Collaboration brings more visitors to Bristol


By land or sea, Bonnie Blue doesn't care how they're coming.

The fact is, they're coming.

"I have seen an increase in sales and the amount of people coming to the town," said Ms. Blue, who owns Sea Star on State Street.

Tourism is Bristol may have increased this year, according to the latest figures offered by Discover Newport. By the time the Bristol Visitor's Center closes for the season in mid-October, tourism officials predict about 5,000 tourists will have passed through town.

While that figure is not far off last's years number - 4,880 - some business owners are reporting an uptick in sales and visitors over 2012.

"It's hard to attribute exactly what the increase is from," said Peggy Hicks, owner of the Knotty Dog on Bradford Street.

Hicks cited the recovering economy and efforts of Explore Bristol as well as Discover Newport as potential reasons for the additional foot traffic.

"We're all working hard, working together to advertise in groups," Ms. Hicks said. "We are coordinating our efforts a lot more. Rather than reaching people one at a time, we are reaching people as a whole.

"I've seen growth every year, but this has been the most active year for us."

Following Hurricane Irene in August 2011, business owners and concerned citizens formed Explore Bristol as a way to market the town's assets, not only to bring in tourists, but to enliven the local economy. A website was created inviting visitors to explore the town "by land or sea."

"Our initial focus was on tourism, but we want to make Bristol a better place to live, work and run a business," said Mike Byrnes, co-chair of Explore Bristol. "Bristol is the quintessential New England waterfront town that is steeped in history."

Explore Bristol contracts with Lou Hammond and Associates, a New York-based marketing firm, for its advertising and public relations efforts. With Hammond's media buying power, Explore Bristol was able to purchase ad space across various mediums throughout the Northeast for a fraction of the cost.

"We focus our efforts on publications that appeal to the cultural traveler," Mr. Byrnes said.

In late 2009, the town merged its tourism efforts with Discover Newport, which channeled a portion of the town's meals and beverage tax to the organization. This enabled Bristol to have an operable visitor's center - located in the Burnside building on Hope Street, and tap into Discover Newport's marketing efforts.

"We are all players on the same team," said Andrea McHugh, marketing and communications manager at Discover Newport. "By merging, we have the ability to promote more assets in our destination and market them to the visitor to ultimately keep them here longer."

Bristol is predominantly featured in Discover Newport's visitor's guide, which goes out to more than 100,000 people annually, Ms. McHugh said. Bristol is also featured on Discover Newport's website, which draws in about 780,000 web visits a year.

The combination of Explore Bristol and Discover Newport have put Bristol in the national limelight, said Diane Poehler, owner of Williams Grant Inn, a bed and breakfast located on High Street.

"I can't say that we've made huge strides, but we've made strides," Ms. Poehler said. "But we are doing a lot better than we were two years ago."

Tree Callanan echoed Ms. Poehler's sentiment.

"Our admissions attendance has gone through the roof," said Ms. Callanan, director of communications and visitor experience at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum. "Our visitor numbers are up 25-percent, and our education programs are up over 30-percent since 2010."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.