Ocean State meetings mean business.
In fiscal 2018, meetings, conventions and sporting events booked by the Providence Warwick CVB generated $73.65 million in direct spending for Rhode Island.
“Of that, $61 million was associated with business in the Rhode Island Convention & Entertainment Complex,” said Thomas Riel, vice president of sales and services. “With group business up by 21 percent overall over the last five years, next year is shaping up even stronger. We are already at 93 percent of forecast for fiscal 2019. Citywides are rising modestly at around 5 percent, but in-hotel business is booming. Sports are big, increasing 15 percent over the last three years. The outlook is very positive.”
The bureau continues to leverage the power of destination marketing for economic development via efforts such as Recommend RI. Jointly marketed with Discover Newport, the initiative’s Ambassador program supports local individuals and organizations to bring meetings and events throughout the state.
In 2017, these Rhode Islanders contributed nearly $10.4 million in economic impact for the state.
Discover Newport invites local hospitality and tourism industry professionals to attend its Marketing Meetings, a series of monthly (September 2017 through June 2018) educational and networking gatherings around the nine townships of the Classic Coast.
Rhode Island also invests in play. According to the Providence Journal, the state’s new “Fun-sized” campaign, launched in November 2017, had generated $1.9 million in hotel revenue on 6,076 bookings by June 2018, along with 4,234 airline bookings to the state.
With an exceptional creative class and unique venues and experiences to match, Rhode Island also delivers outsized returns for groups.
Providence Gets Creative With Event Offerings
Renegade preacher Roger Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636 as a place of religious and political freedom. Today, rebellious free-thinkers like Erminio Pinque define the city’s perception-shifting creative culture, as I discovered on a fam this November 2018.
“Blowing minds is how you uncover meaning and discover new ideas,” said Pinque, who has done just that for the past 31 years as founder and director of BIG NAZO. Launched here as street theater, his now internationally acclaimed troupe of “interactive mutant puppet-creatures” and masked musicians transforms spaces and places ranging from major global events to backyard gatherings. That included putting on his “wearable sculpture” during our interview at NAZO LAB, his downtown workshop and community space.
“Our job when entering a room is just to be there, so that ‘what is’ changes,” Pinque said. “Traditional event programs and designs elements may not be memorable. When we come in as misfits that don’t match the theme or event purpose, people first ask why. Then they find something they need.”
Pinque graduated from the preeminent Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he teaches creative collaboration including Creature Creation mask-making.
RISD, which has a superb event-capable museum on campus, also produced Barnaby Evans, the multimedia artist whose WaterFire Providence ignited the city’s renaissance 24 years ago.
“We all need the value of seeing things in new ways,” Evans said about his mesmerizing fire sculpture installation in the city’s three confluent rivers. “The unexpected can be invaluable for problem-solving.”
Yet another RISD graduate is Yarrow Thorne, a local artist behind the city’s growing large-scale outdoor mural program via his public art organization, The Avenue Concept.
Unveiled in September 2018, the mural Still Here is a standout example.
Baltimore-based muralist Gaia’s collaboration with the Tomaquag Museum pays tribute to Rhode Island’s indigenous heritage by depicting artist and Tomaquag Museum educator Lynsea Montanari holding a photo of the museum’s founder, Princess Red Wing.
Providence, Rhode Island
Adaptive reuse has reenergized many heritage buildings, such as downtown’s welcoming Hotel Providence. Originally the 1882 Westminster Hotel, this AAA Four Diamond theater district charmer (within sight of the Providence Performing Arts Center) with 80 guest rooms and 16 suites, offers the 250-capacity ballroom, three meeting rooms, outdoor Blackstone Terrace and Backstage Kitchen + Bar for groups.
On the next block, the historic Tilden-Thurber building now houses Yoleni’s, a smart new two-level Greek cafe, restaurant and artisanal food market with an event and tasting area on its second floor.
“Food is an experience,” mused John Phillippides, whose parents Alexander and Alexandra own this first U.S. outpost of the Greek-based enterprise. “It’s about creating connections and memories.”
Future plans include bringing art and culture into the building’s top floor.
Providence’s ever-evolving restaurant scene includes two event-capable newcomers. Steps from Yoleni’s, O’Boy offers an Asian-inspired take on modern dining.
On nearby Dorrance Street, Sarto takes over the former Garde de la Mer in the multivenue Providence G building, with a boldly reinterpreted Italian menu from Executive Chef Robert Andreozzi.
