State tourism expands as free summer museum program ends

Connecticut

Conn. (WTNH) — Millions in federal dollars given to Connecticut during the pandemic were put toward tourism. The Connecticut Summer at the Museum Program ended just a few days ago.

Officials are still crunching the numbers, but say initial results show it was a huge hit.

It was an epic summer of free fun!

At Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, foot traffic to explore the dome of dino-tracks was 25,000 visitors in two months. Department of Energy and the Environment officials say that’s double the average year.

Mike Ross, the education director at Dinosaur State Park, says the park is a gem.

“One of the only locations where you can make a real plaster cast of dinosaur tracks,” Ross said.

$15 million in federal relief funding was injected into the “Connecticut Summer at the Museum Program.”

Kids under 18 got free admission to more than 90 venues around the state, from Mystic Aquarium’s popular beluga whales to the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury.

Governor Ned Lamont said “we never closed our parks and beaches.” He added that he wanted to make sure people had an outlet to handle all the anxiety.

The state’s tourism website traffic exploded with 690,000 views.

Christine Castonguay, interim director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, says on average people spent six minutes on the website.

“That really indicated to us that people were taking advantage of the program and they were almost building out an itinerary of all the great museums they were going to visit this summer,” Castonguay said.

The free rides to the beach and inland hot spots through Park Connect were also a hit.

Commissioner Katie Dykes of the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment says the pilot program will end for the beaches but the inland routes will continue for leaf-peeping season.

“Whether you have a car or take public transit these places are for you,” Dykes said.

Lamont is tripling the state’s tourism budget to $24 million. $1.4 million just in target marketing and TV spots launched over the weekend. Officials are pushing to a wider audience including the Philadelphia market and potentially attracting more visitors to spend money in Connecticut.

“With this increase this fall, we are expecting [to be] able to reach over 30% of that target market,” Castonguay said.

Venues that participated in the Connecticut Summer at the Museum Program have to submit receipts and they will be reimbursed by the state.

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