Marketing spend continues shrinking in R.I.

'We compete with states with million dollar budgets.'

In the competitive world of state tourism marketing, Rhode Island is struggling more than ever to keep up with its neighbors. More

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Focus: TOURISM

Marketing spend continues shrinking in R.I.

'We compete with states with million dollar budgets.'

COURTESY R.I. STATE DIVISION OF TOURISM SHRINKING INVESTMENT: WaterFire has been one of the state's biggest tourism draws since the 1990s, when the state budget included millions of dollars for tourism promotion. This year, only $330,000 is budgeted.
Posted 5/14/12

In the competitive world of state tourism marketing, Rhode Island is struggling more than ever to keep up with its neighbors.

Even as Massachusetts has trimmed its tourism budget since the recession, the Bay State is still spending nearly 20 times as much on tourism promotion as Rhode Island this year.

And to the west, both states are now outspent by Connecticut, which last year embarked on a $15 million marketing campaign that’s become the largest in New England.

Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has made reviving state-level tourism promotion a priority, but even if his plan to do it by expanding the state lodging tax is approved, Ocean State visitor spending would remain well below pre-recession levels and below all but one other state in the country.

“We compete with our surrounding states who have millions for their budgets and we have done extremely well with what we have,” said Myrna George, president and CEO of the South County Tourism Council, one of seven local tourism boards that works to attract visitors. “But could we do more? Yes we could.”

In fiscal 2012, the R.I. State Tourism Division, which is run by the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, is working with a $330,000 budget, not including the lodging-tax revenue distributed to the regional tourism councils, to promote the state as a whole.

That’s down from $362,890 in fiscal 2011 and less than half of the $685,582 the state spent in fiscal 2008. Approximately $100,000 of the total tourism-division budget pays for Rhode Island’s contribution to Discover New England, the regional organization that markets the six New England states to Europe.

That doesn’t leave much in the way of resources for Rhode Island-specific marketing, especially in expensive national advertising.

“In my 25-year tenure, all I have seen is the state [tourism] budget reduced and I am concerned about it,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, which markets Newport and Bristol County to visitors. “Right now they are handcuffed. The local efforts are moving forward, but it leaves a big void. We are losing ground to national and regional competitors.”

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