Rhode Island must not concede vacationers

I have been on a vacation for more than a week traveling with my family in an RV around Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Being offline means that I’m behind on the latest in Rhode Island politics and that I have not seen a Red Sox game since leaving the land of NESN. I know I didn’t miss much since the Sox season was over long ago and then truly dead when they traded four of five starting pitchers. Perhaps they should just forfeit the remaining games and rest up until spring training.

Being unplugged has been nice but my mind wanders back to something I always think about when I travel: how RI compares to where I am. We have seen plenty of evidence that shows Rhode Island at the bottom of almost every measure of success and that people leave Rhode Island and don’t come back. While I don’t plan to change my address (ever) I do like checking out the things that other states do better. It’s clear that Rhode Island definitely has room for improvement.

These western states could not be any different from Little Rhody. In the “where are you from” conversation that inevitably occurs locals have been quick to remind us that both Rhode Island and Delaware could fit into Yellowstone Park together. We went to a dinner show where one of the jokes was based on the fact that no one from Rhode Island is ever there. On three separate occasions people have said some variation of “Rhode Island is the only state I haven’t been to and I don’t know why I would go.” While it’s nice to live in the country’s best kept secret, we would benefit tremendously from a boost in visitors.

While the Sox have conceded for the season, I think it’s time that Rhode Island fought to be a contender in tourism revenue. But our state’s puny budget for promotion — $400,000 — shows that growing this sector of our economy is not a priority. Our tourism website (visitri.com) is embarrassing and to confuse matters, there seems to be two “official” sites since visitrhodeisland.com displays alongside the state site. A smart investment in attracting more visitors will pay off by creating jobs and generating tax revenue, but this scattershot effort is clearly not working. Locally we have seen this kind of success through the efforts of Explore Bristol. Can you imagine if this effort were replicated statewide?

Several candidates for governor have seized on this issue and have pledged to put more money into tourism promotion. I would like to see the General Assembly share that commitment as well since a governor can propose whatever he or she wants but without General Assembly support, a governor’s initiatives go nowhere. Rhode Island has so much to offer in such a small place that promoting all our assets together with a significant investment is the smart way to go. In typical “Rhode Island” fashion, our individual tourism bureaus are allocated funds but left to design and promote their own campaigns. Visitors from other states will be willing, if not thrilled, to move around the state taking in the sights. After all, they aren’t Rhode Islanders, so driving from Providence to Newport and back is not considered a multi-day journey.

One thing I have missed about home since we’ve been out here: a Rhode Island license plate. Day 10 of the license plate game and we’ve yet to spot one. It’s a good reminder that Rhode Island is a great place to staycation in the summer. Now it’s time to open our doors and invite the rest of the country over for a vacation.

Cara Cromwell is a public affairs consultant with more than twenty years experience managing issues campaigns for corporations, non-profits, associations, coalitions and candidates on both sides of the aisle. Visit her blog, Straight Up The Middle, at straightupthemiddle.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @cmcromwell.

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4 Comments

  1. Peter Calvet said:

    I couldn’t agree with this statement by Cara Cromwell more. We, at the Bristol Redevelopment Agency have done our part to make our Town as beautiful as possible in that we have all but eliminated commercial blight from our town and turned the waterfront into a pleasant place to be. But we cannot solve this alone. And even Bristol itself cannot do this alone either. There needs to be a concerted State effort. We are too small of a state to leave each community to fend for themselves. There is only so much that a small community like Bristol can do by itself. And of course the jobs piece is very important because jobs is what generates income for the state to be able to spend on needed promotion. Bristol is open for business and open for tourism but so much more needs to be done.

    Peter Calvet
    Chairman, Bristol Redevelopment Agency

  2. Cynthia Fuller said:

    I, too, agree, and am concerned that this issue hasn’t made it to the governor’s race discussion. While everyone is talking jobs, budgets, infrastructure, etc., I have not heard word one about the State’s greatest asset: the environment in which we live, the Bay, the waterfront. Instead of parroting the “jobs” rhetoric like they all seem to be doing, can we not hear about the candidates’ specific commitment to revitalize the Providence waterfront (get those ugly oil tanks and piles of rusting metal out of there and bring in some public uses – commercial, restaurants, hotels), improve public boating access (commercial tours, etc.), cleaning up the Bay and making it swimmable and eatable (‘cuz it’s not), and supporting local “green” agriculture. I don’t want any more manufacturing facilities in this state, especially with such a pitiful state environmental program (thanks to budget cuts). The focus should be on enhancing the resources we already have, and tourism is at the heart of this.

  3. lat41lon71 said:

    Rhode Island has too many little insular agencies to mount a comprehensive tourism promotion effort. Newport, Blackstone Valley, South County and many more even smaller bureaus want to go it alone in a low budget, fragmanted effort that will never work. No one wants to give up their autonomy but have a look, for example, at the beautifully done Connecticut TV ad and you will see that it takes a coordinated effort with clout and funding to attract tourists not a bunch of little entities all pulling in different directions in a state where only one should do.

  4. Ron Grant said:

    Rhode Islanders sometime ask me where I’m from, meaning originally. Then I’m asked why did I move here from Louisiana, as if its strange to make such a change. Not really, we all follow family. But it is a good conversation starter, wherein I often remind Rhode Islanders they live in one of the loveliest spots on earth. I also remark on why this isn’t more of a hotspot for vacationers and travelers. Louisiana has New Orleans, but is the only state on the Gulf Coast that has only one small sand beach, And yet it does a lot more with a lot less. It has a big promotion budget. I know that weather has something to do with it and tourism season can be shorter than most places. But I sit here and marvel at all the events, attractions and just downright interesting stuff almost at arms reach. Sometimes smaller is better. But, heck, I’ve got all of New England right out there. Now, if you folks could do something about that traffic, taxes and house prices I’d be obliged.

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