Task force aims to boost city tourism

Falling state tourism levels since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have led to the establishment of a tourism task force in New Haven.

The task force, which has met four times since Oct. 15, is addressing reduced levels of local tourism and layoffs in the tourism industry as a result of the Sept 11. attacks on New York City. The 12-member group includes New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno, Town Green Special Services District Director Scott Healy ’96 and Omni New Haven Hotel General Manager David Jurcak.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. formed the task force after Karolyn Kirchgesler, director of the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, approached the city for help with maintaining local tourism.

“It’s a short term task force intended to deal with the fallout of Sept. 11,” said Barbara Lamb, chairman of the task force and New Haven director of special projects.

Jurcak said the terrorist attacks have noticeably damaged Connecticut tourism, which is Connecticut’s third largest industry.

Cancellations in the days immediately following Sept. 11 cost the Omni New Haven Hotel over $500,000. Overall, the Omni’s September occupancy rate fell 40 percent from last year. A slight rebound in October led to only a 20 percent decline from a year ago.

The task force sent a memo to Gov. John G. Rowland Monday requesting a public service announcement to encourage increased sales meetings in Connecticut.

“If a business is having a meeting, then we hope that they will have it in state,” Jurcak said.

The task force previously asked DeStefano to write a similar letter to area businesses and has recommended that cities maintain their recreational trip schedules.

“We are encouraging municipalities not to cancel bus trips,” Lamb said. “If they canceled out-of-state trips, we ask them to reschedule, but with an in-state destination.”

Members of the Connecticut Tourism Council decided Monday morning not to promote tourism through paid advertisements because of the expense, said Lamb, who is a member of the council. The council is a permanent group that meets monthly to discuss tourism at the state level.

Decreases in state travel have forced some businesses to cut staff, another area of concern for the task force.

“We’re pulling together information and tracking layoffs,” Lamb said. “We are identifying laid-off workers and offering them resources on how to proceed.”

The Omni Hotel has laid off ten workers since Sept. 11 and cut hours for other workers. Other New Haven hotels and transit groups have trimmed their work forces as well, Lamb said.

Many of the task force’s recommendations parallel federal legislation.

“There are a lot of things happening in Washington,” Jurcak said. “We’re trying to bring those to Connecticut.”

The future schedule of the task force is unclear, Lamb said. Members are communicating via e-mail and will determine if there is a need for future meetings.

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