2014-02-27 / Front Page

Discover Newport reaches out to businesses

Island resident Evan Smith is head of tourism bureau
By Ken Shane

Evan Smith Evan Smith “Take a moment and ask yourself: ‘What can you do for me?’”

Islander Evan Smith relayed those words to a group of business owners over breakfast Tuesday morning at the Narragansett Café. Smith, the president of Discover Newport, was stressing the importance of utilizing all available resources, especially his organization and the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce. These types of groups can help ease difficulties that small businesses face these days, he says.

Discover Newport is a quasigovernmental agency that promotes inbound travel to the nine towns of Newport and Bristol counties: Jamestown, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton, Bristol, Warren and Barrington. Discover Newport, formerly the Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitors Bureau, works with a $3 million annual budget using funds generated from Rhode Island’s lodging tax.

According to Smith, each town has its own unique needs when it comes to economic development. There are seven indexes to take into consideration: lodging, attractions, shopping, recreation, transportation, dining and special events. Discover Newport employs advertising, trade shows and direct sales to promote travel to the area.

“How can you benefit from our work?” Smith asked at the meeting, which was organized by the Jamestown chamber. Since Discover Newport is not a membership organization, there is no need to join anything, he said. Any tourism-related business in the nine towns is eligible for promotion through Discover Newport.

Smith answered the question he raised with a 10-point list of services his organization provides. He spoke of the 650,000 visitors who come to the Newport visitor center each year, and the value of having literature there. Free business listings are available on the Discover Newport website, where free event listings can also be posted.

“There is a Discover Newport staff member whose sole responsibility it is to maintain relations with the press in order to get coverage of the area,” he said. “Another dedicated staff member is employed specifically to handle wedding inquiries. Weddings are the largest segment of the tourism industry with over 1,500 taking place in the area last year.”

Discover Newport also makes research available to businesses, creates event packages by connecting businesses, and contacts people through public and industry newsletters. There is also a free marketing meeting each month that is open to any interested business owners.

Smith, who was heading for Washington, D.C., after the meeting to speak with legislators about tourism issues, urged business people to stay in touch with Discover Newport.

“We love to hear what’s good, what’s trending, and what’s difficult,” Smith said.

One idea he brought to the meeting is likely to become a point of discussion in the future. Smith spoke about the state’s 7 percent sales tax, which is retained by the state, and the 1 percent meal tax, which is returned to the towns. He said restaurant owners in Bristol requested the 1 percent be given to them for marketing and promotion purposes, and the town agreed to do so. Thus far, Bristol is the only town with such an arrangement.

Smith said the idea might be worthy of discussion in Jamestown.

In answer to a question regarding the 2015 Volvo Ocean Race stopover, Smith suggested the local economy would get an even bigger boost than it did in 2012 from the America’s Cup World Series. Not only will next year’s stopover last longer than the America’s Cup event, but Volvo will bring close to 20,000 corporate guests to the area during the two weeks.

Rusty Sallee is the owner of the Lionel Champlin Guest House and vice president of the local chamber. He was recently appointed by the Town Council to be Jamestown’s representative on the Discover Newport board of directors.

“At the Lionel Champlin Guest House, we do our best to take advantage of all of the resources that Evan talked about today,” Sallee said. “We are on the Discover Newport webpage. We’re on the mailing list. And we leave our rack cards at the visitor center. The staff over there is very helpful. They’re friendly and knowledgeable about what’s going on.”

Sallee said he takes advantage of the organization’s room registry by placing a call to the Newport office each day and making the Discover Newport staff aware of the number of rooms, and the rates, he has for that night.

“I’m looking forward to being the advocate for Jamestown on the Discover Newport board,” Sallee said.

“It’s always great to be among local neighbors and business people who are really passionate about sharing our treasured island,” Smith said following the meeting. “I was hoping that I could give them a few tips about how to better connect with Discover Newport to help them with their futures.”

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