Tourism Director laments drop in state funding
In her report to the Block Island Tourism Council, Executive Director Jessica Willi expressed her disappointment to cuts in the state’s tourism budget proposed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
As a result of these cuts, Willi said at the Jan. 28 meeting, the Rhode Island tourism division will have to manage on something like $400,000 “as the state’s budget for tourism.” Willi noted that two abutting states — Connecticut and Massachusetts — have tourism budgets in the millions.
Describing the manner in which the tourism division directs funding, Willi pointed out that $100,000 of the $400,000 goes to Discover New England, considered the prominent tourism organization promoting the six New England states and receiving its funding from them.
In general, Willi said, “There’s a mind-set [in the state] that we are doing our own marketing,” and there’s an apparent willingness for that approach to continue. “In people’s minds Newport and Providence are a higher brand than the state of Rhode Island,” she said.
She noted that the Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (Commerce RI) had recently released a report based on collaborative efforts by businesses, service sector and professional leaders within the state. The report, she said, was a summary of their conclusions about the possibilities for future economic development within Rhode Island.
Willi explained that among many other observations, the report recognizes the increased potential of the tourism industry and advocates for the creation of what Economic Development Headquarters, (EDHQ) called “a steady, predictable funding mechanism for tourism marketing at Commerce RI and [to] develop a state brand and interpretive story.” EDHQ is a private online resource updating the business community on the latest news.
On another matter, Willi said the Tourism Services Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the Chamber of Commerce, had recently made a presentation to the Town Council, which was “well-received.” Speaking about prominent issues identified by a survey circulated to island businesses last fall, the subcommittee sought support from the council, which Willi said was forthcoming. She said that with a contract for trash removal being finalized, progress was being made, adding, “The Town Council was open to our ideas.”
In a preliminary budget review, Willi noted she would arrange a meeting with newly appointed councilor Julie Fuller, who is also the group’s new treasurer. She said they would meet to work on the budget and then present it to the board for discussion at the March 4 and 18 meetings. She noted they needed time in which to present the budget to the town in April. To date, Willi felt the budget, as it was coming along, was “in good shape.”
Tourism Chair Zena Clark reported on a meeting of the Marketing Committee, which she said was “very productive.” She said, “We’re hoping to add to the marketing budget.” Clark added, “More money should be put into marketing.” In the end the council voted to add $10,000, bringing the marketing budget to $75,000.
The next two meetings are scheduled for March 4 at 9 a.m. and March 18 at 11 a.m.