Tourism Grants Announced for Eastern Connecticut

The Eastern Regional Tourism District announced last week that it would distribute a total of $152,267 in grant money to nine partnerships that are developing marketing campaigns to promote local tourism. 

The selected campaigns include the Airline Trail, the Thames River Heritage Park, the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, and efforts to promote tourism through partnerships in Voluntown, Windham, New London, Norwich and Old Lyme. 

Two other organizations, Olde Mistick Village and the Last Green Valley, each received $25,000 in October, increasing the total amount of grant money distributed to $202,267.

To fund the grants, the district set aside $180,000 of the $400,000 it receives yearly from the Connecticut Office of Tourism. The district also used funds left over from 2019 and some money that would have otherwise been put toward creating brochures, according to Chris Regan, chairman of the marketing committee. 

For any chosen campaign, the district contributes double the funds raised by the campaign for up to $5,000. It will then match up to $15,000 of additional funds raised, with a cap of $25,000.

Regan said he thought the different proposals were great. “The exciting part was that there was collaboration amongst people and their community,” he said. 

Promoting local history 

Many of the campaigns plan to use their funds to draw attention to the region’s local history. 

For example, Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said that the $25,000 grant would be used to pair restaurants with the 40-plus walking tours in the city through a campaign called “Passport to Norwich.” The campaign is a partnership between the City of Norwich and the Norwich Community Development Corporation.

Nystrom said that the campaign would highlight local landmarks — the Benedict Arnold walking tour, the mansions of the so-called Millionaire’s Triangle, and the area’s history with the Mohegan nation. At the same time, it would help the local restaurants survive the winter. Nystrom said one idea would be to have restaurants adapt their menu to reflect the theme of a certain trail. 

The City of New London, which also received a grant of $25,000, plans to use the money to develop a Black History Heritage Trail, which will draw attention to important local sites in African American history in New London.  

According to Elizabeth Nocera, the economic development coordinator for the City of New London, the city is working with New London Landmarks to place plaques at specific sites. These include New London’s first school for Black children, the 23 Franklin Street home of former New London NAACP President Linwood Bland, Jr., and the site of New London’s 1919 race riots. The City also plans to enlist local videographers to help develop a marketing campaign for the area. 

Digital and print marketing

Digital marketing campaigns are another popular use for the funds. The Thames River Heritage Park is using the $9,000 in grant money, plus $4,500 it raised independently, to create a series of 30- and 60-second videos featuring nine New London and Groton historical sites it partners with. Amy Perry, executive director of the park, said the videos will be done in “sort of a PBS, documentary style” that can then be put up on a digital platform. 

“This will be something that will be timeless, once it’s all put together,” said Perry, adding that this would help their site partners, many of whom were unable to open this summer. 

In Old Lyme, the Lyme Art Association and the Florence Griswold Museum partnered to raise $2,500. That money, along with the $5,000 grant from the tourism district, will go toward advertising for the two organizations. According to Tammi Flynn, the director of marketing at the Florence Griswold Museum, they plan to advertise in various newspapers, create sandwich boards, send out mail advertisements and increase their social media presence.

Laurie Pavlos, executive director of the Lyme Art Association, said the two organizations wanted to strengthen their collaboration and support one another’s exhibits.

“We’re next door neighbors, and our roots are joined,” said Pavlos. 

Pavlos said she believed the pandemic had strengthened people’s desire to view art. She said it was a way of escaping what was going on in the world. Next year, the two organizations are celebrating the Centennial of the Lyme Art Association with exhibits featuring local artists and the museum’s history. 

Pavlos said she thought the advertising campaign would help draw more people to the area, and Flynn said she thought their campaign would help promote the area’s wider art community. 

“We’re sometimes a sleepy corner of Connecticut,” said Pavlos. 

Other campaigns that received grants are the Windham Region Chamber of Commerce Regional Marketing Project, the Air Line Trail Brochure Marketing Campaign, the Town of Windham Marketing Campaign, the Voluntown Tourism Campaign and So Good to See You in Mystic.

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