A recent editorial in the Providence Business News (“Tourism fiefdoms are relics to relinquish,” May 14, 2012) called for the consolidation of Rhode Island’s tourism efforts into one statewide agency. While the editorial’s hypothesis claims consolidation would save Rhode Island money, such a strategy would in fact cost the state potential tax revenue.
Faced with a harsh economic landscape, Rhode Island must look for ways to streamline practices and introduce new efficiencies. However, tourism is simply the wrong place to look. We are a powerful economic engine for Rhode Island.
Consider a 2011 report from Global Insights that stated that $374 million in tax revenue was generated by the travel and tourism sector in Rhode Island in 2010. And, as the region and the nation have only inched their way out of the economic doldrums, the tourism sector in Rhode Island has recently seen robust growth. Based on a key indicator, hotel-tax collections, we have realized significant gains in revenue generated at hotels over the past 18 months. This hasn’t happened by accident, it is, in large part, due to targeted and strategic programs implemented by the state’s regional tourism organizations.
The regional tourism model that Rhode Island adheres to, in which there is one, umbrella-like state tourism office and different regional agencies throughout the area, is considered a “best practice” in our industry and has been adopted by virtually every state, particularly those with meeting and convention offerings. Ideally, tourism branding is coordinated at the state level but tourism promotion and product development is done at the local level.
Because Rhode Island’s state tourism budget is among the lowest in the United States, the tourism regions work collaboratively to support statewide initiatives even more strongly, as we attempt to fill the void left by an underfunded state tourism effort. This includes: participating at trade shows; hosting in-state events and familiarization tours for tour operators and media; presenting out-of-state educational events in key markets such as New York, Boston and Chicago; and collaborating on tourism research projects.
In addition to working together with the state tourism office, we are all experts in our own geographic area and highlight different aspects of our communities to our own respective key feeder markets.
As destination-marketing experts, our core mission is to connect the visitors to local businesses. We need “boots on the ground,” interacting daily with hotels, restaurants, arts organizations, media, attractions, transportation companies and all of those businesses and individuals integral to the growth of tourism in Rhode Island.