Discover Newport: The 2022 tourist season is up on the previous year

The Newport and Bristol Counties Office of Tourism reports that tourism and hospitality revenue increased in 2022, as did interest in Jamestown.

Evan Smith, a Jamestown resident who serves as president and CEO of Discover Newport, said there was demand for inbound trips to the nine cities and towns in the two counties: Jamestown, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton, Bristol, Warren. and Barrington.

Jamestown was noted by Smith as a destination for tourists looking for a quieter, more relaxing place than an energetic city like New York or Las Vegas.

“One of the great things about travel is that everyone has different interests,” Smith said. “There are people who want to go to the big cities for the great energy. Other people seek solitude and a quiet place where they can rejuvenate or heal.”

Smith said there is a segment of travelers who were looking for less crowded, quieter places like Jamestown, but still have a proximity to the beaches of Newport, Providence and South County.

“People are finding that this has all the qualities of a spa that they’re looking for, but without the added layers of activities,” he said. “For them, more is not what they are looking for. They are looking for a more peaceful and relaxing holiday experience. I think that’s what’s so attractive about Jamestown.”

Another draw to Jamestown has been its restaurants, especially after establishments like Beech, Our Table and JB’s on the Water opened after the pandemic. Some of these restaurants, along with existing restaurants, were profiled in a Boston Globe feature in November.

“We’re very much on the radar as a foodie destination,” he said. “That’s one of the main reasons people come to the island.”

The increase in dining options has also been a boon for residents, especially after the closing of Chopmist Charlie’s and Fish. The restaurants also attract an influx of daily visitors.

Tom McNiff, the co-owner of The General’s Crossing Brewhouse, is the local representative on the Discover Newport board. He hears from visitors to the island on a regular basis as a business owner and agreed with Smith that restaurants were a driving interest. McNiff also made reference to the golf course and its new clubhouse.

“When you drive in, you see this great clean parking lot and this new building,” McNiff said. “It’s still the same beautiful golf course and it’s fun.”

McNiff also agreed with Smith about the faction of tourists who stay in Jamestown as opposed to Newport because they’re looking for a different experience.

“You would do a place like Newport if you were looking for a much more socially active day,” he said. “There are more people, there is more to do. Jamestown is a little quieter. There’s a certain enjoyment that comes from having access to good food and great events, but at the same time not being rushed.”

Discover Newport released its annual report in January for the fiscal year that ended in June. The organization is funded primarily by lodging taxes, and the report states that the tourism bureau’s total revenue was $5.7 million, a 66 percent increase over the fiscal year 2021. About $4.9 million of that revenue came from hotel taxes.

Smith said there were many reasons for the increase in revenue, chief among them being higher daily rates for hotel rooms. The average daily room rate increased from $168.83 in fiscal year 2021 to $224.30 in 2022. Smith said the increase is due to both inflation and increased demand.

Smith said each traveler had a “different thermostat” when they were ready to travel again after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people were traveling as soon as they were allowed, and there are others who are only now feeling comfortable leaving the house.

“People prioritize travel as something they want to do,” he said. “There was a pretty high degree of cabin fever, and so people still want to come back and pursue their passions for travel.”

There was also an increase in county employment this fiscal year, but Smith noted that the county employment rate was affected by a fire at the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport in May 2022, which destroyed a part of this building. The Wayfinder, located near the Pell Bridge exit ramp in front of the Newport Grand property, has been closed since the fire. Smith said the hotel’s 200 rooms represented about 3 percent of the area’s total inventory.

There are many reasons for sightseeing and travel to the two counties, including leisure, weddings, conferences, business and cruises. Smith said they all work differently and act like a stock market index. The best performer in FY22 was the regional leisure market of visitors less than 350 miles from Newport.

“The regional drive market was what filled the gap left by the lack of international inbound and the gap we’re getting back for group meetings and business travel,” Smith said. “We are almost back. I think this year, in this fiscal year, we’re going to completely get back to our business travel numbers.”

Smith divided the industries into seven segments: lodging, attractions, shopping, dining, recreation, transportation, and special events. Smith said labor was a challenge for the industry last year, but progress has been made and fewer restaurants are limiting their hours by 2022.

“The cuts in calendar year 2022 were not as deep as they were in 2021 in terms of the operational adjustments that people had to make to operate their business,” Smith said. “Competition for labor was fierce and employers had to be more innovative and creative and offer a more comprehensive and robust compensation package to get the labor they needed.”

In Jamestown there are a total of 58 lodging rooms, including inns, bed and breakfasts, and timeshares.

There were also discussions in the nine municipalities about short-term rentals, but Smith noted that the issue is not unique to Rhode Island and has been a topic of conversation around the world. Short-term rentals have become a major trend for travelers, and Smith said one in five rooms booked in Newport and Bristol counties will go to short-term rentals through outlets like Airbnb and Vrbo.

“Consumers like it, embrace it and chase it,” he said. “Right now, every city in America is facing the challenge of trying to find the right governance and the right operating requirements for short-term rentals,” he said.

Smith noted that towns and cities in Rhode Island have been challenged to find short-term rental policies that work for their municipality.

The peak window for travel to the Newport area, according to Smith, is May through October. September and October are the best months for seniors and international travel, in part because of fall foliage.

“The high season from May to October predominates with certain nuances based on the changes,” Smith said. “Weddings are frequent throughout this period. Fall in New England is a very desirable time, and our lodging and revenue numbers in September and October are equal to what we produce in July and August.”

Events such as tennis tournaments, the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, the Newport Flower Show and the upcoming stopover of The Ocean Race in May also add to the growing tourist population in the area.

Smith described the Newport area as having one of the strongest event calendars in the United States.

“Are events everything? No”, he said. “But are they one of the biggest contributors? Yes. I would say weddings, conferences and events are the top three generators of business we attract.”

For the upcoming start of the tourist season in 2023, Smith said he was extremely optimistic and believed the area is in a good place because of its natural beauty and the amount of different types of destinations, from cities like Boston, event-oriented communities. like Newport and more isolated places like Jamestown.

“We have a very impressive destination,” he said. “The word is that this is a great area to visit. This is a recreational paradise. We have great appeal for a wide range of people in nine cities, but also in Jamestown.”

As a business owner on Narragansett Avenue, McNiff said he has noticed more people daily in Jamestown’s main business district. Anecdotally, he said about 60 percent of his weekend customers are from off-island.

“People come to visit us,” McNiff said. “What Jamestown has to offer is something people want, and I think that’s borne out by the statistics and the results you see in the reports. They like coming here because it’s a beautiful place.”