NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — One Rhode Island state representative says it’s time to start thinking about a recovery plan for tourism, the state’s fourth-largest industry.
Rep. Lauren Carson, who represents Newport — one of Rhode Island’s biggest destination spots — says the current scenes around the city in mid-June, a time that’s normally bustling with tourists, are concerning.
“I’m starting to see empty stores in Newport, not a lot, but I did see a few this week, and that was alarming,” Carson said. “I’m concerned about what’s coming in the next 12 to 15 months.”
Carson, who previously chaired a study on tourism, says now is the time to move forward with a plan to rethink tourism amid the pandemic.
“We have a little bit of what I would call ‘ram space’ now, so that we can start thinking about the long-term strategy, rather than the day-to-day management of a crisis and an emergency,” she added.
Carson says she wants to bring not only lawmakers to the table, but also corporate, business, and community leaders.
“Municipalities could look at what they’re doing differently, the business community can look at what they’re doing differently, and we can learn from it. And maybe there’s some economy of scale that we can learn from,” Carson said. “I think an evaluation of this whole crisis atmosphere would be very useful for us, and that would be the first step, I think, toward rebuilding the tourism strategy.”
Carson also believes residents need to have a say so they have confidence that tourism is being redesigned and launched in a safe way for them and their families.
“I live in a city with about 24,000 people, and they were very concerned about guests coming to Newport, justifiably so,” she said.
In conversations, she says Rhode Island should look at tourism competition with other states — Cape Cod, or mountain communities in northern New England.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to do this, actually,” Carson continued. “I mean, let’s turn these lemons into lemonade and really see if we can redesign a tourism strategy that is successful.”
Carson says she wants to help develop a five-year recovery plan and is also urging the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to apply for any available federal funding to help with travel and tourism-related marketing.
“We should be champing at the bit to get this money and rebuild this industry,” Carson said. “So hopefully they’ll take a closer look at that in the upcoming weeks and apply for that money.”
A spokesperson for Rhode Island Commerce Corporation sent the following statement to Eyewitness News:
“We are in the process of applying for federal aid for a variety of purposes related to the state’s recovery efforts, including this important industry. We are frequently engaged in discussion with our state’s hospitality and tourism organizations and have remained active in tourism promotion through ongoing digital marketing and public relations efforts.
Matt Sheaff is currently serving as interim Chief Marketing Officer.”BRIAN HODGE
Deputy Director of Communications and Marketing, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation