Rhode Island's outdated and ineffective tourism website also came under fire for its inaccurate listings — of restaurants and shops now out of business; its links to Massachusetts restaurants instead of Rhode Island favorites; and its outdated claim the Ocean State contained 20 percent of the country's historic landmarks.
Well, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation voted Monday night to start from scratch and hire a company — Simpleview, of Tucson, Ariz. — for $257,500 to build a whole new visitrhodeisland.com website. The state's chief marketing officer, Lara Salamano, introduced the company, its work and its president Rich Reasons to the board of directors, chaired by Raimondo.
That was just one of many approvals the Commerce board granted at its Monday meeting.
Reminding the board why the state needs a new tourism website, Salamano said the old site was built in 1999; collected no consumer data; used no "search-engine optimization monitoring," a method that helps certain pages or information rise to the top of internet searches; was not integrated with the regional tourism agencies; and was not integrated with sales data and social-media usage in the state. Plus, the state's tourism employees had no ability to add pages without getting technical support, Salamano said.
Salamano was hired after last spring's debacle and after her predecessor, Betsy Wall, resigned in the midst of the tourism controversy. In introducing her, Raimondo acknowledged the state had a "rocky start" on its tourism campaign before Salamano's arrival but said hotel taxes were up during a positive summer season.
The new website is expected to be completed next fall, Salamano told the board.
Simpleview is already working in Rhode Island: on the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau site and on the Discover Newport site, Reasons told the board. Two of the firm's sites, Salamano said, were ranked this year among the top 25 tourism websites in the world by Skift, a global travel-industry company: Experience Columbus and Visit Norway.
Also with board action Monday, a Newport elementary school that has been vacant for a decade is poised for new life. The board approved a $2.1-million Rebuild R.I. tax credit for a $7.1-million renovation.
The City of Newport, the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island and the Newport County Chamber of Commerce have been working together to develop a co-working and entrepreneurial space in the Sheffield School. The focus will be on the defense economy, including underwater technology, cybersecurity and ocean resilience work, said Scott A. Gibbs, president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island, which the city selected about two years ago to lead work on the project.
Commerce managing director Jesse Saglio said the team has partnered with Workbar in Boston, which operates co-working spaces and helps others launch. Its software allows entrepreneurs in shared spaces to access joint calendars so they can attend each other's open events and find ways to collaborate with each other. Plus, a Workbar team will be in Newport helping set up the space in its first week and will be available to help in other ways going forward, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said.
"It's important that we create spaces capable of fostering startups, supporting entrepreneurs," Pryor said. "Newport is a key locus of activity for the defense and maritime industries ... and there's a lack of coworking space in the Newport area."
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport resident, also hailed the project as a critical component of local efforts to redevelop the city's North End.