Tourism Council sees success online
As part of an overview of the activities of the Tourism Council for the past three months, Executive Director Jessica Willi highlighted the Council’s emerging success on various social media platforms, which includes an ongoing presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as a new YouTube promotional video. Willi, at the Oct. 29 meeting, said the Council’s Facebook page has attracted more than 7,300 ‘likes.’ She added that a recent post attracted 500 ‘likes’ and more than 50 shares — that is, followers of the Facebook page thought the posted information was interesting enough to share with their own audience. Willi said the Council also had 1,300 followers on Twitter and 500 on Instagram. Instagram is an online photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service. She said all these efforts “serve to drive people to our website.” Reached after the meeting, Willi said these figures were the result of projects she’s been developing for years.
Board member Martha Ball credited Willi for the work she had done in bringing the Tourism Council into the digital age. In doing so, Ball also took The Block Island Times to task for its reporting on the joint Tourism-Chamber meeting on Oct. 1, during which Willi outlined many of these online efforts, but which Ball felt was underreported.
Ball said Willi “should [have been] credited with bringing the Tourism Council into social media. Instead, all of her [accomplishments] were relegated to a throw-away line [in the article].” She added, “I thought for the amount of work that Jess [Jessica Willi] has done, it was a poor return.” Ball commended Willi for her work in this area.
Willi thanked Ball and noted, “It’s exciting to get responses from others through social media, to hear from people during the winter who are thinking about beaches and planning for the summer.”
The Tourism Council has conducted it’s own online survey. Willi said that 5,900 people had responded. Among these, 1,500 were from Connecticut, 1,135 from New York, 970 from Massachusetts and 640 from Rhode Island — the remaining number coming from other states. Of those answering the survey, she said 70 percent were women between the ages of 45 and 54 and 65 percent had never been to the island, but wanted to come out for several nights, indicating a preference for an inn or B&B. Many were looking for family get-aways, and 90.7 percent selected beaches as their preferred activity once on island. This choice was followed by dining and shopping.
Willi said the average annual household income was between $100,000 and $150,000 for most respondents, of whom “90 percent planned to use this website to plan their vacations,” Willi said.
Other tasks that Willi highlighted in her three-month review included fall advertising on Facebook, in the magazine SO RI, in the Providence Journal, on the Buddy Cianci radio broadcasts and on Boston.com, which was the first ad the council has created for a mobile application, Willi noted.
She also said the Tourism Council’s audit had been completed, and it would be shared with the Town Council, the Rhode Island Senate and House and with Gov. Lincoln Chaffee’s office. Willi announced there would be a meeting of the marketing subcommittee at the council’s office at the airport on Nov. 5, with time still to be set. Members of that committee are Clark, Logan Mott Chase, Cullen and Steve Filippi.
The director’s review meeting was scheduled for Dec. 9 at 9 a.m. Members of that subcommittee are Clark, Filippi, Kessler and Brad Marthens. Willi said she would have her self-evaluation available for them by Dec. 6.
At the Oct. 29 meeting, the Council also discussed how the town should respond to a recent survey circulated by the Block Island Chamber of Commerce. That questionnaire indicated concern within some members of the business community about a number of issues affecting tourism on island.
Reflecting on the Oct. 15 joint meeting between the Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Council, Willi observed, “Not a lot of actionable things came out of it.” Turning to the board, she asked, “We talked about tourism services, such as the trash cans. I’d like to know what you think our [the Tourism Council’s] response should be.”
President Zena Clark said, “I think we should gather as [part of the] Tourism Services committee to get information together.” Shirley Kessler added, “I agree, but think we should follow through now. There should be an ongoing community discussion about these issues.”
One of the concrete responses to the survey had been the formation by the Chamber of Commerce of three committees to deal with the three top-priority issues identified: cost of electricity, internet connectivity and tourism services. The Tourism Council has supported these initiatives.
The Tourism Services Committee is comprised of Clark, Willi, Tourism Council Second Vice-President John Cullen, Megan Moran of Interstate Navigation and community member Molly O’Neill.
Members of the Utilities Committee are Mary Jane Balser, Steve Filippi, Julie Fuller, Betty Lang, Fraser Lang, Mary Lawless, Mary Stover and Bryan Wilson.
The Internet Committee is made up of Frank DiBiase, Gail Hall, Lucinda Morrison and Kathy Szabo.
Willi announced that the town was seeking input for revising its Comprehensive Plan, which expires in 2014. Those suggestions should come, she said, from specific areas of concern — offering reviews, comments and possibilities for implementing actions. She asked council members to think of points they would like to make, in terms of “ways to improve the economy.”
Clark spoke to potential changes in educational opportunities on the island. Citing Fisher’s Island, she said their school takes tuition students, because it offers something special. Clark thought the island school might consider doing something similar, whether in maritime or other areas of specialized studies, that might draw students from other parts of the state.
She said, “We have so many educational assets on the island we should explore the possibility relative to economic development on the island.” Agreeing, Willi said, “This would go hand-in-hand with our five-year plan, as well.”
Willi said suggestions for the Comprehensive Plan needed to be in by December and could be left at the Land Use Office at Town Hall.
After some discussion on which format was best for presenting board members’ ideas for the Tourism Council’s five-year plan, the group decided to submit them to Willi who would disseminate them to the rest of the board for discussion at the next meeting.
Clark asked as many members who could to attend the Rhode Island Hospitality Association annual meeting on Dec. 4, at which Willi will be honored with the Mary Brennan Tourism Award. The award is part of RIHA’s Stars of the Industry program recognizing those working in the hospitality and tourism industries. Some 500 guests usually attend the annual meeting.
Explaining that the gathering of tourism data was very important, Willi said the state tourism division was in the process of deciding between two organizations offering economic and financial analysis and forecasting: Global Insights, which the local Tourism Council has consulted to date, and Tourism Economics.
Also, Willi wanted the board to think about setting up a budget for promotion of tour groups to the island, which she thought a potentially lucrative market.
Reviewing the September “Taste of Block Island” weekend, member Brad Marthens felt it had taken place somewhat too close to Restaurant Week. Willi concurred and the group discussed whether or not the second weekend of the event continued to be advisable. The first takes place in spring. Willi noted the weekends were Chamber-sponsored events, though she serves on the committee.
Reporting on the condition of the Christmas tree placed annually during the holiday season in front of the Harbor Church, Marthens said it was seriously in need of repair. After some investigation, he determined the cost of this upkeep might run as high as $2,000, which the council voted to appropriate if needed.
Because of the repairs, the original date set for the annual tree-lighting (Dec. 3) was cancelled with a new date yet to be determined.
Willi announced that hotel tax for August was 10 percent higher than last year’.
The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12 at 11 a.m.