State looks for easy way to measure tourist impact

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The Special Legislative Commission to study methods for growing the state’s tourism through coordinated branding and marketing efforts is looking for an easy to read “dashboard” that will indicate tourism trends. It’s not that the state doesn’t have indicators. Some of the means now used to gauge the industry include hotel occupancy and average daily room rates, lodging, beverage and meal tax returns, toll bridge revenues and passenger activity at Green Airport.

And not all indicators work for all regions of the state as Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, pointed out at a commission meeting hosted Friday by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC). Smith observed beach parking revenues would have no use to Providence while it is a good indicator for South County.

Still yet, one of the best indicators may come from those closest to the activity. At the end of the meeting commission chair Rep. Lauren Carson asked representatives from the state’s tourism districts to give an overview of 2016. The reports were all positive, with each of the districts reporting growth for the summer of 2016. For the first time, visitors to the Newport mansions exceeded one million. Susan Falco of Warwick’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism called summer activity “wonderful” and “one of the best.” The South County representative called it a “banner summer.” The report from Providence was “very strong” due to a number of regional sporting events and activities.

The single negative was the less than stellar performance of smaller retail operations. Smith said with Amazon, online sales and big box stores, smaller retail operations in Newport are challenged. Speaking of the increase in visitors experienced by Newport, he said, “I would like to see it happening in shopping.”

As for that “dashboard,” Smith listed a range of possible metrics in addition to the ones used now, including recreational activities such as the number of golfing rounds played; city parking revenues; number of weddings; attendance at special events; cruise ship visits and Amtrak traffic. He said some of the information is proprietary, making it difficult to incorporate.

The commission also received a positive report from Lara Salamano, chief marketing officer for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. She said that hits on the state’s website were up 40 percent and that social media had seen a dramatic increase since changes have been made. Questioned whether commerce has considered apps as a means of drawing traffic to the state, Salamano said the attention has been focused on the website.

Caron said that the House leadership has granted the commission its request to extend its final report to the General Assembly, which will now be made in May.

In welcoming the commission, Ifikhar Ahmad, RIAC president and CEO, spoke of the importance of Green Airport as “one of the tools” to developing tourism, the workforce and economic development. He noted his commitment to “gaining back” the 5 million passengers the airport recorded in 2005 – about 1.1 million off from the count for 2016. He said Green is looking forward to more nonstop domestic flights as well as ones to Europe and Central America. He estimated an increase of 1.1 million passengers would have a $1 billion impact on the state’s economy. Presently, he put the impact of Green Airport on the state economy at $2.6 billion.

CATCHING UP:

Ifikhar Ahmad, RIAC president, and City Council President Joseph Solomon chat prior to Friday’s meeting of the special legislative commission studying methods to grow state tourism through coordinated branding and marketing efforts. (Warwick Beacon photo)

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