I suppose we could get depressed about the closure and cancellation of nearly every summer event in the City-by-the-Sea by the state’s Governor this past week, but we have better things to do, better plans to make, and bigger dreams to dream. Soon, maybe in a few months, things will improve. 

But there is something else happening here. It is the first pause ever in the rush-rush-rush in the state’s busiest and most popular visitor destination.  

We are part of the $2.9 trillion worldwide tourism industry. Newport is one of the most popular and unique destinations on the planet. Millions of people arrived here this past year. But suddenly, this huge dynamic wheel has stopped cold. Today, the streets of our city are empty. There are no cruise ships in the harbor. There are no fleets of mammoth tour buses crossing the bridge. It is the first time we have all had a chance to stop and see where we are. A chance to look at the past year’s gains and losses, successes and failures, and the opportunities and problems that come with a successful and growing destination. 

Maybe this is the time to re-think a number of aspects of our local Newport Tourism Industry.  Maybe we have a chance now to re-set our entire local industry. 

A chance to make it better, more guest-friendly, more resident-friendly, more Newport-centric in terms of local spending by out of town tour and cruise operators, and more sustainable. 

Perhaps, if we can see the sudden halt of our economy as an opportunity to review, rethink, and re-envision an industry that more fully includes all of our city’s community stakeholders, we can create better ways to conduct, control, and grow a more sustainable tourism industry for a better future for all. 

I think it is worth a try.

-Kenneth Proudfoot

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Until we meet here again, I want to encourage you to continue to read and research, virtually explore museum spaces and historic places, and learn more about this island we call home. Consider this time as a gift that allows you to improve your knowledge and better equip you for the immense dignity of the work that awaits you. 

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In addition to the following local web sites, where you will find easy

access to photos, videos, and brief history lessons, here is a review of

a recent [and fun!] Newport history book.

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NEWPORT FIRSTS: A Hundred Claims to Fame

By Brian M. Stinson. Charlestown, SC: The History Press, 2018. This recent book is an amazing, and at times astounding compilation of information and stories about Newport you have never heard of, nor perhaps even contemplated.  There are many “first stories” you may know and are part of the city’s folklore, such as the first circus presented in America (1774), first gas streetlight in America (1806), and the first lawn tennis court (1875). But there are many more, some quite obscure, and others that are completely unknown and overlooked by the older and more popular history books. These “firsts” include the first tomato eaten (1822), and the first spermaceti candle factory (1748). 

Author Brian Stinson is a prolific writer, lecturer, and historian. He knows his stuff and he wisely offers a few caveats about the nature of establishing a “first” event or an “oldest” event, and other challenges of tracing the histories of so many claims for his book. Nevertheless, he’s done the due diligence. He includes 75 stories and more than 100 claims for “firsts” in a wide range of categories. The table of contents lists them in chronological order by occurrence, beginning with the First Free Public School (1640), continuing with the First Intercity Stagecoach Service (1716), First Free Black Church (1824), First Parade of Automobiles and Speeding Arrest (1899), all the way to the First Judicial Complex named in Honor of a Woman (1990). 

In over 200 pages, Stinson provides a stimulating and detailed narrative of facts, figures, dates, larger-than-life characters, and amazing things that happened in Newport. There are plenty of stories, vignettes, fun facts, and head-scratching firsts to keep even the most jaded historian, tour guide, and chamber of commerce ambassador intrigued and inspired. This volume, NEWPORT FIRSTS: A Hundred Claims to Fame, belongs on every Newport history-lover’s bookshelf. 

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In spite of last week’s proclamation by this state’s Governor banning all summer festivals and parades and a limit on other public gatherings, we need to tell ourselves that this is not the end.

But it IS the end of the beginning. 

The news on April 29th was devastating to our historic tourist city. 

The Governor declared there would be no big public events permitted to take place in Rhode Island right through the summer. 

A bureaucrat’s indictment on a multi-billion-dollar industry. 

A government ban on business. 

A government ban on fun.

Necessary, perhaps. 

But a potential death knell for all those who have spent a year, a decade, or a lifetime creating a business, creating events, creating entertainment.

What is the future for Newport’s summer 2020 tourism industry?

No Newport Folk Festival.

No Newport Jazz Festival. 

No weddings with more than 50 people.

Can a state government ban on harbor cruises, walking tours, and a scheduled re-opening of the Newport Mansions be far behind? 

What do we do in the meantime?

As disturbing and discouraging as this government lockdown seems now, 

we have to believe, 

we have to hope, and 

we have to pray that this 

economy-destroying state house edict gets rescinded soon. 

For three months, we have had bad news ad nauseum.

Enough, already. 

We need some good news.

Here are three steps to take now:

  1. Let us look at where we have been. 
  2. Make improvements. 
  3. Begin again. Better. 

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Each week in this column we share tips and strategies for planning,

marketing, and providing quality guest services. If you have a suggestion, 

please send it along to kennethproudfoot@hotmail.com

We will share it with all our readers. And you. Thanks!

Until this public health crisis passes and we are back open for business, please take time to read, learn, study, and better understand our city’s exciting heritage. 

Meanwhile, continue to check for openings and available services at our local restaurants, stores, and historical sites on the city’s visitor site at www.discovernewport.org with daily updates on www.whatsupnewp.com   

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  Belcourt of Newport (www.belcourt.com) – Wonderful videos of the restoration of this gem 

 Fort Adams (www.fortadams.org)

 Touro Synagogue (www.tourosynagogue.org) – Read the history, view the photo galleries

 Museum of Newport Irish History (www.newportirishhistory.org)

 Rose Island (www.roseisland.org

 Newport Historical Society (www.NewportHistory.org)

 Preservation Society of Newport County (www.NewportMansions.org) — Several new virtual tours have recently been added to the web site

 Newport Art Museum (www.NewportArtMuseum.org

 Gansett Cruises (www.gansettcruises.com) – Check out their photo & video galleries 

 Redwood Library and Athenaeum (www.RedwoodLibrary.org

 The Newport Experience (www.newportexperience.com) – Includes OceanCliff and the Schooner Aurora

 Audrain Automobile Museum (www.AudrainAutoMuseum.org) – The YouTube site for this museum is worth a look  

 Discover Newport (www.DiscoverNewport.org) – Video, photos & numerous links to more

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With so many cancellations and postponements and new ones announced every day, it is wishful thinking to list any upcoming events with any assurance they will take place. The future is still too unknown and constantly changing.  Therefore, this column is suspending its regular detailed listings until such time as Newport re-opens and the major attractions and historic sites post their new schedules and re-set the dates for key events. 

Until then, please check back daily with www.whatsupnewp.com for schedule changes and updates. 

KENNETH PROUDFOOT, a Newport Tour Escort and Guide, is author of The Official 2018 Newport Tour Guides & Greeters Handbook (Shoreline Press (RI), 2017).