Is transparency bad for tourism?

Trudy Coxe, CEO AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the Preservation ­Society of Newport County, sees a problem with a lack of transparency in the state’s tourism industry.

Referencing some industry players’ refusal to share ­attendance numbers with one another and the public, she asked fellow members of a House Tourism Study Commission on Feb. 15: “Why are we all so reluctant to have this data shared? I don’t get it.”

The only one to directly answer Coxe’s question at the meeting was Lara Salamano, R.I. Commerce Corp. chief marketing officer. Her response came in one word: “press.” The meeting soon ended without further discussion on the topic.

What did Salamano mean? After the meeting, Commerce was asked whether it is concerned that the more such data is freely shared, the more likely it is to be released publicly and perhaps be misinterpreted or misunderstood. In an emailed response, Salamano did not directly answer but said “a metrics workgroup” is exploring ways to improve data-sharing between private enterprises and attractions.

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She added Commerce’s new third-party tracking software designed to “pinpoint purchasing decisions” tied to advertising has also been shared with regional tourism bureaus and should shed more light on the effectiveness of tourism marketing.

“We feel data sharing and cooperation between the state and the regions is the best it has ever been,” she said.

But what about the public’s right to also know how effectively tax dollars used to support tourism are being spent?

The commission discussion echoed Commerce’s closed-mouth approach to its marketing efforts since the days immediately following the error-filled release of the April 2016 “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer” campaign.

After repeated requests for information, Commerce on Jan. 30 finally discussed some details of its “Rhode Island: Fun-Sized” marketing toolkit with Providence Business News – three months after its launch.

Following the commission meeting, Coxe told PBN the sharing of tourism-related information within the local industry needs to “increase dramatically.”

In terms of also sharing information with the public, she said: “The more said, the better.”

Commerce board member and VIBCO Vibrators CEO Karl Wadensten said Commerce’s reticence toward sharing some tourism-related data publicly “probably isn’t the best approach,” but feels data sharing is just one of many priorities for the quasi-public agency.

Additionally, he said, there is little reason for a private entity to share data with the state unless there is a “mutual benefit.”

Coxe said “the only way” industry players may agree to share data in the future is through a third-party auditor who will be contracted not to share data publicly.

For now, she said, “If we really care about tourism, and want to sell it as an important part of the economy … everyone [has] got to give a little.”