STATE HOUSE – Rhode Island could better support growth of its tourism industry if it reshuffles the state’s tourism oversight structure and promotion dollars to mirror its marketing goals, a legislative panel studying the issue says.

The Special Legislative Commission to Study Methods for Growing Tourism in the State of Rhode Island Through Coordinated Branding and Marketing Efforts, led by Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), issued a report Friday making several recommendations aimed at developing an effective statewide tourism marketing strategy.

The report summarizes work so far by a commission that began meeting in September 2015 to provide insight into ways the state could improve the efficacy and coordination of its tourism promotion efforts, which have been provided in large part by several separate regional entities, but also through a division in the Commerce Corporation.

“Our commission has had some very fruitful discussions about ways we can get the best bang for our tourism promotion buck and send visitors a clear, inviting message about what a great place the Ocean State is to visit. There is still more work to be done before we can make more specific recommendations for change, and I look forward to working with the commission members and the tourism industry to help sharpen the focus of our tourism promotion efforts in Rhode Island,” said Chairwoman Carson in a press release.

Among the commission’s recommendations is that the state consider changing the structure of its tourism management and oversight. A subcommittee of the panel examined the tourism promotion efforts of a dozen other states, considering their funding sources and whether the efforts were privately run, a public-private partnership, or a state agency that either stands alone or is part of a commerce or economic development department, as Rhode Island’s is. While the commission did recommend that Rhode Island change its system, it stopped short of recommending a specific change, instead recommending that potential structure changes warrant further study.

The report also recommended that the commission’s life be extended through Dec. 31, 2018, and that its membership be expanded, allowing it to continue to consider the structure and other potential recommendations.

The commission also recommends reevaluating the formula used for the distribution of the state’s 5-percent hotel and lodging tax, which funds tourism marketing and branding.

The commission determined that the current formula for tourism investment may not fit with the current management structure, or any new state and local structure. The commission said it will evaluate the structure and funding in tandem to make recommendations and maximize the investment.

Additionally, the commission recommends that a comprehensive and unified set of metrics for measuring the effects of tourism investments be implemented by the state and the regional tourism agencies. Being able to measure and compare statistics such as website traffic, group planning, visitor tracking and economic impact would better enable the state to direct its efforts and dollars where they are most effective.

Finally, the commission recommends a greater concentration on evaluating the impact of international visitors on the Rhode Island tourism economy.

Commission Chairwoman Carson said she expects to introduce a resolution to extend the commission during the current legislative session.

The 15-member commission includes Vice Chairman Rep. Blake A. Filippi (R-Dist. 36, New Shoreham, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly), Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren), Rep. Robert J. Quattrocchi (R-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston), leaders of the regional tourism agencies and marketing professionals from around the state. It was asked to perform a comprehensive analysis of best-practice methods used to expand tourism on both a regional and national level, to gather information on the current collaborative practices of the state’s multiple tourism councils, to analyze  reports provided semi-annually by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, and to make recommendations to the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation that would enable it to develop more informed and coordinated decision-making efforts regarding the development of branding and marketing of tourism in Rhode Island.

It has held meetings at tourist attractions and industry-connected locations around the state to provide more intimate insight into various elements of the industry it has been studying. It also met with various industry leaders and heard about specific efforts, such as efforts to improve T.F. Green Airport and the organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race’s 2018 Newport stopover.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).