The tourism industry in Connecticut is taking a hit. The attractions that drive tourism in the state, from restaurants, to museums, to stadiums and everything in between, are at a standstill.
"It really never has been completely shutdown like this," said Randy Fiveash, director of tourism for the state.
COVID-19 restrictions have turned many of Connecticut's most popular attractions off-limits. The State's Office of Tourism has been working to adapt and still find ways to promote tourism in the state. They have created a list of restaurants still open for take-out, identified social-distance friendly hikes and curated virtual activities for at-home experiences.
Even with the state's efforts to get creative and help boost the industry, Fiveash said that COVID-19 will have an unprecedented impact.
"Tourism in Connecticut is a $15.5 billion industry at its peak and it employs 123,000 people," said Fiveash. "It has been pretty devastating to the travel industry."
The State Office of Tourism is now looking ahead and working on a recovery plan. They are not sure when things will get back to normal, but Fiveash said that it will not happen immediately. Businesses and attractions will reopen in phases and he is not sure where the tourism industry will fall in the phased approach.
"You won't turn this light switch on and all of a sudden it will come back and be normal again," explained Fiveash. "It will be a while before we get back to a new normal, so to speak."
Fiveash said that the state is planning to shift marketing strategies to boost tourism, putting a new spin on some of the usual attractions once it is safe for people to enjoy them again.
"We had another marketing plan that was going to be put in place, but because of this we have restructured everything that we are doing," said Fiveash.
In Downtown Mystic, marketing help is on the top of Amanda Arling's mind. Arling is president of the Whaler's Inn. For the first time in 60 years, they have had to close their doors to visitors because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"What efforts are going to be made to make people realize that we are here and we are looking forward to welcoming people here to Mystic," said Arling.
According to Arling, tourists make up about 90 percent of the inn's clientele. They are hoping to open by June 1, but they are not sure that will happen and are now planning for an uncertain summer season.
"It has been a very surreal experience. I don't think any of us realized quite how extreme it was going to hit our community and in the blink of an eye it did," said Arling. "We are trying to look long-term, look to the future, focus on gift certificate sales and focus on welcoming our friends and our family back when this passes."
Bank Square Books, another business in Downtown Mystic, has also been adapting to COVID-19 changes. They say the local community has been very supportive with window-shopping and curbside pick-up, but tourists usually make up anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of their clientele.
"It will be what it will be. If we have to adjust our business model, we will," said Katelyn Larson, manager of the store.
According to Arling, the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce helped to secure signs for local businesses that read "community strong," and now hang on storefronts across Mystic.
Fiveash said that areas like Mystic, and the attractions it offers, are being impacted across the state. He is confident that the tourism-fueled areas of the state will survive the unprecedented times.
"The Mystic area and Connecticut and the tourism industry are a very, very resilient business," said Fiveash.