Updating regional Italian classics with knockouts like my creamy, peppery spaghettoni alla carbonara, trattoria-style Massimo on historic Federal Hill was Rhode Island Monthly’s pick for best restaurant in the state in 2018. Upstairs event space accommodates groups of around 100.
Also evolving are neighborhood choices, such as a “street food meets hip-hop” concept Troop in Olneyville’s resurgent warehouse district.
Adorned with a mural that identifies Providence as “The Creative Capital,” the Trinity Repertory Company was founded in 1963 by Rhode Islanders seeking a professional resident theater company for the city.
Alumni include actor Richard Jenkins, who was Oscar-nominated for his supporting role in 2018’s "The Shape of Water." Taking home Best Picture honors, the movie, the ultimate exploration of transformed shapes and identities, seems a fitting win for Providence.
Newport Remains a Priority for Meetings Attendees and Tourists
In 1875, U.S. travel guide publisher John Bachelder crowned Newport, Rhode Island, “the fashionable queen of all-American watering resorts.”
Today, the hot listings keep coming for the crown jewel of Rhode Island’s “Classic Coast,” including “10 Best Fall Vacations” (Conde Nast) and “Top 30 Romantic Winter Getaways” (U.S. News & World Report).
Rhode Island-born Carolyn Rafaelian, the billionaire founder and CEO of accessories and jewelry company Alex and Ani, is keeping Newport fashionable with her $15 million restoration of the 1894 Belcourt of Newport mansion. Tours and public events showcase the renaissance of this “life and culture museum.”
Green Animals Topiary Garden, Newport | The Preservation Society of Newport County
Another local Rafaelian venture is Newport-inspired Bar and Board Bistro, hosting private events in the Leopard Lounge.
Quintessential experiences include charters aboard America’s Cup sailboats. Classic venues include the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Newport Art Museum, hosting events in the art-filled National Historic Landmark Griswold House.
Part of the Newport Restoration Foundation, Rough Point, former home of heiress, philanthropist and preservationist Doris Duke, features fine art and panoramic Atlantic Ocean views.
The grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages”, The Breakers headlines the mansion-museum collection of The Preservation Society of Newport County. Modeled after an Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, this Vanderbilt treasure is featured in the “Fun-sized” campaign. Some available for events, other properties include the Marble House, Rosecliff and Chateau-sur-Mer.
Set on a historic estate in nearby Portsmouth, the Society’s Green Animals Topiary Garden is an enchanting seasonal option for tours.
Begun in 1905, America’s oldest topiary garden features 80-plus sculpted animals and birds, geometric figures and ornamental designs.
Rhode Island CVB Contact Information
Providence Warwick CVB
Click over to page 2 for the latest and greatest Rhode Island hotel and venue openings.
Rhode Island Hotel and Venue Openings and Renovations
Continuing to expand its U.S. portfolio of boutique hotels in university-anchored towns, Chicago-based Graduate Hotels is transforming the Providence Biltmore Hotel into the Graduate Providence. Featuring 294 rooms and 19,000 square feet of space, the 1922 landmark is slated for relaunch in spring 2019.
Offering nearly 11,000 square feet of meeting space, Providence Marriott Downtown is planning for the largest transformation in its 42-year history.
With a projected late 2018 start as of press time, the estimated $15 million makeover was slated to begin with upgrading mechanical equipment and reimagining all 351 guest rooms, followed by the main lobby and restaurant.
A completion date has yet to be announced.
Targeting a mid-January 2019 opening, a new $30 million, 120-room Homewood Suites by Hilton is downtown Providence’s first extended-stay property.
The new 176-room, all suite Residence Inn Providence is scheduled to open late 2019 across from the Rhode Island Convention Center.
Business travelers now have the convenience of a new 125-room Hyatt Place hotel at Green International Airport, located next to the airport’s intermodal train station.
Cole’s Court Newport is a new all-suite resort-style lodging option for small groups, with six units featuring one- or two- bedroom accommodations and full kitchens.
Also suited for buyouts is The Firehouse Inn. Steps from Newport’s harbor, shops and restaurants, this update of an 1892 firehouse offers five contemporary rooms and a studio suite. The property also offers spa services.
New group tour options include the seasonal Newport Foodie Stroll and Newport Cocktail Tours, celebrating Newport’s world rum capital days.