The Block Island Times
http://block-island.villagesoup.com/p/1081033

Group tours seen as late-season growth potential

By Gloria S. Redlich | Nov 15, 2013

At its most recent meeting, the Tourism Council discussed whether tour groups represented a potential growth market for the island.

Megan Moran, group sales manager for Interstate Navigation, addressed the issue of tour groups, noting that the ferry company does “lots of advance bookings” for groups wanting to visit the island. She said the ferry company works with hundreds of tour operators all over the country, including those from California, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and all six New England states.

Emphasizing her belief that tours offer a very lucrative market, she pointed out most of these tourists “travel on weekdays and during the shoulder season.” Each group tends to include about 48 people, she said.

In September and October of this year, Moran said there were a number of tours that came to the island. In fact, she pointed out that when Debbie Howarth, owner of Finn’s Restaurant, noticed the tour groups coming through the restaurant, she decided to extend the restaurant’s hours.

A discussion followed on the need to encourage businesses to extend their seasons to be compatible with off-season tours coming to the island. There was the hope that through the coordination of businesses with Interstate, Tourism Council and the Chamber of Commerce a viable shoulder season might emerge.

Moran said when she first looked into booking tours, she didn’t always know which restaurants and businesses would be open, so she confirmed with local merchants before firming up the tours, and then let the tour operators know.

She said the “feedback” she received from groups that visit the island has always been positive. “The only negative we’ve heard was that [the on-island tour ] was too short,” Moran said.

National Hotel Manager Julie Fuller said for some time the hotel had been making a concerted effort to attract tour groups. “There has been a great response about bookings for May, June and September, and we have even got the shoulder season for 2014 booked already,” she said.

She added, “The shoulder season business is critical and very big.”

Moran noted that in addition to bringing sales to commercial enterprises, tour groups “bring in more money to non-profit organizations, like the lighthouses.”

Board member needed

Announcing the resignation of long-time Tourism Council member Martha Ball, Willi said it would take effect immediately. Willi noted that persons interested in applying for the board position should write a letter to the Town Council indicating his or her interest.

While understanding Ball’s decision to step down after eight years of service, Willi said she appreciated her many contributions to the board and would miss her. Second Vice President John Cullen added, “Martha was a great member of this board, and a great colleague. She had a vast amount of knowledge, which I valued, as well as her friendship, and I’ll miss her.”

Of Ball, President Zena Clark said, “I wrote telling her what a good influence she was for me and that she taught me a lot.”

Willi said that four terms would be up at the end of this year, those of Zena Clark, Steve Filippi and Shirley Kessler. Willi reminded the group that with Ball off the council, they would need to select a new treasurer.

In past discussions about the lack of directional signage on island, Willi explained an idea had been broached earlier of “having a host program, in which volunteers in colorful t-shirts might be available [during the summer season] to help visitors, give them directions and just make a hospitable gesture to them.” Willi said, “It seems like the Tourism Council is a good group to sponsor this.”

Willi also reminded the members to look over the town’s Comprehensive Plan in order to make suggestions to be forwarded to the Planning Board which wishes the Tourism Council’s input by December 1. The Plan, which is set to run out in 2014, needs to be renewed.

The next two meetings are set for Dec. 3 at 9 a.m. and Dec. 17 at 11 a.m.

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