2010-11-11 / News

Travel indicators show improvement for Newport County

By Evan Smith

What a difference a year makes — after struggling through most of 2009, the local hospitality industry experienced a significant comeback in 2010 with numerous signs of improvement. Thanks to near picture-perfect weather and a slight increase in the consumer confidence index, travel-related revenues improved for most of the seven leisure travel indicators.

While there was certainly an increase in the number of people traveling, we also witnessed several shifts in how visitors adjusted and altered their travel budgets.

Lodging performance for hotels and inns rebounded, posting increases in occupancy but there was little growth in the average daily rate for rooms. As of the end of September, lodging revenues were up 12 percent over 2009 levels and just about even with 2008 performance. That figure far exceeds the national average of 5-percent growth this year.

Our cultural and historic attractions are all reporting increases in attendance. This is a positive testimony to how hard they have worked to develop and market new and exciting programs and events.

Food and beverage revenues had a mixed scorecard with some towns posting gains and some towns staying even. Eating and drinking places are extremely labor intensive, making them one of the largest private sector employers in our area. The hospitality industry overall remains the fourth largest industry in the state based on employment figures.

Perhaps the largest gains this year were posted by recreationrelated companies. Golf, tennis, sailing, fishing, hiking, biking, scuba diving and our beaches all had a very strong year thanks to the number of days available for outdoor recreation. Of special note here is that Middletown topped the $1 million mark for the first time for beach-parking revenue, and Newport posted a 10-percent increase for its beachparking revenue over last year.

Known for our robust and diverse special-event calendar, this year was another fine year for event planners. From food and wine festivals, tennis tournaments, sailing regattas, music festivals and marathons, our world-class event schedule once again played a huge role in developing and attracting visitors from around the country.

As predicted, the wedding market had another phenomenal year reaffirming Newport’s popularity as a preferred wedding destination. With so many firstclass services and a wide variety of unique venues, Newport and Bristol County attract weddings and brides from across the nation.

Perhaps the largest increase this season came from the cruise lines visiting New England and Canada. Vessel count and passenger count doubled from 2009 with a total of 70 cruise ships and 140,000 passengers. There were 10 port days when we welcomed two cruise ships. According to national surveys, cruising has become one of the most popular means of travel, and the consumer rating for the New England and Canada itinerary remains very high.

International travel is a key market for our destination. We enjoy welcoming travelers from all over the world on a yearround basis, but most visit during the fall months to see the New England autumn colors that are so widely marketed in Europe and Asia. International travel now represents 17 percent of our visitor counts. Inbound international travel from emerging markets like China and Brazil are expected to increase in the years to come.

The meetings, convention and group-business market is experiencing a small gain over a very weak 2009. We hope this trend will continue into 2011 as this is very important midweek business for our area. A very small increase is forecast for the meeting market for 2011, but our geographic location and proximity to so many corporate locations and major cities will hopefully give us a competitive advantage over the rest of the country.

I would like to thank all the proactive businesses and the fantastic professionals who make our travel and tourism community so vibrant. I would also like to acknowledge the active role that the U.S. Navy base, Salve Regina University, Roger Williams University, St. George’s School, and the Portsmouth Abbey play in attracting visitors on a yearround

basis. Our destination remains one of the top choices for national and international travel thanks to the stewardship of our resources by so many organizations, and for the diverse and impressive marketing campaign utilized by all our travel related services.

As we look toward 2011 we have much to prepare for. Traveler preferences will continue to change and we will need to continue to monitor what travelers are shopping for today. As we enter the fourth quarter of 2010 we can look back at the peak travel season that just passed and be grateful for a very productive year.

Evan Smith is president and CEO of the Newport and Bristol County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Greater Newport County Chamber of Commerce.

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