Spotlight on Milford: Committee discusses boosting tourism

A newly formed tourism committee met in Milford last week, bringing city officials and Chamber of Commerce members together to discuss ideas for bringing more visitors into the city at a time when regional tourism agencies are seeing funds shrink.

“Tourists might already come downtown, which is great, but they might stay two or three days if they know more about what’s in store,” said Julia Nash, Milford’s director of economic development.

Nash said shrinking state dollars and the loss of funds because of state budget woes are part of the reason that a committee formed to start talking about tourism. But it’s not the sole reason.

“It should be something we focus on whether the budget is there or not, but even more so with cuts,” Nash said.

Nash said that highlighting gems in Milford, as well as promoting packages and deals between businesses, may be a key to showing off the city and picking up lost tourism dollars.

Milford never received tourism money directly from the state, but rather took advantage of the regional, statewide tourism groups that promoted the towns. An example of the regional work, Nash said, might be a coastal tour that included 20-minute stops at each town.

As Milford picks up these initiatives, the measures will be more focused and specific to this city, she said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Connecticut Office of Tourism in March announced the results of an economic impact study of the tourism industry in Connecticut, showing that total direct and indirect business sales supported by the travel industry reached $14.7 billion in 2015 – a 4.6% increase since 2013.

The study also showed that tourism employment grew 2% since 2013 to reach 82,688 jobs in 2015, the fifth straight year of employment growth.

Still, the state has been decreasing its contribution to tourism. This year’s state budget included $6.5 million, which was down from $12 million in 2014 and $15 million in 2012.

Sarah Washburn, tourism manager for Visit New Haven, noted that while tourism as an industry is wildly successful for the state, the state could not afford it over essentials like health care and other budget priorities.

Washburn, among others, fears losing tourism to neighboring states.

Chris Loynd is one of several Milford Chamber of Commerce members who attended the first tourism council meeting. Loynd believes tourism efforts will benefit everyone in the community.

“This is all really about competition, like any other market, and drawing people coming to your town,” said Loynd, a Stratford business owner and longtime Milford resident.

Nash is tackling projects, small and large, to beautify the town and showcase what it has to offer. One of her points of pride is the train station, which was once lined with empty, tattered advertising frames, which she has since borrowed from Metro-North. The boxes now contain photos of the town.

“We need to look at this from a new angle,” Nash said. “How can we take up some of the slack that was being done by regional groups that were gutted? Where can we help assist where we weren’t assisting before?”

Local efforts have also include highlighting the historic downtown and updating the city’s websites.

Other potential projects include attracting travel writers and bloggers to the area, as New Haven has done, to showcase the parts of Milford that tourists, even international travelers, may not know about.

Nash emphasized the crucial role the beach may play in Milford tourism. The city has begun offering guide brochures, and giving bags to guests coming from the harbor, which is a major tourist draw. Nash expressed possible interest in a sailing race down the road.

The tourism committee is scheduled to meet again next month to talk about more ideas.

“I think Milford has a lot to offer,” Loynd said. “It’s prudent to see if that can be leveraged into more revenue for Milford business, and more taxes for the city.”

Nash said the city’s Economic Development Commission made tourism a line item on its agenda two years ago.

“We look forward to collaborating with the Chamber, Visit New Haven, the Connecticut Tourism Department, and other local organizations like the Walnut Beach Association, Downtown Milford Business Association, the Milford Arts Council, and many more to focus on tourism,” Nash said. “There is certainly a lot we can tackle in moving this agenda forward. The more hands and minds, the better.”