Governor candidates offer plans for tourism
As Block Island begins to wake from its winter hibernation, the hopes and challenges of a new summer season also begin to take shape. The state of tourism is always of concern because it is one of the engines of the local economy, but a question is whether it is on the minds of those who want to succeed outgoing Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Earlier this month, Democrat Gina Raimondo became the first gubernatorial candidate to weigh in on the subject of tourism. The remaining candidates — Allan Fung, Ken Block, Angel Taveras, Clay Pell and Todd Giroux, were all asked by The Block Island Times about their views on how they would support the state’s tourism industry if they became governor. All responded directly except for Pell, but Pell happened to give his first policy address on Wednesday, April 23, which icluded his vision for how his administration would support tourism.
As a candidate for governor, Raimondo, the state General Treasurer and a Democrat, said that tourism dollars are simply too large to ignore: “Tourism is an incredibly powerful economic force. Every person who visits our state spends $481 in our local businesses, generating billions in wages and salaries for Rhode Island employees. There is a direct and immediate connection between the number of visitors we bring to Rhode Island and the number of jobs we produce. And small, smart investments in marketing can generate tremendous economic activity. Cities and states with a fraction of our assets have found that every $1 spent on marketing results in $100 in new visitor spending.”
She said that according to the state’s tourism division, the “industry supports 50,000 jobs and yearly sales topping $6.8 billion. In recent years, Rhode Island has attracted tens of millions of visitors, each one spending money in our state…”
Pell’s policy statement said that “tourism accounted for $3.46 billion of visitor spending in Rhode Island and supported 32,986 jobs in 2011.” Pell, an attorney and fomer member of President Obama’s Department of Education, added that “$119 in tax receipts are generated from each visitor, with $69 going to state and local authorities… (e)very 187 visitors create a new job in Rhode Island.”
In a statement to The Times directly from Taveras, the current mayor of Providence, said he believed “tourism is a critical part of our economy. It is an essential piece of my 20-point economic plan as Mayor of Providence. Back in 2011, when I came into office as Mayor, I made tourism an economic priority — a place in my agenda that I will carry forward on a broader scale as Governor of Rhode Island. Despite facing a $110 million structural deficit as Mayor, I am proud to have invested in our priorities including growing Providence’s tourism industry.”
Todd Giroux, a contractor from Bristol and a Democrat, provided an overview of his economic plan to The Times, while also commenting on the importance of tourism to the state. “Tourism is a special investment that brings out of state visitors into our communities to share in our rich heritage celebrating independence, freedom and innovation,” Giroux said in his statement. “I Support the Tourism Councils in the specialized work they do throughout the state and should continue to develop and cultivate the interest and events in the community with the stakeholders and visiting groups.”
In a statement to The Times sent in by Allan Fung’s Campaign Manager Patrick Sweeney, Fung used a different set of numbers to make the same point as Raimondo.
The section on Tourism was titled “Rhode Island needs one strategic vision:”
“Tourism, which is a staple of our economy, currently serves as the second leading industry in Rhode Island. Tourism supported 42,000 direct and indirect Rhode Island jobs in 2009 (9 percent of the state’s job base), which generated $536 million in state and local tax revenue. Despite our tourism industry driving a significant portion of our economy, we continue to spend less on promoting, advertising, and marketing our state. It should be no surprise that we have lost market share to our competing neighbors. It has become clear to me that we need to invest more in our tourism and hospitality sectors to put Rhode Island back on the map again.”
Block, a Republican from Barrington who is an engineer and entrepreneur, said in an email to The Block Island Times, that his campaign has “not yet developed a tourism-related component of our economic development plan, but my campaign is fully aware of the large role that tourism plays in the Rhode Island economy and we are fully committed to increasing the size of our tourism industry.”
Angel Taveras (D)
Taveras said that his plan will expand on the policies he has implemented in Providence. The following was sent to The Block Island Times by Tavares campaign:
“Under my tenure (as mayor), such publications as “Tourism Today” have commended our “high hotel occupancy rates” and that Providence has been voted a top US food city by “Travel + Leisure” magazine. Since the start of my administration, we have seen the storied renewal of America’s oldest indoor shopping mall, the Arcade Providence.
This past week I issued two separate policy proposals — Preserving Rhode Island, my plan to establish our state as an environmental leader, and the Ocean State Infrastructure Trust. Each of these plans have an impact on our tourism industry.
Slowing the effects of coastal erosion is one of the most important quality of life issues we face in Rhode Island. But more than an environmental concern, it is an economic imperative. That’s why I have released a seven point environmental sustainability plan that includes that by 2030, 40% of our energy will come from renewables sources. Additionally, I will direct state agencies to work together to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Attracting tourism to our state also demands that we have the infrastructure that meets the needs of a 21st century economy. It shows that we have pride in our state and says that we are open for business. That is why I am proposing my Ocean State Infrastructure Trust that will invest $800 million dollars to redevelop and build our roads, bridges and schools. My plan will help cities and towns, like Block Island, borrow investment funds more cheaply to meet their respective communities’ needs. People want to visit a state whose structural beauty matches it’s natural beauty.
In the coming weeks I will release more details of my tourism plans, which will contain additional steps we can take to ensure that our tourism industry continues to grow and thrive.”
