Number of off-season, out-of-state tourists doubles in R.I.

Conferences, conventions and culinary awards attract visitors, increase economic activity

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The number of out-of-state visitors to Rhode Island will double this year during what is typically the off-season period from Nov. 8 to Dec. 7, largely due to a mix of large conferences and leisure travel, Providence Business News reported last week.

This month, off-peak conventions and large events booked in Rhode Island account for nearly 20,000 reserved hotel room nights, a huge increase from the 8,465 contracted hotel room nights last year during the similar time frame of Nov. 1 to Dec. 7, PBN reported.

Besides the uptick in tourism due to large events and conventions in the state, Kristen Adamo, the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau’s vice president of marketing and communications, said she attributes the rise in tourism to the increase in national media attention on Providence. “We were just named America’s favorite city in the Travel and Leisure poll that just came out in November,” she said.

This national attention is in part due to culinary awards and other recognitions that have “translated into people coming and wanting to experience Providence themselves,” she added.

Saveur Magazine named Providence one of the best small cities in the United States for its restaurant industry in September.

Tourism can be divided into two categories: leisure travel and meetings, conventions and sporting events, Adamo said.

There are dozens of events each month in the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Dunkin Donuts Center that can each draw anywhere between 500 and 4,000 people, said Martha Sheridan, president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau.

Rhode Island has had “robust meeting and convention calendars,” Adamo said. These include two events this weekend, an Irish Dance Teachers Association of New England event — which is expected to have 2,000 guests — and the 2014 Market America Convention, with approximately 4,000 attendees.

Some of the sporting events common during this season include large hockey and cheerleading tournaments that “bring thousands of people and are scheduled in the dead of winter when normally we wouldn’t have that hotel occupancy,” Adamo added.

Providence and Newport are the leading tourist destinations in the state, Sheridan said. “Newport obviously seasonally is the leader in the summertime, and Providence is more of a year-round leader because our business is more consistent over 12 months.”

The biggest draws in Providence for leisure tourism are restaurants, historical sites, performing arts events, colleges and universities and Waterfire, Sheridan said.

The number of tourists is calculated by looking at the number of hotel occupants on a monthly basis and examining how full hotels are and how the average nightly rates change, Adamo said.

Tourism supports approximately 50,000 jobs in Rhode Island. The industry brings in about $3 billion to the state in direct spending each year, Sheridan said.

And given Rhode Island’s 7.6 percent unemployment rate in September — significantly higher than the national rate of 5.9 percent, the tourism industry has the potential to boost the economy and create jobs because of its “ripple effect,” Adamo said.

Visitors come to spend money at restaurants, museums, hotels and events like Waterfire, she said. But there are also more subtle ways visitors support local industries, such as funds for transportation, printing companies that make brochures for convention events and construction companies contracted to expand hotels to accommodate visitors. “Any time an industry flourishes, there are certainly more jobs to be had,” she added.

Other major industries in the state include health care and education. Tourism is the third-highest revenue-generating industry for Rhode Island, Sheridan said.

Tourism is particularly important to Providence and Rhode Island as a whole because the jobs it creates are permanent and cannot be taken across state lines as they might be in other industries, Adamo added.

“We’ve seen significant tourism increases,” Sheridan said of the visitors bureau. These tourist increases have led to a 5 percent increase in overall revenue from 2013-14, she added.

The day after Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo was elected, she vowed to stay committed to her campaign plan to boost tourism in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reported.

“We are successful already, and we’ve seen great growth trends in tourism in Rhode Island over the past few years,” Sheridan said. “Any additional support we gain at the state level will only make us even more successful.”

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