R.I. Commerce Corp. seeking event proposals to boost off-season tourism

PROVIDENCE – As a means to increase visitation to the state, the R.I. Commerce Corp. Is utilizing $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding toward grants of up to $100,000 to qualified nonprofit organizations to plan and execute event programming in the state, with a particular focus on off-season months that run from November to April. 

The newly issued Request for Proposals can be found on the Commerce website. The application deadline is Dec. 21.  

As part of the ARPA legislation, the state received $10 million from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Economic Development Administration to support the travel and tourism sectors, of which $1 million will be dedicated to the R.I. Commerce program. 

According to the document, “Proposed events should assist in the recovery, maintenance, and development of new and existing attractions and destinations[s].”  

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The initiative is meant “to provide seed funding for development of new attractions or new recurring events located in Rhode Island,” with “special consideration… given to proposals that drive visitation from out of state during the shoulder and off-season and propose events that operate yearly,” per the RFP. 

R.I. Commerce spokesperson Chris Raia said that while this specific initiative is a new one for the quasi-public agency, “it is very much in line with [the] effort to support the state’s critical tourism, recreation and hospitality sectors.” 

“The goal is to extend our tourism season beyond the summer months in a way that provides year-long support for our hotels, restaurants and other tourism-centric businesses,” he added. 

For profit companies or individuals are not eligible for the grants, which can be for single or multiple events but are prohibited from being used for construction costs. Examples of eligible organizations include nonprofits, cities, regional tourism boards, and other “political subdivisions” or consortiums. Successful applicants will enter into a contract with R.I. Commerce that will run until June 30, 2024, and could begin as early as Dec. 1.  

According to the RFP, no more than 10% of the grant allocation can be used for administration costs or event advertising, and applications must include in their proposal “a marketing strategy and trackable metrics.” 

Anika Kimble-Huntley, R.I. Commerce chief marketing officer, said the program “aims to give travelers a long list of new reasons to visit Rhode Island.” 

“We are committed to investing in programs and initiatives that aim to ensure this sector has the resources and support it needs to thrive all year long,” she said. 

Though state officials continue to look for ways to diversify the economy, the tourism industry remains a vital economic driver. A 2020 study by Commerce quantifying the economic impacts of tourism found that Rhode Island attracted 21.6 million visitors which contributed $4.9 billion to the state’s economy, supported 66,402 jobs, and provided more than $1.3 billion in tax revenues. 

Raia said the agency expects to release a similar RFP sometime in 2023. 

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