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Wilton Boosts Efforts To Draw More Summer Visitors

WILTON, Conn. – Wilton is opening its doors and inviting people to drop in for the day.

Peg Koellmer, incoming president of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, said the group has worked hard over the last five years or so to make Wilton more attractive to visitors. Much of that effort has centered on promoting Wilton Center, the downtown area along Old Ridgefield Road.

“We definitely try to market the village center,” Koellmer said. “We’ve got a lot of new restaurants in there and it’s become very walkable.”

While the town is not filled with hotels, merchants and officials with the Wilton Chamber hope to draw people to visit and support the shops when some residents leave on vacation.  The efforts include the town’s first-ever Street Festival, set for July 21. The town will also have its second annual Scarecrow Festival in October. Koellmer said Wilton also advertises itself on the Internet and in print and radio ads around Fairfield County.

To people who live here full time, Fairfield County may not be an obvious summer vacation hot spot. But attractions, beaches and proximity to New York City all make Fairfield County an attractive destination.

“It’s absolutely a place people come to visit in the summer,” said Janet Serra, executive director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitor Bureau, which promotes tourism in Fairfield County and Litchfield Hills. “What’s interesting to me is, with Fairfield County, we get to promote hills, lakes and coast.”

Of the two regions that make up the Western bureau, Serra said Fairfield County is probably the most attractive summertime destination. Litchfield Hills sees more visitors in the fall, she said.

The biggest attractions in Fairfield County are the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport and the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Serra said. Other big draws include Norwalk’s Sheffield Island, Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, SoundWaters in Stamford, the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan and the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.

Connecticut’s major tourism market is from within the tri-state area, she said. Fairfield County’s greatest strength is its accessibility.

“It’s so easy to get to Fairfield County by train and the towns are generally walkable,” she said. “Norwalk, for example, is very walkable, so in many cases, people can just get out off the train and walk around. It’s harder to do that in other parts of the state.”

Although it’s hard to track numbers of tourists coming and going, Serra said that last year, the Fairfield County tourism website had the most number of page visits of any regional website, including Mystic Country.

So far this year, Serra said there’s a 15 to 20 percent increase in website activity and inquiries. “Since Fairfield County is such an important part of Connecticut tourism, we’re certainly delighted by this increase,” she said.

Day trippers aren’t the only ones attracted to the area. Vera Ruud, a senior agent at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Westport, said the availability of summer vacation homes throughout the region draws longer term visitors.

Coastal towns with beach access are the most popular rental destinations. Westport and Fairfield in particular, Ruud said, are historically popular. In Westport, about 35 homes have been rented for the season so far.

“I think people like to be here versus a place the Hamptons because there’s more for families to do,” she said. “Here in Westport, there's a lot of resources available for small children, like the library and a variety of summer camps. Plus, we have the Levitt Pavilion and Longshore.”

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