In response to a number of complaints from towns across the region, the Eastern Regional Tourism District voted on Thursday to change the current “Mystic Country” branding to acknowledge other tourist draws in Eastern Connecticut.
The region, which comprises 41 towns on the eastern side of Connecticut, voted to create at least one subregion within the district and to create individual pages on the Connecticut state tourism website for each subregion.
At a meeting of the tourism district on Thursday, New London Mayor Michael Passero said that he raised concerns about the exclusivity of “Mystic Country” after an article about New London circulated in the national media over the summer. Passero said the article never once mentioned New London — that it only referred to “Mystic Country.”
“We have long chafed under the brand of Mystic Country here in New London, and I think it’s really time for the Eastern region to be more broadly represented by a brand that represents all of the assets in the region,” Passero said at the meeting.
The district sent out a poll to its members asking for input about the brand. Out of twenty-seven towns and industry representatives who responded to the poll, about 50 percent said they wanted to create a sub-region for Northeast Connecticut, and 25 percent said they wanted to rebrand with a new name.
Bruce MacDonald, the retired chief operating officer for the Connecticut Maritime Festival and former director of communications for the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said that New London had its own tourist attractions, such as the Garde Arts Center and Ocean Beach Park, and had been attracting tourists since the 19th century.
“We deserve recognition. We are not an appendage of Mystic,” said MacDonald.
Some of the smaller towns in the region also said they felt the current name did not accurately reflect the diversity of the region.
Tyra Penn, director of planning and development for Thompson, said that Connecticut’s Western and Central Tourism districts divided themselves into subregions. She said that she believed the towns did not feel adequately represented, and that greater recognition for the smaller towns would reduce the “animus” that still existed.
“There is still a lack of recognition of the various pieces of this puzzle that fit together to make what is ostensibly the richest tourism district,” said Penn.
Mia Mitoma, owner of the Fitch House B&B in Mansfield, said she felt that the district should make more of an effort to promote the small towns, and that once people arrived and realized they were close to Mystic and the casinos, they would frequent those as well.
Not everyone agreed that the name change was a good idea. Chris Regan, owner of Regan Enterprises, property manager of Olde Mistick Village and vice chairman of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, said that the name “Mystic Country” had a long history. He said that the brand name recognition was critical, and that Mystic was able to compete with areas like Newport, RI.
“I’m sorry that some areas feel that they are slighted, but at the end of the day it’s about getting people here and then educating them about what we have in our region,” said Regan.
Former First Selectman of North Stonington Mike Urgo suggested a name like “Mystic and More,” saying that a great deal of funding and time had gone into creating the brand, which he saw as an “anchor” for the region.
Paige Bronk, Groton’s economic and community development manager, pointed out that Connecticut is a small state. He said that the district should be focusing on competition coming from outside of Connecticut, rather than competing between communities.
Francesca Kefalas, assistant director at The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, which borders 26 of the district’s 41 towns, said that the state was missing an opportunity to promote the area. She said that she believed creating subregions would allow for more creativity and a better understanding of the region.
The district will create a subcommittee to discuss the subregions. Although the district has not yet settled on any new names, several individuals brought up the idea of a name that would associate the Northeast part of the district with The Last Green Valley.
Gina Kunst of Colchester, director of sales and marketing at the Holiday Inn in New London, said that while she voted to keep the name Mystic Country, understanding the “power” that the name holds, she said the district needed to consider towns like hers, which don’t fit into either Mystic Country or the Last Green Valley.
First selectman of Voluntown Tracy Hanson said that while the name was important, it wasn’t the only thing that counted. She said that towns needed to actively promote themselves.
Barry Kapplan, owner of Bush Meadow Farm in Union, said that the tourists who come to Union are interested in a completely different kind of experience than the Southeastern region offers.
“They have very little interest in going downstate into the Mystic Area, they are up here to hunt, fish, hike and get lost in our woods,” said Kapplan. “When you talk about Mystic, New London, Norwich, that might as well be South Carolina to us.”
Charlie Tracy, chair of the economic planning and development commission in Pomfret, said he felt the towns like Niantic, New London and Old Lyme and Essex were beautiful places, but that they were overshadowed by Mystic.
“There’s another story to tell. If we stick with Mystic Country, we’re overlooking the rest of that story,” said Charlie Tracy from Pomfret.
This story was updated and corrected to reflect that Bruce MacDonald is now retired