Tourism Council assesses the summer

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 4:45pm

The presence of cars on Block Island is either an ongoing nuisance or a symbol of the kind of family that comes to the island and is a powerful contributor to the seasonal economy.

Those two viewpoints were expressed by members of the Block Island Tourism Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10 as they discussed how they felt the past summer went.

The conversation started when member John Cullen referenced an online discussion about vehicle congestion on the island. Some posted that the number of cars was a significant change and had a negative impact on the vacation experience. “There was some online chatter about having a listening session about what to do about crowds, parking, cars, people, stuff like that,” said Cullen. He said that it “was easy for people to throw out comments on Facebook and say that there are too many cars. Everybody is entitled to their opinions.” Cullen said that “all kinds of things twisted together are causing people to come” to the island, adding that “I do believe we have a parking crisis. I’ve seen cars parked in places I never imagined where they could be parked.”

Cullen said that one of the issues that may make people put their cars on the ferry “is the parking on the other side.” He had heard stories about people parking their cars at the Stop & Shop in Narragansett and then take an Uber to the ferry dock. He also told a story he had heard about someone who paid $80 to park on a private lawn in Pt. Judith.

“But who gets to decide” how many cars come to the island, Cullen asked.

Member Logan Mott Chase had a different take. She said the cars represented families who are vacationing on the island for longer periods of time and, by extension, go to restaurants and shop “and spend more money.” The other members of the committee agreed.

Member Zena Clark said that “there is no real way to regulate” vehicle traffic, She said the focus of the Tourism Council “should be to promote the shoulder season. I just don’t think the public knows that.” The shoulder seasons are roughly between Memorial Day and July 4, and Labor Day to Columbus Day, when all remaining seasonal businesses close for the year. Clark said she also felt there needed to be a “discussion with the entire community” about vehicle traffic.

Tourism Director Jessica Willi said that she recognized promoting the shoulder season was an uphill battle, but marketing the island also focused on direct spending. “You want heads in beds and you want people to stay a few days,” she said. Willi said that she had been to two major tourism conferences recently and the primary concern among tourism professionals was “over-tourism” — too many people. “There was not a single person who wasn’t talking about how to move people around — to move people from their most popular park to the lesser known park.”

Member Julie Kiley wondered if the advertising done by the Tourism Council brought people to the island. “If we didn’t advertise at all would people not come?” she asked. “I think they would.” She suggested shifting tourism dollars over to supporting the town’s infrastructure.

“They’re going to come,” said Chase. “So how can we support the town?”

Willi said that an advertising component was part of the Council’s charter, and if they didn’t advertise, “We would certainly be taken to task by the legislature, but we can certainly shift around some money.”

The Tourism Council’s Annual Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24 at The Spring House Hotel at 5 p.m.