The recommendations, which faced fierce opposition from the regional tourism councils, were never implemented.

Who has the right vision?
Bob Burke, the owner of Pot Au Feu, the Federal Reserve, and the Independence Trail Map, a tour of historic Providence sites, is waging a one-man battle against the state division of Tourism, contending that it’s failing to optimism Rhode Island’s potential as a tourist destination.

Burke considers the state’s current approach wasteful and outdated. He’s upset that the state officials won’t share the leads generated by the inquiries to the state’s toll-free tourism line (state officials say privacy laws preclude then from doing so). Burke reasons that private businesses such as his should have the ability to target tourists by their particular interests. State officials prefer to let tourists self-select after registering on the visitrhodeisland.com Web site. Burke is unimpressed with the Web site. State officials say it expands their ability to compete for visitors.

Burke argues that tourism is underappreciated as a source of economic investment in Rhode Island. The restaurateur, who has vacationed at a family home on Cape Cod since he was young, contends that Rhode Island could do far more by cultivating this kind of seasonal visitor, mainly because they buy homes and contribute significant tax dollars without sending their children to local schools. He goes so far as to contend that soaring demand, along with skyrocketing prices, would be a good thing for local beach properties.

Bob Billington, the president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, maintains that the regional approach is the best fit for Rhode Island. “People who think that the bot-tom line of tourism is about promotion are wrongheaded,” he says. “Rhode Island is a very precious product, a very precious place to live, a very precious place that we’re being asked to steward.”

Billington, who contends that the findings of Governor Carcieri’s tourism panel were off-base, insists that tourism development has to work first for the people who already live here.

“We have to keep it a place where people enjoy living,” he says. “That’s not going to make some people happy. They feel all tourism agents should be pimps for the state. That’s not the business we’re in. Our toughest job is trying to answer the question you asked” — how does Rhode Island optimize its tourism potential without losing its character? Ultimately, Billington says, the state could pursue a single-minded focus on money, “but you’re not going to want to live here anymore.”

To read Ian Donnis’s politics + media blog, go to thephoenix.com/notfornothing. He can be reached atidonnis@phx.com.

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