Is Block Island too busy?
The New Shoreham Tourism Council wants to continue the conversation on sustainable tourism that was the subject of its annual meeting last month, and it appears they have the means to do so. All they need now is cooperation.
The board has been very conservative in its budgeting for this and the last fiscal year, due to Covid. But the tourists keep coming in greater and greater numbers – at least as evidenced by increases in the Tourism Council’s share of hotel taxes received for July and August. They
were “remarkably high,” said Tourism Director Jess Willi at their meeting on Oct. 26.
There could be many variables at play, including occupancy rates, increased room prices, and an increase in the total number of rooms, but
when when Willi crunched the numbers, using 600 hotel rooms at an average price of $350 per night, “the math works out,” she said. “The question is if that will last.”
During the budget update portion of the meeting, it was apparent there was money that could be spent. Treasurer Julie Fuller asked if they should go back to spending more money on advertising or “Do we want to do something different?” As to whether this was a temporary situation, she said: “I think we’re on a trajectory with the types of rooms being built.”
All agreed it was an opportunity to do something. Member John Cullen said they needed a purpose and a goal as opposed to being seen as a funding source for others. “We’re not the well,” he said.
Willi said they could make short-term decisions like increasing their advertising budget, make longer term investments, or they could form
partnerships with others instead of just providing funding for certain causes.
“I think we’re all for those types of partnerships,” said Cullen.
Member Zena Clark said there were lots of comments from the community at the annual meeting that was held at the Spring House on Oct. 6. “Lots of people want to get involved,” she said.
The subject was returned to later in the meeting. Willi said the speaker, Megan Epler Wood, of the consulting company Epler-Wood International, which focuses on sustainable tourism, had done a lot of background research and “micro meetings” with people in town before the annual meeting. She then asked where the board “wanted this to go. Solutions are things that need to be implemented by the town,” although they would be in partnership with others, such as the Tourism Council.
“You could just say: ‘Wonderful, thank you, and that’s it,’” said Willi, but further steps could also be taken.
Epler-Wood has two students who could do a study with money available from Harvard University. The chief cost to the council would be for travel and collecting the data could be a lengthy process. “It’s not going to be a lot of money – it’s going to be a lot of time,” said Willi. She added that there were a lot of studies already performed that could be “pulled in.”
“I would hate to waste an opportunity,” said Fuller, who, as did others, called for a joint meeting on the subject with the Town Council.
“We’re already short on water, so they say,” said Chair Dave Houseman, who emphasized that tourism was going really well, but “we can’t deplete the physical resources of the island.”
“We’re at a place where decisions need to be made,” said Member Logan Mott Chase. “We need data.”
“You need to start somewhere,” said Cullen, adding that they would need the town as partners.
“At the Spring House,” said Cullen, “it was evident a lot of people feel the same way,” about the feeling that the island has become too busy.
“It’s too busy – what does that mean,?” asked Willi, adding that it was a conversation she often had at home, and it was all about perception. “This is a data-driven approach.”
“This is the time to do it,” and to involve the year-round community, said Houseman. “We have the most to lose and the most to gain,” he said, before making a motion for the Tourism Council to proceed. As for the Town Council: “They’re as concerned as we are,” he said.