellos said. “It’s a valuable and free resource for attracting new business that I don’t have staff or budget to reach.”
Howard Lasser, executive director of the Brookfield Craft Center, said, “I do think (the budget cut) will impact this region, particularly in the fall when the people come up from the city and surrounding areas for leaf peeping. We do get a lot of carriage trade from that in our retail shops, I hate to think it will be significantly impacted, but it could be.”
The craft center has not received direct marketing or advertising support from the bureau in recent years, but still benefits from tourism, said Lasser.
Besides Fairfield County, the Litchfield Hills is the other region that received support from the western tourism bureau.
“It was a shock to hear the news,” Guertin said. “The western bureau has always been excellent in increasing tourist interest. They have been crucial to our success.”
Bolgani said the bureau is on “life support” from its private funds until alternate funding is found, which seems unlikely.