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Development of Internet Initiatives Aimed at Tourism Professionals
Helps Raise Optimism for Rhode Island's $6.8 billion Tourism Industry

By Andy Smith, The Providence Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 14, 2009--A mood of very cautious optimism pervaded the 24th annual tourism industry luncheon, which drew about 300 people to the Westin Providence hotel on Wednesday.

Mark Brodeur, director of the Rhode Island Tourism Division for the state's Economic Development Corporation, said Rhode Island is well-situated to take advantage of recession-era travel trends, when people still want to get away but are sticking closer to home. Brodeur noted there are 50 million people within a 300-mile radius of Rhode Island, and although gas prices are rising, they are nowhere near the $4-a-gallon level they reached last summer.

"People are trading down, not out," Brodeur said. "People are still looking to get away."

Governor Carcieri, who spoke at the luncheon, cited a 2008 report from the private research and analysis company, Global Insight, to emphasize the importance of the $6.8-billion tourism industry to the state economy: 16 million people visit the state each year, creating 55,000 jobs and making tourism the fourth-largest contributor to the state's gross domestic product.

"Tourism is one of the brighter spots [in Rhode Island]. I know there are some tough areas, but, in total, it's holding up pretty well . . . you're on the frontlines, and we appreciate that, because right now we need you to generate as much cash as you can," Carcieri said.

Brodeur said business travel and conferences are likely to be down this year as companies cut back. He said business travel generates proportionately more income than consumer travel, accounting for 20 percent of visitors to the state in 2008, but generating 26 percent of total revenue.

State tourism officials urged the people at the luncheon to act as "ambassadors" for the state, suggesting they urge any trade groups or civic organizations where they have contacts to schedule events in Rhode Island. Brodeur said that state and regional tourism boards are poised to follow through with all the necessary details.

The state also announced some Internet initiatives designed to enhance tourism in Rhode Island. One is the creation of a new Web site, aimed at tourism professionals, but available to anyone, at www.TourismWorksForRI.com, which includes statistics on Rhode Island tourism, a searchable database of industry events, news items from tourism organizations and a list of available resources.

There are also some additions planned in the next few weeks to the state's main consumer tourism site, www.visitrhodeisland.com. Brodeur said the site will feature an enhanced arts calendar, a collaboration with the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and a new page where consumers can find special offers, deals and printable coupons. Coupons will be searchable by region, date and attraction.

The site is also offering Rhode Island restaurants a chance to post their own information, including chef bios, coupons and recipes. Brodeur said recipes are a particularly popular search topic across the Internet, and their inclusion should enhance the site's visibility.

A series of awards were also presented at the luncheon. The Special Recognition Award went to the Rhode Island Hospitality Education Foundation, the workforce-development arm of the Rhode Island Hospitality & Tourism Association.

Regional awards went to: Wright's Farm Restaurant in Harrisville, the Town of Bristol, NYLO Hotel in Warwick, the American Sail Training Association in Newport, Yawgoo Valley Ski & Sports Park in Exeter, James DeRentis of Providence and George Dodge of Block Island.

asmith@projo.com

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Providence Journal, R.I.

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