Newport tourism industry losing hundreds of millions of dollars due to COVID-19

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NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) ─ It’s disappointing news for the state of Rhode Island. The Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, set to take place at Fort Adams this summer, have been canceled.

A study of the festivals conducted in 2018 found both events brought in more than $58 million in revenue – money that won’t be generated this year. President and CEO of Discover Newport Evan Smith said the economic impacts of COVID-19 are devastating. 

“These are some really sad days. It breaks my heart to see the city is a ghost town,” Smith said.

Smith calls this a surreal moment in his 30-year career. He said tourism in the city is worth roughly $800 million each year.

“We are currently losing hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.

Smith said the city began taking a hit when the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was canceled. It’s been a downward spiral from there, with cancellations of the annual Flower Show at the Newport Mansions and the U.S. Men’s Senior Golf Tournament. Smith said they are waiting to hear what happens with the Hall of Fame Open at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July.

Just as the organizers of the Newport Folk and Jazz festivals broke the news Wednesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced all events – with crowds of more than 50 people – will not be allowed to take place in Rhode Island this summer.

“I’m going to have to take a really hard look at all of the tourism industry and figure out what we can do to help,” Raimondo said during her daily briefing Wednesday. “I would ask every Rhode Islander to help in any way you can. If you can make a donation, almost every one of these festivals has a foundation.”

Smith said he has been in constant contact with event organizers in Newport, adding that each one of them has gone through the struggle of believing they could hold their event, and then finding out that would be impossible. Now, Smith said they are doing their best to remain positive. 

“People are focused on fundraising and how they can… I can’t think of a better word than survive, frankly,” he said.

Smith said the people of Newport remain focused on rebuilding the tourism industry next year. Until then, he is encouraging people to still support businesses in Newport. He said there will still be summer in the City by the Sea, but the visitor experience will be different this year.

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