Tourism revisits Interstate’s rate hike request
A lively discussion of Interstate Navigation’s recent proposal to raise ferry rates and discontinue commuter cards continued at the Block Island Tourism Council’s January 22 meeting.
Executive Director Jessica Willi pointed out that the town had requested a meeting with Interstate for the purpose of presenting its own proposal, which included: moving to a revenue cap rather than a fixed rate schedule; retaining commuter discounts and cards; including the high-speed ferries into rate re-considerations, and maintaining the current minimum off-season schedule.
A revenue cap is a form of regulation that seeks to limit the amount of total revenues for a company holding a monopoly position within a community. Repeating a question she put to the group at the council’s last meeting, Willi asked: “Do we want to take a stance on this, support the town or do we want to wait?”
President Zena Clark said she was “not ready to say ‘No’ to the whole Interstate proposal. I see some of the mid-week off-season specials they might be offering as a good thing.” Logan Mott Chase agreed, asking whether there was a need to “come up with this stance now.”
With the state Public Utilities Commission scheduling public input on the island for April 11 at 12:15 p.m., Brad Marthens thought the item should be kept on the agenda for the next several meetings. He reiterated his concern about proposed freight rate hikes.
Marthens wondered aloud what might have changed to allow Interstate to offer possible mid-week discounts.
Subsequently, the council agreed to continue the item to future agendas.
More ferry business
Discussion then turned to Interstate’s new high-speed ferry service set to begin its runs between Newport and the island on June 29 and continue to September 2. Willi noted that Interstate had proposed a one-way rate of $25 and a round-trip of $50. Pointing out that the ferry would leave from downtown Newport, she was elated about the possibilities of tapping the “huge group market” that Newport typically draws.
Steve Filippi expressed concern about the timing of the last ferry to leave the island returning to Newport. He pointed out that it did not give Newport visitors an opportunity to stay on island for dinner, which he felt would have a negative impact on the restaurant market here.
The proposed route and schedule is a daily run at 8 a.m. from Point Judith, arriving in Newport at 8:40. Departures to Block Island from Newport are scheduled for 9 a.m., 12:05 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. The return boats from the island to Newport would run at 10:30 a.m. and 5:05 p.m. The final run would leave the island at 8:15 p.m. for Point Judith.
With most members concurring, the group agreed to draft a letter to Interstate asking it to reconsider the return route and schedule for their last boat.
Signage and art
Vice President John Cullen reported that in a discussion with island architect Tracy Dillon, representing the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA), he was asked if the council would consider relocating its office sign at the airport terminal.
Its current placement was on the broadest wall in the building, and Dillon pointed out that RISCA hoped to use that space for hanging a very large painting.
Clark said it was important to have “a sign that people see.” Cullen reminded the group that they had originally wanted a sign outside the building.
Opting for more discussion with Dillon, Ball said, “There may be a creative alternative that she can help us see.” In the end, the group agreed to invite Dillon to the next meeting and ask her to bring a proposal.
Proposing new video
Willi won the support to develop a new video of Block Island for the group’s website to replace an older one that she says no longer “streams well.” She urged that the filming be done this spring and that the video be up and running for the upcoming summer season.
Willi had already discussed the possibilities with Trevor Holden, a wedding photographer and videographer, whom she said has considerable experience working on the island and is sensitive to its unique beauty.
When Clark suggested the group get quotes from others, Willi said, “I’m very confident in working with [Holden].” Marthens agreed with Willi’s opinion of the photographer, and said the group was not compelled to look further.
Identifying probable costs at between $1,500 and $2,000, Willi said there was already $500 in the budget for videos and she was hoping $1,500 might be taken from another line item. In the end the group agreed to make funds available for the video.
Testing what she said was an “unformed idea,” Willi said she would like to bring out “a fam tour” — a familiarization tour for decision-makers particularly for Newport’s tourism division, concierges, hotel management people, etc. — to acquaint them with the island. She would include a few individuals from Providence.
Willi proposed a day trip for 20 to 25 people “by invitation only” — hopefully using the new Newport ferry. She suggested holding the event on either June 28 or June 29, and suggested asking local merchants to participate. She would also speak with Interstate.
“This is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing. I’m very supportive,” said Cullen. The rest of the group agreed, authorizing Willi to go ahead with planning the event.
Willi announced that a benefit called the Black and White Ball to “bring back the beach” would be held at the Ocean House Hotel in Watch Hill on February 23. Tickets cost $125 per person, and all proceeds will go toward the rebuilding of Misquamicut Beach after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. A silent auction was also planned for the event, Willi said, to which a number of island businesses had already donated gift certificates, etc. She hoped others would follow suit.
Noting that the banking industry was one of the few to still use travel as a way of rewarding its loyal customers, Willi said an Indiana company is seeking to arrange a number of Rhode Island trips and asked each tourism region in the state to chip in. Willi said she’d committed $250, feeling it was worthwhile because of the possibility of bringing more visitors to the island. The council expressed its support.
May 8 has been set aside for the state tourism office’s annual Unity Luncheon, the theme of which is “Making a Difference.” The event will be held at Twin Rivers in Lincoln and communities are invited to propose extraordinary individuals to be considered for an award.