If a traveler looking for his next trip Googles “best beach states,” there is nary a mention of Rhode Island. Instead, he is directed to Florida or California, and may never happen upon the Ocean State.
That, according to state Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo, is a failure of the state’s marketing. “We need to be on that list,” she said.
Tourism is the second-leading industry in Rhode Island, yet the state spends less per capita promoting it than 45 other states.That needs to change if Rhode Island is to realize the economic potential travel and tourism presents to the state, said Raimondo, who laid out her four-point plan to attract tourists to the state.
“Tourism is one of our strongest industries, but I think we have even more untapped potential, said Raimondo, who rolled out her tourism plan on the dock at Independence Park Wednesday morning. “We need a coordinated, statewide plan to bring in more visitors, fill our hotels, fills our shops and restaurants. That will have a powerful ripple effect throughout our economy.”
The state itself spends about $400,000 a year — about 68 cents, per capita — to promote tourism, yet towns and regional tourism councils spend about $500 million a year in hotel tax money on marketing. That money, she said, could be better utilized with a more cohesive, statewide effort. Each $1 spent on tourism marketing translates into $100 in spending in the state, Raimondo said.
“Our tourism efforts are disjointed and underfunded,” Raimondo said, though she does not yet have a plan to change the funding formula. “We have to figure out how to distribute the money. We need to do more to market ourselves as one state.”
Raimondo’s four-point plan is intended to generate 5,000 new jobs in the next five years. The plan begins with increasing investment in marketing and advertising, getting more in live with other state spending. Massachusetts and Connecticut spend far more on marketing, with Massachusetts outspending Rhode Island 8-1, she said.
A large part of the marketing would be dedicated to promoting Rhode Island as a culinary destination, highlighting the world-class restaurants in the state, as well as vineyards and micro-breweries. Johnson & Wales University — “a world-class hospitality college,” Raimondo said — is a resource the state should tap into and work closer with to prepare a tourism workforce.
The state’s infrastructure is also underutilized, Raimondo said. With a major interstate slicing through the middle of the state, Rhode Island has “the perfect opportunity to capture travelers.” She proposes increasing signage and advertising and reinvesting in highway welcome centers to convince people to take the next exit instead of continuing on their way.
Raimondo, who said she opposes tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge, is calling for a new funding formula for road and bridge maintenance throughout the state. She did not detail how to maintain the new bridge before a new formula is established.