Westerly’s Watch Hill long has catered to an affluent, seasonal vacation crowd, but a surge in leisure tourists recently has added to its cache – and marketability, tourism leaders say.
According to Mark Brodeur, director of tourism for the R.I. Commerce Corporation, and Lisa Konicki, executive director of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce, while the seaside community has remained a destination for families of all income levels, the reopening of the luxurious Ocean House in 2010 and the purchase of a local mansion by singer/songwriter Taylor Swift have contributed to a “resurgence” in interest.
“There’s truly a change in the type of consumer coming into that marketplace,” said Brodeur. “It is a very high-end consumer: We’re talking [about] the top 2 percent of American income earners coming in because of the amenities of the Ocean House. It’s clearly a world-class experience.”
As soon as the Ocean House opened its doors after its $140 million reconstruction, the town experienced a nearly immediate increase in commerce and tax dollars, said Brodeur. The Weekapaug Inn, a sister property of the Ocean House, also reopened in the fall of 2012 after a $45 million renovation, he said.
The Ocean House is the first and only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond Hotel in Rhode Island, according to its website.
More recently, Swift’s presence and occasional “sightings” by the public referenced on social media have added a level of attention the community hadn’t quite experienced before, said Konicki.
“The Ocean House has truly put Watch Hill and Rhode Island on the map,” Konicki said in an email. “Taylor Swift has only helped catapult Watch Hill on the social scene. The combination of these two [influences] has given incredible media coverage that has caused heightened awareness and visitation. While exhibiting at a ‘Daytrips and Destinations’ trade show in Hartford last year, Chamber staff talked with literally thousands of potential day trippers and vacationers. The No. 1 topic discussed at the Westerly booth pertained to Taylor Swift’s house.”