Rhode Island has cut state-level tourism-promotion spending 89 percent since 1995. So leaders of the state’s seven regional tourism councils, which have picked up some of the slack for cuts at the top, bristle at suggestions that centralization of visitor marketing is what’s needed to spur growth.
“You wouldn’t have an economic engine if it wasn’t for the accountability of the local regions,” said Myrna George, president and CEO of the South County Tourism Council. “We know how to collaborate with each other and what we are missing is adequate funding.”
Given what’s happened to the tourism-division budget, George said giving state leaders more direct control of the regional council budgets could be a recipe for disaster.
“None of us would have been able to build what we did if that was the case,” she said.
Not for the first time, Rhode Island’s sluggish economy and shrinking state tourism division have spurred talk of tourism-marketing centralization in recent recommendations from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council and Make It Happen RI attendees.
“It appears that there is a need for better coordination with the other state tourism agencies,” the RIPEC report said. “This increased cooperation would allow for a more cooperative and cohesive approach to the promotion of the state through the various organizations. … One possible strategy is to move funding to the [proposed secretary of commerce] for distribution to the regional tourism districts.
The Make It Happen RI progress report issued last month included “continuing to promote collaboration and coordination among the regional tourism bureaus” as one of the action items distilled from attendee suggestions.