Monday, August 18, 2014

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 ( is embarrassing and to confuse matters, there seems to be two "official" sites since 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 a typical "Rhode Island" 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.

1 comment:

  1. The problem is not the money or lack of budget for the Tourism Division. The problem for RI is infrastructure, there is a dearth of good signage, parking, hotels, websites and countless other issues that need updating before we can seriously consider promoting the state more. Unfortunately, the state seems to be going backward in this regard and Bristol is a perfect example. The recent Hope Street project removed well over two dozen parking spots from the downtown, provided almost no new signage, removed crosswalks and is an aesthetic nightmare of Salvadore Dalian proportions. Local officials seemed hell bent on getting the project done and put the needs of RIPTA before the business community and never consulted local merchants for input to make the downtown more tourist friendly. The result is that less tourists are coming now than three years ago and the numbers are dropping. The valiant efforts of Explore Bristol are laudatory but the state of RI across the board has not, nor will in the forseeable future, put more effort into drawing more tourists into the state. The idea that more money will bring more tourists is shortsighted, an overhaul of infrastructure and a plan of how to bring in visitors for the next 10 years is what is needed. Then and only then should we start a P.R. program that is comprehensive and thorough. The problem is that locally and statewide, officials have no vision of what this state should be or could be. Our new state motto should be "Rhode Island! A government for the state, by the state." Ugh.