Karen Senich, 40, was appointed executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism in February 2008 after having served as the commission's acting director for a year. Senich is a Connecticut native who practiced law for 10 years before joining the tourism commission in 2006 as an assistant to the previous executive director. She seems fated to oversee a period of steep reduction in the state's support for an industry that generates an estimated $9 billion annually and employs some 110,000 residents. Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed budget would close regional tourism districts and eliminate marketing funds.
Q: What are the most important or innovative ways the commission is trying to boost tourism this summer in light of a tighter budget than in previous years?
A: We look at the tight budget and the economy as a bit of an opportunity both to re-engage and re-attract our own residents. We started spending money in-state for this purpose last year and are working with the governor's office on the "stay-cation" initiative again this summer. People are saying that they are not going to travel as far on vacation, and there is so much you can do in Connecticut. Go to Mystic and stay overnight, go to Mystic Seaport, go to the aquarium, go to the beach — do all those things without leaving the state. We are emphasizing the same things in our target market, which is basically the metro New York region, for people who are not getting on a plane this summer. Also, in this economy the media is offering fantastic deals and value-added packages, and we're taking advantage of that in our marketing.
Q: How do you expect this tourist season to be compared to recent ones?
A: We're optimistic that if people aren't getting on planes or driving long distances this summer, that we will have the opportunity to recapture people who may have been here before, as well as new visitors. The numbers might be slightly above, below or flat this year, but that would be a good thing. One of the things we track is web hits, and we are doing very well there. Inquiries are about where we should be.
Q: Ed Dombroskas, who retired from the job you hold in 2006 after 14 years heading up the state's tourism effort, said the governor's proposed cuts for 2010 and 2011, as well as the proposed subordination of the commission under the Department of Economic and Community Development, "took my breath away." What was your reaction?
A: I guess my answer would be, no matter where the commission ends up, we'll make it work.
Q: Did you have a role in shaping what the proposed cuts would be — were you consulted?
A: I wasn't consulted. Whatever happens, we're going to make it work. We have a dedicated staff.
Q: Even before the current fiscal crunch, Connecticut has historically lagged behind other states in its culture and tourism funding. A 2008 strategic marketing report commissioned by the tourism commission is available on your website termed the funding over the years, which in 2006 ranked 40th among the 50 states, as "not competitive." Would the proposed cuts, if passed, rank Connecticut at the very bottom of the list in terms of funding?
A: Yes, we would be in the bottom 10 still, if not the bottom. We'll just have to do the best we can.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun