WPRI: Lawmakers, tourism leaders review ways to improve industry in RI

WPRI: Lawmakers, tourism leaders review ways to improve industry in RI

By Susan Campbell, Shaun Towne

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — USA Gymnastics’ annual convention brought approximately 2,000 people to Providence this week and it was a good opportunity for local leaders to take a closer look at Rhode Island’s tourism industry.

Attendees are expected to spend an estimated $2 million while they’re in Providence. It’s one of dozens of conventions hosted by the capital city every year.

“The direct spending impact of those is typically around $70 million or $80 million annually,” Martha Sheridan of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau said.

Tourism insiders say the industry is doing well overall but there’s always room for improvement, especially when it comes to infrastructure.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, outdated airports, congested highways, and backlogged maintenance at national parks are among the issues hindering economic growth across the country.

“Not one U.S. airport is on the list of the top 25 airports in the world. We need to invest more at a federal level in our airports, as well as infrastructure in general,” Sheridan added.

In an effort to tackle the issues facing the tourism industry, Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin paid a visit to the Rhode Island Convention Center, where the USA Gymnastics event was being held.

“I know that our economy is, in so many ways, is dependent and thrives on tourism,” Langevin said.

“One of the big challenges we have is the state of our infrastructure in this country and in our state,” Cicilline added.

The legislators were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the convention center to see what it takes to pull off these types of events and keep up with visitors’ needs.

“This past year, we’ll be spending about $5.2 million through a program that the state of Rhode Island has. It’s the asset protection program,” Larry Lepore, general manager of the R.I. Convention and Dunkin’ Donuts Centers, explained. “It does two things. It gives us the ability to get updated equipment and then allows us to operate more efficiently.”

The state’s total traveler economy was $6.5 billion in 2017, according to the R.I. Commerce Cooperation, which included visitor spending and tourism-related construction.