Mass. migrant crisis not impacting local Army-Navy game lodging, marketing

THE ARMY-NAVY FOOTBALL GAME will be coming to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Dec. 9, 2023.

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island tourism officials say planning for the Army-Navy football game scheduled to be played at Gillette Stadium has not been affected by recent reporting that several military veterans had their hotel reservations cancelled in Massachusetts because they are currently housing migrants. 

Marking its Foxboro debut on Dec. 9, this is the first time in the game’s 124-year history that it will be played in New England. Amid a state of emergency order issued by Gov. Maura T. Healey in August, Massachusetts has been housing migrants under its 1982 “right to shelter law” that requires lodging for homeless families with children that meet certain criteria. 

In an Oct. 5 press release, Meet Boston, the nonprofit sales and marketing organization, called the dust-up over the hotel cancellations in and around Foxboro an “isolated situation, at specific hotels … which has created a false notion that widespread hotel displacement is happening without solutions in place.” 

Mark Mansbach, owner of New Jersey-based  Hillsdale Travel Agency, which handled the 60-plus clients who had their reservations cancelled, said the number of rooms that have “evaporated” from the regional market surrounding Gillette Stadium is likely much higher than Massachusetts state officials are claiming. He said he has identified between 600 and 700 hotel rooms in the area that are now housing migrants.

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“The truth is I only had about 15% of the hotel rooms in the area,” he said.

Mansbach is still fielding emails from clients concerned their reservations may still be in question. Hotels that decide to take the state’s offer to house migrants are guaranteed a higher nightly rate for between four to five months to up to a year, he said.

“Do you take the money?” he asked. “I think there are still going to be some issues.”

Providence Warwick Convention & Visitor’s Bureau CEO and President Kristen Adamo said Tuesday the organization continues to coordinate with its tourism counterparts in Massachusetts to ensure that all visitors have a room. The bureau assisted in the bid to bring the game to New England by offering to house approximately 3,000 U.S. Navy midshipmen in the R.I. Convention Center on the Friday night before the contest. 

Adamo acknowledged that any widespread cancellations in neighboring Massachusetts could feasibly boost booking numbers in Providence and surrounding cities, however, the bureau has not altered its marketing strategy. PWCVB has been working closely with R.I. Commerce Corp.’s tourism and marketing department to present a message that Providence is a convenient home base for attendees, with competitive rates, nightlife,  and highlighting the one-hour MBTA train that will take attendees straight to Foxboro Station, which is adjacent to Gillette Stadium.

As noted on the state’s tourism website, Visit Rhode Island, “you’re only a 30-minute drive from the action at Gillette Stadium. And less time spent in traffic means more time exploring Providence and the surrounding areas.”

Adamo said that all marketing of the Army-Navy game must be pre-approved by military officials, preventing any “nimble” change in advertising. Local officials have been planning the event for more than a year with key partners throughout the state, she said.

“This is not a new effort,” she said. 

Providence will be serving as the headquarters for service members, families and Army-Navy alumni. An overview of area hotels show there is still availability. The Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Providence is booked solid for Dec. 9. 

The bureau is expecting thousands to stay in the city on the night before the game, though Adamo said any hotel booking projections at this point is premature. 

“This is a big part of what we do, market sporting events. We are not targeting those who have been displaced,” she said. “Nothing has changed. This was really a Massachusetts political issue.” 

Adamo said announcements for special events surrounding the game will be forthcoming. City planners are hoping to have a Waterfire lighting on Dec. 9, but have yet to secure a sponsor.

Kate Pezzullo, manager at the Christopher Dodge G. Dodge Bed and Breakfast Inn, said that bookings there have so far been less than anticipated, with only four of the inn’s 14 rooms now booked for the Dec. 9 weekend.  

Pezzullo said she pitched the inn’s availability to representatives in Massachusetts but was told that everyone who had their reservations cancelled in Foxboro had already been rebooked at other hotels. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Daniel J. McKee, Matt Sheaff, said the issue in Massachusetts had been resolved but the administration has been monitoring developments and is ready to assist Massachusetts officials if needed. 

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at Allen@PBN.com    

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