Making Milford a tourist destination

City leaders have their eye on making Milford more of a destination spot for travelers.

While traditionally seen as an ideal lodging destination for people traveling to New York City, or those visiting Yale University, Milford could be much more than that. And that is why city officials entertained and hosted tour operators from Aer Lingus in October. The recent trip involved eight tour promoters from Aer Lingus, including bloggers, travel writers and a Bradley International Airport representative who traveled along the coast for promotions, according to Milford Economic and Community Development Director Julie Nash.

The group ate at Stonebridge Restaurant and attended a show at the Milford Arts Center (MAC).

The promotion of the region is in response to a continuation of direct flights between Hartford and Dublin, Ireland, where Aer Lingus is located. Nash worked with Sarah Washburn, a tourism manager with REX Development, which promotes tourism for the Greater New Haven area, as well as Milford’s Tourism Task Force, to bring the familiarization tour to Milford.

Paige Miglio, Executive Director of the MAC, spoke to the group briefly, and said, “They couldn’t say enough good things about [Milford].” She said they appreciated Milford’s walkable downtown.

Washburn promotes the area both internationally and regionally. She said Milford is drawing international attention from Europeans, specifically Germans and English people, who seem to appreciate outdoor activities, like kayaking, and American small town charm. She also said there is a significant number of tourists from China, and potential students who visit Yale University and New York City.

There are plans for the city to have a tourism website this spring, Nash said, which will include maps, history, activities and travel deals.

Nash also pointed out that Milford has the most on and off exits in the state, and emphasized the need to have attractive entryways into the city. She said there are projects underway to beautify entryways.

The state has had limited funding for tourism since Nash started her position about four years ago. Tapping into free social media has been an effective way to reach audiences, she said. She operates the town’s Youtube, Instagram and Facebook accounts, and said she previously called people for content. Now people call her, or “tag” the town’s social pages online, and are quick to share photos, memories, and comments on their personal social media accounts. The city’s Facebook followers have grown from 600 to 7,500.

Nash recently attended a central tourism district meeting. There are three state districts for tourism, and the central region encompasses about 66 towns. Being new to the group, Nash is interested to see how the state spends tourism dollars, and how the methods compare to her own.

Washburn said she understands that digital advertisements may be the new way of the world, but she said she believes in the need for tradeshows and print advertising. She said the state only invests in digital advertisements now, while it previously paid for billboards and print advertisements, including those in Grand Central Station. “It’s definitely the way the world is working now, to some degree, but those concrete print ads are really important for travel agents, and the international market,” Washburn said.