Tourism Council juggling marketing, meager budgets, and Phase 2 protocols

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 5:45pm
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First, the good news.

The 2020 version of Eben Horton’s glass float project will begin on Saturday, July 11.

This is according to Block Island Tourism Director Jessica Willi, who made the announcement at a Tourism Council meeting on Tuesday, June 1.

Otherwise, it was a continuation of marketing the island on an uncertain budget, and with the news that the governor’s office had become concerned about the communal housing situation on Block Island.

According to Willi, as the state became concerned with such virus hotspots as senior care facilities and prisons, and how to address outbreaks at those locations, the state began to cast at an eye at other potential areas of concern. That is when Block Island popped up on the state’s radar, due to the fact that workers from all over the world travel to the island for work and live off-hours in close quarters.

The Town Council, in concert with Dr. Tom Warcup and the Medical Center, has come up with a testing and quarantine plan to address these issues if a worker tested positive with COVID-19.

Willi and Tourism Board President Steve Filippi said they both had talked with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Deputy Nicole Verdi, who had also talked to Dr. Warcup, First Warden Ken Lacoste, Second Warden André Bourdreau, and Interim Town Manager Jim Kern about the concerns the state has had over the island’s communal employee housing situtation. (See Town Council story on page 1.)

“I have been on the phone a lot over the last three weeks,” said Willi. For the team at the statehouse working on the response to the pandemic, “Block island has come to the forefront because we have communal housing. Other than nursing homes and prisons, the only other place with communal housing in the state is Block Island.”

Willi said, since hotels were not able to book rooms until after June 1, that the hotel tax for April will be “zero dollars,” but added an official tally has not yet arrived.

Willi has been keeping an eye on whether the state, as it tries to create a budget that indicates, at this point, an $800 million deficit, will try to redirect some funds away from the regional tourism offices to help balance the budget in other departments. Since the General Assembly has not yet been able to meet, Willi said “there has been no legislation. She and the other regional tourism offices are working with the state to apply for economic development grant money to help market the state. Willi said the regional offices were not eligible for those grants.

“We’ll see what the state is doing on paid leisure travel media,” said Willi. “I have heard nothing on that yet.”

There are also continuing concerns about how the state regulations, even though they have eased in Phase 2, would impact some businesses on Block Island that have minimal interior square footage. “The size of some of our shops are so small they wouldn’t allow for even one person” to shop, said Willi. The state is aware of this and some businesses should expect to hear from the governor’s office regarding these, and other issues, including getting enough hand sanitizer supplies so that businesses can reopen, she said.

As far as local events, the annual Barbershop Quartet concert that is put on every year and has raised thousands of dollars for The Mary D. Fund, has been cancelled. Willi said that “anyone who wants to make a contribution to The Mary D. Fund would be welcomed to do that.”

The next Tourism Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 23 at 3 p.m.