Forecasts predict tourism down 50 percent

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 5:45pm
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Block Island’s Tourism Director Jessica Willi said during an online meeting on Tuesday, April 21 that while Block Island is positioned to have some seasonal business return for the 2020 summer, tourism is expected to decline by as much as 50 percent from previous years.

The reason why Block Island may be better positioned, Willi said, is because 90 percent of the travelers who do come here are “domestic leisure travelers,” as Willi described them, who come for day trips and shorter stays.

“Block Island does not rely on huge events” that are major revenue sources for the community, said Willi.

She said that the news that has come out in the past few days has been especially alarming, such as the fact that the Gateway Center in Newport has decided to close for the summer due to the fact that it cannot be staffed.

Willi said Providence expects “massive, massive declines.”

“Those were interesting reports,” said Willi.

Tourism Councils across the state have been cutting staff, cancelling events and suspending printed tourism guides, she said.

She said another reason Block Island is well-positioned is that people are looking for safe places to travel to. She said tourists “might not be in the mood to travel to New York City this summer to see a Broadway show.”

What the Tourism Council did want to do is be more involved in the decision-making process at the Town Council level. The Town Council, after hearing directly from residents who hoped to get back to work in some fashion, decided to allow some specialized professions get back to work, but only in crews of one or two. This also meant that every worksite, regardless of how many projects it may have planned, could only have one or two workers on site at a time.

Tourism Council Chair Steve Filippi, owner of the popular Ballard’s Inn, asked the other members of the Tourism Council if they supported sending a letter to the Town Council asking to ensure information and input from business owners would be considered as the island “slowly and thoughtfully” opens its doors for the summer 2020.

“We’ve never had to deal with ‘Don’t come here right now.’ That has never been the message, so I would welcome some involvement with the Town Council if they need a way to get the word out” when the island starts to open up, said member John Cullen. “I would certainly think we would want to help and be part of this process.”

Cullen said that any decision impacting the island would have to come on the heels of whatever decisions come from Gov. Gina Raimondo, who has set the tone and guidelines as to how the state has handled the coronavirus pandemic. The town is allowed to be more restrictive than the state, but not less. Right now, the town and the state will revisit the provisions of its emergency ordinances on May 8.

“I would not want to be on the Town Council. They don’t have the easiest of jobs,” said member Julie Fuller, who is the general manager of The National Hotel. “We do need to be involved in this process… and hopefully slowly bring business back. No one is in a rush to do that right now. I just don’t know how to do it.”

The Block Island Chamber of Commerce did put together a survey seeking feedback from businesses for that very information. Chamber President Cindy Lasser said that information was forwarded to the Town Council.