Tourism Leaders Want State Help

A recently completed survey provides the first statistical hints about how much the national tourism slump is affecting Rhode Island. The survey released at a tourism summit shows that 76% of hotels and restaurants responding have had decreases in business since September 11. Nearly half the businesses responding have already cut workers or are planning lay offs.

Many tourism leaders are asking for immediate state assistance. But top state lawmakers attending the summit want to wait before committing state funds.

Travel and tourism generated $3.2 billion in Rhode Island last year, according to a University of Rhode Island study. Tourism officials claim more than 61,000 Rhode islanders work for the airlines, hotels, restaurants, florists, cleaners or some other part of the industry. The impact of a drop in business and leisure travel is widespread.

Robert Atignano, who owns ?Angelo?s Restaurant? on Federal Hill, told the summit that his business is down about 10%, since September 11th. Antignano says there have been many ups and downs since Angelo?s opened 77 years ago, but this time even the regulars are staying away.

"What we are seeing today is something very different than a recession and a depression," said Antignano, "People are coming into the restaurant. They don't know what to expect tomorrow. It's not like 'I don't have a job, Bob. Can you help me out?' It's 'I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow' and they are afraid."

Many hotel and restaurant owners said that they don?t know how to revive the public?s confidence in their future and their interest in leisure. Antignano wants the state to launch a ?feel good? campaign similar to The ?biggest little state? promotion a few ears back.

The two highest ranking elected officials at the summit yesterday, House Majority Leader Gerard Martineau and Senate Majority Leader William Irons indicated they would find money for a state public relations campaign.

?We can not let our citizens believe this is a unique time in history. It is not,? said Irons who recalled preparing for the possibility of nuclear war in his childhood, ?That isn?t to dismiss today or dismiss the calamity or our time; and we have overcome them, we have survived and come out stronger and a better country.?

Beyond a general ?feel good? promotion, Irons and Martineau were unwilling to commit state money to specific tourism campaigns yet, beyond those already planned. They suggested waiting to find out what federal assistance would be provided.

Hear Martha Bebinger's full report from WRNI's Morning Edition