PWCVB’s Riel’s knack makes state a destination again

STAR ATTRACTION: In the 2023 fiscal year, Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau Senior Vice President Thomas Riel’s team booked 224 events that will result in more than $102 million in direct spend revenue in future years for Rhode Island. 
PBN PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM
STAR ATTRACTION: In the 2023 fiscal year, Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau Senior Vice President Thomas Riel’s team booked 224 events that will result in more than $102 million in direct spend revenue in future years for Rhode Island. 
PBN PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM

PBN C-Suite 2024 Awards
SMALL PRIVATE COMPANY: Thomas Riel
Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau | Senior vice president


THOMAS RIEL GETS ­EXCITED talking about the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau’s extraordinary rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bounce back began in 2022, starting with the return of sporting events, says Riel, who was promoted to PWCVB’s senior vice president that year to help with the pandemic recovery. Meetings and conventions soon followed. Attendance was “soft” at first, Riel says, but people eventually returned.

Then leisure and travel came back strong, helping drive hotel occupancy rates and bring success to hotel revenue lines. The only market segment still down is transient travel, commonly referred to as the individual business traveler, Riel said.

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But group attendance and group bookings are very strong. Smaller destinations, such as Providence, are rebounding at a rate of about 14% faster than large Tier 1 cities such as Boston, Chicago and New York, Riel said.

Another bright spot during the rebound is increased lead volume. Riel says the number of prospects considering holding events in the area now is about 10% above 2019 figures. Most of those leads are from industry-based associations.

Providence is more of an association market than corporate destination, Riel says, and associations have come back strong.

In 2020, the PWCVB was about to have its strongest year ever until the worldwide health crisis changed everything. The bureau’s staff of 27 was reduced to seven because it’s funded by the hotel bed tax and nobody was traveling.

Then Riel, who was vice president of sales and service at the time, and his small staff had to move about $82 million of business out of 2020 and 2021 and into future years or cancel.

“It was mostly sports events and citywide conventions,” he recalled. “We moved about 50% of those events to the future. The rest had to get canceled, which was no different than anywhere else across the country.”

By mid-2021, with recovery grants and partnering with both the R.I. Commerce Corp. and Rhode Island Hospitality Association, the bureau helped restore Rhode Island’s hospitality and events industry and the bureau’s workforce. Now with 30 people on its staff, the PWCVB recently utilized funds from the new Providence Tourism Improvement District to help pay for sales and marketing efforts. It also helped fund tools to ensure the PWCVB is utilizing data to make educated decisions.

Riel first joined the PWCVB in 2003 as director of national accounts handling the Midwest market, after a 22-year career with Marriot International. He left Pthe WCVB in mid-2005 to pursue other opportunities in the hospitality industry. But he returned to the bureau in 2014 as vice president of sales and service, handling the Midwest market, before being promoted to his current role two years ago.

In the 2023 fiscal year, Riel’s team booked 224 events that will result in more than $102 million in direct spend revenue in future years for Rhode Island.

“Tom really has mastered the process of booking meetings, conventions and sporting events,” PWCVB CEO and President Kristen Adamo said. “I love watching the rest of our industry listen to him and put such value in the work he does.”

A go-to source for discussing industry trends, Riel will be a panelist at the Professional Convention Management Association, New England chapter’s upcoming Global Industry Event Day. He has been a member of the Convention Sales and Marketing Committee of Destinations International for about eight years. Previously, he held a seat on the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s education foundation board and continues to chair its annual student career conference.

Grateful to his mentors, Riel pays it forward by developing young talent.

“We currently have five people on staff who started in administrative support roles who are now in management positions,” he said.

Riel is always thinking about what’s coming next.

“I regularly tell Kristen [Adamo] we need to be the tip of [the] spear,” he said, “right up front with everything we try to do and finding ways to stay ahead of the constantly changing marketplace.”

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