Introduced with great fanfare, the state’s “re-energized” tourism marketing program turned into a debacle. With a slogan that was widely criticized, and a video discredited, the state trashed that program and 16 months ago began anew.
Unlike the “trashed” version, this new initiative was introduced with little fanfare and has been seldom seen by many Rhode Islanders. But ask the program’s marketing director, and she’ll say it’s doing quite well. Ask Newport’s tourism director, and you get a different story.
“We’ve been doing a very good job out in the marketplace…We’ve been doing very well,” says Lara Salamano, Chief Marketing Officer of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. Salamano is leading what the Commerce Corporation’s website says is the state’s efforts to “bring more tourists and more businesses to Rhode Island.”
Salamano says the state’s hotels and other accommodations have brought in $24 to $25 million in hotel tax, which is split among cities and towns, tourism councils, and the state. The tax, Salamano says, funds the tourism division’s $5.7 million budget.
“We’re doing very creative, powerful advertising that breaks through the clutter,” says Salamano
She says the industry is the state’s fifth largest (other rankings have it second or third among private industries), bringing 24 million visitors to the state and employing 80,000 (the federal Department of Labor Statistics lists employment in the state’s leisure and hospitality industry peaking in August at slightly more than 77,000 and dropping off-season to under 70,000). Salamano says tourists spend $6 billion a year in Rhode Island. The National Conference of State Legislatures says travelers spent $4.2 billion in Rhode Island in 2013, resulting in tax revenues of $682 million.
“We’re making steps in the right direction,” says Discover Newport’s Evan Smith. “It’s moving slower than I’d like it to be. If it took me this long to make the progress they’ve made, I wouldn’t have a job today.”
“Have you seen a TV commercial or print ad to come to Rhode Island?” questions Smith.
Salamano counters that the state is concentrating advertising outside of the Rhode Island market, a drive market that stretches some 300 miles. And, she says, with direct flights increasing from 13 destinations to 35, the state is also targeting those markets, including Florida, Baltimore, Denver and New Orleans. The ads, she says, are not meant to be seen in Rhode Island.
“We are in the game,” she says.
Smith, however, says since much of the promotion is over social media, the state’s efforts should be visible everywhere.
“Most of the investments today are electronics, on everybody’s eyeballs,” says Smith. “I don’t see the frequency we need. We need to up our game, giving as much attention to travel and tourism as other sectors. I don’t want to see history repeat itself where they totally ignore tourism.”
It wasn’t that many years ago when the then Economic Development Corporation’s tourism division had a budget of more than $4 million, only to see it cut by 90 percent, with $3.6 million diverted to the state’s general fund.
In the late winter/spring of 2016, the state, with great fanfare, unveiled a new multi-million-dollar initiative with a new slogan – “Cooler and Warmer” – and a video that featured, among its scenes, a skateboarder outside Reykjavik, Iceland’s Harpa concert hall. The effort was met with disdain by many in Rhode Island, and the initiative scrapped.
In its place has been a renewed effort that has incorporated three public relations, marketing, advertising firms — RDW group ($1.7 million), NAIL ($978,000), and MMGY ($473,000) in a 12-month contract, from March 1, 2017, to March 1, 2018.
The firms were charged with developing and placing advertising, and web development, but, says Salamano, but “no slogan, no logo.”
Ah, Yes … the Logo
Rhode Island, Salamano says, is a state without a slogan.
“You can tell a lot about a place from the slogan it brands with,” said Greig Lamont in a blog on HuffPost in 2013. “That self-professed badge of honour it fixes to its chest, the indelible stamp it sears into its flesh for all to see: the standard by which it thinks it ought to be judged.
“Tourism slogans are the peacocks’ feathers of places. The mating call of a chunk of land enticing into its clutches passers-by and peregrinators alike, bidding them in for a spot of geographical dalliance, possibly even a cultural roll in the hay.”
So, Massachusetts has used “It’s all here in Massachusetts”; Connecticut is “Still Revolutionary”; we should “Think Vermont”; “Live Free or Die” in New Hampshire; “The Maine Thing”, “Vacationland”, “It Must Be Maine; the Way Life Should Be.”
Rhode Island? Warmer and Cooler – nope. Just maybe the Ocean State.