Connecticut has a new director of tourism with nearly three decades of experience in the industry who hopes to spur growth and more opportunities for attractions in the state.
Noelle Stevenson quietly began her new role on November 15, succeeding Randy Fiveash, who retired in April. After meeting her team and some local stakeholders, she traveled the state to see some of Connecticut’s regional attractions.
The native of Greece, who speaks six languages, said she plans to bring a new perspective to the state after 28 years in the industry in New York and Florida.
Under Stevenson’s leadership, the Tourism Board launched a million dollar winter tourism campaign in late December – titled “The State I’m In” – which highlights hundreds of businesses and businesses. Connecticut destinations, including restaurants, hotels, and other attractions. It will run until March 31 and will feature television ads, streaming services, billboards, paid search marketing, and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
âI am very passionate about our industry and tourism as a whole,â Stevenson said. âThere is always room to grow, there is always room for more. “
A fresh face
After growing up in Greece, Stevenson moved to Boston where she received her Bachelor of Commerce and Organization degree from Emerson College. She continued her education at Cornell University in New York, completing a professional development program in Marketing Management, where she said her “love for the tourism industry began”.
Stevenson moved to Florida in 1994 and has held several executive positions in the Sunshine State industry for years. Most recently, she came from Broward County, Florida where she was a member of the Executive Leadership Team of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Prior to that, she led Miami-Dade County’s rebranding efforts as vice president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Under Stevenson, the county’s tourism marketing efforts expanded to include film, music, fashion and shopping, as well as boutique and lifestyle hotels.
âWhen we started this exercise in Miami, Miami was just very neutral. We had great leadership, but we also had great ideas that we came up with and we knew we wanted to tackle those market segments, âsaid Stevenson. “It wasn’t until we did that that you now have a metropolis there.”
Its experience in other regions is an attractive attribute for some state stakeholders.
“She will have a new vision, a new perspective on how things are done,” said Jim Bellano, president of the Eastern Regional Tourism District.
Tony Sheridan, chairman of the Connecticut Airport Authority and CEO of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, said Stevenson seemed eager to get started. He said she was open-minded and wanted the best for Connecticut tourism.
âI feel like she’s not afraid to try new ideas and isn’t attached to the programs and policies of the past,â Sheridan said after meeting Stevenson recently. “It was refreshing.”
Stevenson said one of the things that brought her to the state was its vast array of natural resources and attractions, including the combination of mountains and shorelines.
âNew England is no stranger to me, but what attracted me to Connecticut was the diversity,â Stevenson said. “That’s what a visitor looks for when they think about where they want to go, that perfect one-stop-shop.”
She introduced Connecticut as a four-season destination that has âsomething for everyoneâ.
âConnecticut is extremely rich in visitor community experiences, which puts us here in a great position on the map,â Stevenson said. “I am so impressed with what the state is offering.”
According to data from a study of the tourism economy in Connecticut, about $ 15.5 billion is spent annually by travelers in the state, generating $ 2.2 billion in tax revenue, of which $ 960 million is dollars in state and local taxes.
The state’s tourism industry is made up of three regional districts – central, eastern and western – which each receive $ 400,000 per year from the state tourism board for marketing.
A close partnership between the districts, each with their own specific attractions and assets, and those of Hartford is important, according to industry officials.
âWe just want to be able to continue this relationship with the state,â said Bellano, who is also director of economic and community development for Windham.
The past year and more has been a tough one for the tourism and hospitality industry, not only in Connecticut but around the world.
COVID-19 threw a wrench in many business operations when parts of the economy were shut down to stop the spread of the virus. Connecticut’s tourism sector has been hit extremely hard, losing more than half of its workforce (or 90,800 jobs) from February 2020 to April 2020.
There are still questions about how quickly business travel – which Hartford, Bradley International Airport and many locations across the state rely on for business – will bounce back.
But the industry is slowly recovering. At the end of November, the state’s tourism and hospitality sector employed 135,800 people, down 14% from employment levels in February 2020 – before the pandemic proliferated statewide.
“[The pandemic] impacted the tourism and hospitality industry more broadly than any other industry, âBellano said. âHotels, restaurants and places have really taken a hit. The challenge is still to get out of it.
The increase in âstays,â Bellano said, and the state’s tourism industry can learn lessons. Connecticut should capitalize on people’s desire to go out and do whatever they want to do.
âPeople couldn’t travel, so if they did something they would do it in the state of Connecticut or quite regionally,â Bellano said. âI think we want to take advantage of the fact that people have become accustomed to local and regional travel and travel experiences. “
Stevenson said his top priorities include increasing awareness of what the state has to offer and opening up new marketing segments.
âI believe tourism is at its best when we reach a diverse group of audiences and help instill a sense of curiosity and innovation about a destination,â Stevenson said. “We’re looking to broaden our message, showcase all of Connecticut’s attributes, and share the vibrancy, energy and some of the boldness of our tourism offerings.”
It is essential to try to connect with under-represented segments of the population.
âWhat I’m hearing overall is making sure we take these untapped opportunities into account,â Stevenson said.