Twenty-five years ago, the Newport Winter Festival was just a concept drummed up by local businesses, what was then known as the Newport County Convention & Visitors Bureau and a pair of tourism-industry insiders, that the group collectively hoped would put the city on a winter-holiday map.
Today, it’s a 10-day celebration of all things the Ocean State has to offer during the offseason with a list of 150 events, sold-out hotels, and special attractions that regularly draw some 30,000 people from across New England.
“I would like to tell you it was just our idea but it wasn’t. Businesses said we really needed to do something and they were right,” said David Rosenberg, founder of Marketing and Events Inc., which runs the festival and helped kick it off all those years ago with Evan Smith, now the president and CEO of Discover Newport, which last year rebranded from the CVB name.
“The original idea was to let people know that Newport is very much alive and well. What really has happened over the past 25 years is that we’ve been able to draw an enormous amount of people in the dead of winter when we’re competing with ski and Disney [vacations],” Rosenberg said.
The 25th annual Newport Winter Festival takes place Feb. 15 to Feb. 24 during what for many is a school-vacation week.
“It’s always aligned with the school-break week to maximize it for family exposure and things to do,” said Smith.
The festival officially begins on Friday, Feb. 15, the beginning of the Valentine’s Day weekend that offers an additional draw to the city and its many upscale hotels and restaurants. It starts with a series of events, including tours of Fort Adams and Newport Storm Brewery and a chance to make your own perfume at Newport Aromatherapy, among many others.
Though many happenings similar to these can be found throughout the event’s 10-day calendar, things really get going once the festival’s signature events start taking place. That begins this year with the 18th annual Samuel Adams Chili Cook-Off, where restaurants, as well as the Newport Fire Department, compete to claim they have the best chili in town.
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