2010-06-10 / News

Sunny skies ahead: Travel forecast for 2010

By Evan Smith

Last year – 2009 – proved to be a difficult year for the U.S. travel and tourism industry. Despite the numerous challenges we faced locally last year, our business community adapted and persevered – and found new creative solutions to market our special destination.

As we look forward to the 2010 travel season, it’s important to note that Newport County earns more than 75 percent of its travel-related revenues in six months: May through October. I believe we have many reasons to be optimistic that this year will show improvement in almost all of the seven sectors of tourism, which include lodging, attractions, shopping, dining, recreation, transportation and special events.

I think we can expect to see some small growth in all of our travelrelated revenues this season. Here’s why:

The consumer confidence index is rising slightly now, which should give families a renewed interest in investing in travel. There are already signs that people who elected not to travel last year are booking new trips this year, unleashing the pentup demand for travel.

The group meetings market is starting to increase, indicated by the number of meetings booked by corporations and associations. While this growth is small, it’s a big step in the right direction for all those local businesses that provide services to the group meetings market.

Attractive travel deals from many local hotels, inns, attractions and restaurants have created value-added pricing to attract new customers. Consumers are really looking for good value and unique experiences in their choice of travel destinations. The latest travel research shows that people will continue to travel closer to home this year – 150 miles or less – and we all should expect that booking times will be short or even last-minute.

Destination weddings are growing. The amazing unique venues in Newport and Bristol County are one of the main reasons we host more than 1,200 weddings here each year. Weddings are great business because they are weather independent, and often use a large number of local businesses and services.

The cruise ship market is booming. This year in Newport, we expect more than 70 port visits and an estimated 130,000 cruise passengers – almost double the number from 2009. Newport’s growth is largely due to the increasing popularity of the New England and Canadian cruise itineraries.

Newport and Bristol County also have one of the most robust special events calendars in the U.S. Festivals, regattas, boat shows and cultural events have become a hallmark of the Newport brand and continue to draw visitors both nationally and internationally.

Something new on the horizon this year will be the increasing role that social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, will play in marketing destinations. While the traditional forms of marketing, like travel guides and brochures, are still hanging on, the real shift in travel marketing is now heading toward travel blogs, smart phones that give travelers instant information via special “apps” and the ever-growing number of social networking sites.

These new trends in technology will give local businesses the chance to learn more and respond to what travelers are saying about their experiences here. The viral nature of social media also allows many more users to join in the “conversation” with user-generated content.

Travel and tourism is a key industry for Newport and Bristol County, and for the entire state. On a statewide basis, travel-related services generated $6.8 billion in expenditures last year. One out of every 10 Rhode Islanders owes his or her job to tourism, and travel-related services generate 12 percent of all state and local tax revenue.

While we don’t expect 2010 to be a record-breaking year, we are optimistic that travel-related revenues will grow from their sluggish 2009 performance and will experience small growth for most sectors.

Of course, a little sunshine and warm weather would really help!

Evan Smith is president and CEO of the Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitors Bureau. He is a Jamestown resident.

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