2018-03-01 / News

Volvo Ocean Race will attract raft of visitors

Tourism head encourages businesses to be prepared
BY RYAN GIBBS

Because the Volvo Ocean Race returns to Narragansett Bay in May, state tourism leaders are encouraging businesses to prepare themselves for the influx of international visitors who will descend upon the Sailing Capital of the World.

Representatives from Sail Newport and Discover Newport spoke Tuesday at the Marriott on America’s Cup Avenue. Organized by the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, these experts suggested promotions and highlighted incentives for restaurateurs and shopkeepers.

Evan Smith, a Jamestown resident who heads Discover Newport, which is Newport County’s official tourism agency, wants business owners to follow a singular theme: “Embrace the race,” he said. He challenged them to brainstorm innovative ideas to connect their businesses with the global event.

“We have the great honor of being the only North American stopover,” Smith said. “We want to be the best stopover globally, period. There’s big competition; there’s a lot of talented people out there. We set a very high bar for ourselves, but the journey starts with every one of you.”

The Volvo Ocean Race is making its second consecutive stopover in Newport, with the race village at Fort Adams scheduled to be open from May 8-20. The City by the Sea previously hosted the global yacht race in May 2015 between legs to Brazil and Portugal. Newport is the first American city to host back-to-back races in the event’s 45-year history.

Robin Crawford, a Volvo executive and liaison for the race, said the company decided to return because global partners were thrilled with the Ocean State’s enthusiasm three years ago.

“This is the only stopover site where they can go 10 blocks away and still see Volvo Ocean Race pennants on houses and fences,” she said. “You know you’re here. That doesn’t go on anyplace else in the world.”

Although sailors, organizers and advertisers couldn’t all lodge in a single hotel, Crawford said the pros outweighed those logistical challenges.

“There’s so much more character and appreciation for sailing,” she said.

While Newport businesses were the main focus, the entire state will be involved, especially Jamestown because of its unique position as the western boundary for the racecourse. Smith said he will work with Conanicut Marine and its ferryboats to promote his hometown.

“Jamestown is so close and has so many wonderful resources and restaurants,” he said. “We want the world to get there and discover Jamestown.”

Jamestown has been incorporated into the official booklets and maps for the Newport stopover. Smith noted the proximity and relative quietness that could make it a lodging and dining destination for discerning visitors.

“I know the Jamestown restaurant community will do very well because it’s earned a fabulous reputation,” he said. “The Jamestown culinary scene is one of the hottest in Rhode Island right now. It’s been called the Sausalito of Rhode Island.”

Smith was referring to the city across the Golden Gate Strait that is dwarfed by the colossal sailing port to its north. “Sausalito is a nice complement to San Francisco,” he said, “and I think Jamestown is a nice complement to Newport.”

An aspect that will be different from the first stopover will be increased lodging space for teams and guests. During the 2015 race, many teams, executives and associates had to stay in hotels in Providence. In 2018, however, all 800 attendees will stay on Aquidneck Island.

Those visitors also will be encouraged to eat and shop at local establishments through a VIP card from Discover Newport. Businesses can enroll in the program at the agency’s website.

During the presentation, Smith provided business owners with suggestions to encourage foot traffic from international guests. For example, he suggested extending hours in the mornings and evenings for the duration of the stopover to accommodate tourists who are accustomed to metropolises like Hong Kong and Lisbon.

“If you’re looking to grow the market share of your business, one of the best ways to do that would be to expand your hours,” he said. “When the whole world is here, I think it would be a good idea to consider that.”

In addition, Smith is reminding business owners to have their employees updated on the race. Also, it would be beneficial for servers and clerks to learn about the seven competing teams so they can start a dialogue with their guests.

“Train the people around you and your staff, and share this with your social media circles,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than complacency. You cannot be complacent here. You need to get engaged, you need to get connected and you need to step up.”

Sail Newport executive director Brad Read also related the success of a window-dressing competition among local shops during the 2015 race, which is slated to return this year.

“We did paint the town Volvo last time,” he said. “None of us really expected the creativity that went on. We went out and said to grab some ocean debris and make something out of that. A lot of folks really did a great job with that. We’ll give you things to help jumpstart your ideas for your windows.”

Reed also emphasized the international flavor of the race by detailing its 45,000-mile route. Seven teams have been circumnavigating the Earth since the Volvo Ocean Race began in October from Alicante, Spain. The race will finish in The Hague, Netherlands, in June.

“The Volvo Ocean Race is the most important property in sailing,” Reed said. “Yes, I know about the America’s Cup, and it was here for a long time. But with the way that Volvo has managed this event over the years, it is now the most iconic ocean race in the world.”

As of Tuesday morning, the boats are in New Zealand following the sixth leg that began in Hong Kong. The only American team in the race, Vestas 11th Hour, has not competed in the past two legs following a collision with a Chinese fishing boat in mid-January. That boat, however, is in Auckland preparing for the March 18 leg to Itajai, Brazil. The Vestas boat is skippered by Bristol native Charlie Enright.

Newport is the finish line for the eighth leg of the race, and the competitors are scheduled to arrive in Narragansett Bay in early May. The boats will depart on March 20 for the transatlantic leg to Cardiff, Wales.

The Volvo Ocean Race was first held in 1973, founded as the Whitbread Round the World Race. In 2001, the Volvo Group bought the rights to the event from Whitbread, a British brewing company. Volvo Group, which manufactures trucks, buses and construction equipment, has been a separate entity from the Volvo Car Corporation since it sold that division to Ford in 1999.

Following Tuesday’s presentation, Smith said he plans to hold a similar presentation this month with the members of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce.

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