Gina Raimondo (D)
Raimondo gave a little shout out to Block Island in the opening remarks to her policy: “We’ve got affordable day trips to getaways like Block Island, where a family can spend the day exploring the island by bike or lounging on the beach.”
She has a four-pronged approach that she said will create more than 5,000 jobs in the next five years.
- Invest in highly targeted marketing and advertising with a cohesive statewide strategy to attract more visitors to Rhode Island.
- Make Rhode Island a world-class culinary destination by highlighting our amazing restaurants, breweries, vineyards, and thriving food industry.
- Foster workforce development efforts that focus on tourism and hospitality industries.
- Improve our state’s tourism infrastructure.
Raimondo mentioned that Rhode Island does not spend enough on tourism — “a mere $400,000… ranking us 46th in the nation…” — and she compared the budgets for tourism and marketing with such states as Connecticut and New York.
Clay Pell (D)
Pell opened his policy statement with the following: “Rhode Island’s struggling economic recovery must be confronted by a greater sense of urgency and a renewed focus on what makes this state a great place to live, work, and raise a family. The foundation of economic growth in Rhode Island is to invest in a first class education system, rebuild and maintain high-quality infrastructure, and leverage what is unique about the Ocean State.
As governor, Pell said that he would:
- Increase current state tourism marketing investments with a focus on enhancing the online presence of tourism opportunities in Rhode Island and evaluate the advantages of implementing the recommendations of the Economy Rhode Island Report. (www.rhodemapri.org)
- Continue to promote the Discover Beautiful Rhode Island brand and expand its use and application in attracting visitors to the state.
- Promote the State of Rhode Island Career Pathways Initiative and raise awareness of the Workforce on-Ramps that have been developed for the hospitality and tourism industry.
- Lead collaboration among the regional and convention tourism organizations and Commerce RI to identify initiatives and marketing campaigns that can be promoted uniformly.
- Lead Commerce RI to partner with the Rhode Island Hospitality Education Center and the Hospitality and Tourism Industry Partnership to develop and promote career growth opportunities in Rhode Island.
Todd Giroux (D)
Giroux provided an outline of his economic vision for the state, which he called the “Rhode Island Economic Stabilization Plan.”
He included the following statements on tourism:
“I do believe that A Commerce Fund is the most direct way to provide the tools and equipment needed to support tourism and those small businesses that thrive on seasonal opportunities. I want to create 60,000 community investment opportunities with a Commerce Revolving Fund of 400 million dollars. Tourism can clearly be a active partner in this program and is likely the first to benefit in returns from short term investment for business and community.
“Block Island residents and tourists will benefit with a Commerce and Infrastructure Fund to lower utility costs with efficiency investments and strong advocacy for reductions in utility and fuel taxes with additional restrictions on the taxation of renewable energy consumed, produced or sold back to the utility.”
Ken Block (R)
Block, who said he had not yet prepared his policy statement on tourism, offered the following to The Block Island Times:
“One area of concentration will be to figure out how to pull the summer boat tourism activity that mostly stays out of Narragansett Bay all of the way up the bay.”
He added that “Rhode Island’s islands are gems in so many ways. My family and extended family and friends frequent not only Block Island (how could I stay away with a great name like that) but also the smaller islands in the middle of the bay.
“One of the best ways to increase economic development is to encourage and grow those sectors where there is already success, and Rhode Island’s tourist industry is successful. I look forward to adding to that success during my administration.”
Allan Fung, (R)
In his statement to The Block Island Times, Fung laid out the following plan (the following text is taken directly from his proposal:
“Unfortunately, the latest forecast has Rhode Island experiencing a 14 percent decrease in market share. According to an IHS Global Insight study, if Rhode Island had maintained its 2007 market share levels, it would have generated an additional $375 million in spending, 6,800 jobs, and $87 million in new tax revenue. We must reverse course.
So how do we, as a state, move forward and regain our market share. Very simply, we need to leverage our assets: water, rail and air.
1. Water: Two international seaports;
2. Rail: Amtrak and the MBTA commuter rail (which travels directly to Gillette Stadium); and
3. Air: A top rated airport, which is transitioning into an international airport.
The old adage in marketing is ‘You have to spend money to make money.’ Unfortunately, our marketing budget has decreased, instead of increased, over the years. Our budget for marketing is roughly $400,000 dollars, including the staffing. The state actually had a higher budget in 1977 and 1978 at $500,000 dollars (adjusted for inflation is nearly $2 million dollars) with a peak of over $3.5 million dollars in 1994 – 1995.
An IHS Global Insights study estimated that visitors injected $3.4 billion into the Rhode Island economy in 2009 alone. However, Rhode Island experienced a 19 percent decline in visitor spending between 2007 and 2009. This is unacceptable.
Our mission should be twofold: 1) to increase our state’s market share, thus bringing in more revenue and creating more jobs; and 2) to turn our visitors into residents.
We should be attracting individuals from Maine to Maryland, and especially those in between Boston (50 miles) and New York (180 miles). There are roughly 50,000,000 consumers within 300 miles of Rhode Island and we need to be proactive to attract them to cross over our borders.
Further, with T.F. Green expanding, we need to pursue international tourism opportunities. We can build strategic partnerships with overseas countries for tourism and trade, thus highlighting both a cultural benefit and an economic benefit.
We have the best beaches, the best restaurants, and an ideal location. With world class cities and 400 miles of shoreline, Rhode Island, in my view, is the best place to visit on the East Coast.”