Optimism has returned to the meetings-and-conventions sector of Rhode Island’s economy, and it’s easy to see why.
First, as we all know, the economy is improving. Of course, it never grows fast enough after a recession. And it has been a very difficult four years, seeing as the Ocean State started contracting before the rest of the nation and fell farther than most states as well.
So while overall economic activity in Rhode Island is not what it could be, businesses both inside and outside the state that are doing better see the value in coming to our corner of the world and are doing so at an increasing rate.
To use one example, the occupancy rate of the state’s hotels is rebounding. According to the Providence-Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, conventioneers are expected to show a near 20 percent gain in room nights this year.
Also boosting expectations is the coming of the America’s Cup World Series races in June, an event that Evan Smith, the head of the Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, says is more like a “NASCAR-equivalent of yacht racing” than the genteel events of yore.
Hotels, restaurants, even the ferry service between Newport and Jamestown all expect a big pickup in business. And if the past is any guide, once people come to Rhode Island for a specific event, be it business, sporting or cultural, they often return just as regular tourists.
It’s important to note that the infrastructure investments that are being made in order to host the races will remain, and will make Newport and the state more competitive in bidding for future events, be they the America’s Cup or other racing competitions. In short, it’s all good.
So, while it is important not to sit back and expect the world to come to Rhode Island, there is real reason to think that the state is poised to see good things happen.
Mark S. Murphy