Tourism Council plans spring advertising campaigns

Thu, 02/04/2021 - 6:00pm
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The Block Island Tourism Council declined to weigh in on the trolley proposal put forth by RIPTA to the Town Council at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 2. The proposal is new and the council had received a letter from taxi owner Judy Clark requesting support for a possible alternative to be put forth by the Commission of Motor Vehicles for Hire.

The trolley proposal was scheduled to be a topic of discussion at a Town Council work session scheduled for Feb. 3, and Tourism Director Jess Willi said she thought the trolley would provide service between Old and New Harbors, with additional drop-offs “at the beach.” It would operate from mid-June through Labor Day, on weekends only, but otherwise, no further details were known.

Tourism Council Chair David Houseman said: “My opinion – we should move this to the next meeting to wait for the meeting tomorrow.”

Member John Cullen agreed, saying: “We may have a clearer picture.”

“Judy said the taxi cabs might have an alternative,” said Member Steve Filippi.

Willi said that would probably be part of the town council’s discussion.

“There’s a lot of rumors flying around,” said Houseman. “Naturally.”

“Basically, what I’m hearing is, you don’t want to be on the record” because of a lack of information, said Willi.

Although council members agreed that they all needed to learn more, Willi reminded them that Town Manager Maryanne Crawford was hoping the Town Council would vote on the matter on Feb. 17. The Tourism Council wasn’t planning to meet again until Feb. 23, so they will call a special meeting if necessary.

The Tourism Council has had much better revenues from their share of hotel taxes for the year than expected. For November alone, hotel taxes received were $17,958, whereas for November 2019, that number was $3,025. Willi said the increase could be from the number of workers here on the island, or, it could also be a matter of timing – hotel taxes due for October could have been paid late, for instance and included in November’s numbers instead of October’s.

Fiscal year-to-date numbers are also way up. Last year they were approximately $245,000, and this year they are at $272,000, an increase of 11 percent.

“We’re in a good financial spot,” said Willi, especially in comparison to the rest of the state. Expenditures for travel and conferences have been down due to Covid-19, putting the council “$166,000 in the black.” That number is expected to come down quite a bit as the council prepares for its spring marketing push, for which $65,000 is budgeted.

Willi said she had “roughed up” a paid media plan that mirrors the 2018 and 2019 marketing plans. The plan is aimed at adults in the 35- to 64-year-old bracket who may be planning vacations (as opposed to “day-trippers”), with a “bump up” in the targeted age group for the fall when birders typically visit the island.

With people uncertain about traveling on airplanes, Willi said she is focusing on the “drive market,” with Connecticut as a focus for advertising, although that may be expanded to other nearby states.

She also said she is resuming her efforts with “educational advertising,” and was working on a “seven principles of visiting Block Island” campaign. This would educate visitors as to basic rules regarding proper bike riding etiquette (walk left, ride right) and protocols for trash at beaches (take in, take out).

There are still uncertainties, though. Willi said Interstate Navigation would not be taking vehicle reservations until March for the ferries, and the exact schedules were still unknown. Another unknown is when the New London high-speed ferry will resume running. The marketing plan is slated to start in early April.