PROVIDENCE — Mask mandates have lifted and business restrictions are a thing of the past. Yet, even as the weather gets warmer, Rhode Island’s hospitality and tourism industries are still fighting their way out of the pandemic.
On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Dale Venturini, the CEO and president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, and Kristen Adamo, the CEO and president of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, outlined how staffing issues in restaurants and hotels, inflation, workers not returning to the office, and the lack of federal funding toward restaurants have all contributed to the continuous struggles that small businesses in Rhode Island face.
“I don’t like the game of ping pong, but that’s all I’ve been playing for the last several months,” said Venturini of advocating for more federal dollars to be administered to restaurants. “Back in the day, some things that were costly to do were just the cost of doing business because business was doing well. Today, we’re treating nickels like manhole covers... We have to account for every dime today.”
Venturini said inflation is crippling many independent restaurant owners. For example, she said eggs have gone up in price by 80 percent. “But you can’t increase your prices by 80 percent,” she said.
As for tourism, Adamo said Providence has returned about 87 percent of its meeting and convention business from 2019, which has had a slower return than bringing back leisure travelers.
Adamo faced challenges in marketing downtown Providence due to high-profile crime last summer, like rowdy ATV riders and gun violence. But this year, she said, with more people in downtown and events like WaterFire making their return, travelers and locals are making a comeback. “All of that brings vitality into downtown,” she said.
“I feel confident that by the end of the summer, we’ll really be back by our 2019 levels,” said Adamo, who explained that Providence has to compete with larger cities like Boston and New York. “Business travel is always going to be a challenge... Plus, there’s a rise in Zoom. So we have to make it compelling for people to come here.”
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.