Editorial: Why even bother?

Sun, 02/02/2014 - 3:00pm

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, in what otherwise appears to be a responsible $8.5 billion fiscal budget for 2015 (begins July 1, 2014), has cut the tourism line item to the bone.

As pointed out in our story this week, the state is posed to spend a mere $400,000 for marketing, aside from the hotel tax allocations provided to local tourism boards. To call it inadequate would actually be praise. One wonders what can be accomplished with such meager funds.

We are, after all, The Ocean State, but we are much more than that. In just 1,045 square miles, Rhode Island offers everything in the way of physical beauty except its own mountain range. Providence has undergone a widely praised transformation and it is home to one nationally recognized theater, Trinity Rep. We also have beaches, farm lands, and historic cities and towns — all easily accessible to our visitors.

And there is Block Island, just an hour (on the traditional ferry) off the coast. You wouldn’t think we need to market ourselves, but, surprise, we’re actually open year-round. There are rooms available and our beaches and trails are just as charming when the crowds have gone. There are reasons to come here other than just getting your head counted on Groundhog Day.

The Block Island Tourism Council does a fine job in representing us, but they could get some help from the state. In fact, the state needs to ramp up all its efforts, not cut back. We went onto the R.I. Tourism Division’s Twitter account (@VisitRI), and found that it had just 796 followers — as of Jan. 29 — and is following no one. That isn’t going to do anyone any good. (@VisitMA has 51,000 followers.)

Marketing yourself is essential in today’s world. People are aware of Providence, and they do know Newport, as Tourism Director Jessica Willi pointed out, but the rest of Rhode Island’s attractions need to be touted — and often — to the wider world. You see ads in national newspapers such as The New York Times that routinely promote tourism and business climate for those states that realize the value of marketing. You couldn’t buy one ad, never mind a series of them, for the entire tourism budget that’s been proposed. Marketing is an investment, not an expense.

We urge our representatives in the General Assembly, Rep. Donna Walsh and Sen. Susan Sosnowski, to reconsider this line item as it is debated. We don’t want to be known as Rhode Island, The Forgotten State.