J. Service Scie nce & Management, 2009, 3: 137-148
doi:10.4236/jssm.2009.23017 Published Online September 2009 (www.SciRP.org/journal/jssm)
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
The Perceptions of Small Business Owners on Tourism
Development in the Blackstone Valley, Rhode Island
Samuel MENDLINGER1,3, Masaki MIYAKE1, Robert BILLINGTON1,2
1Department of Administrative Sciences, Metropolitan College, Boston University, 808 Commonwealth Ave., Boston MA, 02215,
USA; 2Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island 02860, USA; 3corresponding author.
Email: mendling@bu.edu, m.miyake@gmail.com, BVRI@aol.com
Received March 28, 2009; revised May 25, 2009; accepted June 19, 2009.
The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC), a state designated council to promote tourism in the Blackstone Valley,
Rhode Island, has led tourism development efforts for two decades to revitalize the economics and livability of place.
This study examines the perception of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in juxtaposition to the macro-regional
level of tourism development as lead by the BVTC. Local SMEs foresee business opportunities via tourism, yet often do
not fully recognize their potentia l role within it. Local government and the notion of civic tourism are also examined to
further understand this gap. The study concludes that local community involvement still remains in the realm of par-
ticipation rather than empowerment. Thus, the BVTC is being sought for a more innovative and strategic role to de-
velop and manage tourism assets instead of the implementer role traditional tourism organiza tions engage in.
Keywords: SMEs, communication, BVTC, tourism developme nt strategy
1. Introduction
Tourism has become a potential new industry for eco-
nomically declining regions. Tourism can absorb labor,
unused resources and improve the quality of life of resi-
dents [1,2,3,4,5,6]. Small to medium sized enterprises
(SMEs), particularly those in small cities and towns, play
a crucial role in economic development [7] and in tour-
ism the majority of businesses are SMEs [8,9,10,11].
The perceptions and opinions of SME business owners
on the direction and implementation of tourism devel-
opment strategies are important as they are usually the
ones who develop and invest in new tourism opportuni-
ties. Therefore an understanding of their attitudes, be-
lieves, priorities, impressions and concerns is important
for effective tourism destination planning and develop-
ment. However, too often tourism development models
exclude or minimize the role of SMEs due to the com-
plexity of this group [12,13 ,14,15]. Yet, as Pistrui, et al.,
[16] and Freeman and McVea [17] point out, in most
economies SMEs are at the forefront of socioeconomic
development and in comparison to large businesses,
SMEs in the long-run are much more likely to create new
job opportunities as well as develop and implement new
ideas [18,19]. It is important for SMEs to be included in
the decision-making processes and their perceptions and
objectives incorporated into tourism development strate-
gies [17,20]. In ad dition we need to better understand the
comprehension level of the assistance that SMEs receive
from government (local, state and federal) and
quasi-government organizations (e.g. visitor and tourism
bureaus and councils) that support tourism development.
This is especially important for smaller destinatio ns who
often bundle numerous secondary assets into a major
tourism destination. This study examines these points in
the Blackstone Valley of Rhode Island.
2. Blackstone Valley and Tourism
The Blackstone River Valley is a 400,000 acres region
encompassing central Massachusetts and northern Rhode
Island. The American Industrial Revolution began in the
valley with the open ing of the first water powered textile
mill in 1793. This study focuses on tourism development
in the nine Rhode Island communities of the Blackstone
Valley: Burrillville, Central Falls, Cumberland, Gl-
ocester, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Smith-
field, and Woonsocket.
Beginning in the 20th century, Blackstone Valley’s
textile industry found itself migrating to the South where
cheaper labor, lower taxes, anti-union laws and abundant
cotton supplies was readily acquirable. By the mid-20th
century, the Blackstone Valley was an economically and
sociocultural depressed region with high unemployment,
social instability and extensive environmental degrada-
tion. Since then, attempts have been made to find new
industries for economic revival and tourism was one op-
tion. In 1986 the U.S. Congress designated the Black-
stone Valley as a National Heritage Corridor in recogni-
tion of its historical significance. In a 1997 study, the
Rhode Island Policy Council [21 ] acknowledged that the
tourism sector has the poten tial to become a cluster mar-
ket for the Blackstone Valley, but only if the State en-
hances accessibility and develops exciting attractions
combined with the strong involvement and collaboration
of the private sector to create a competitive market clus-
The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC), a
state-designated and sponsored nonprofit organization,
was established in 1985 to initiate and coordinate tour-
ism asset development and marketing programs and ac-
tivities aimed at economic develop ment and job creation.
It is responsible for creating and implementing a com-
prehensive regional sustainable tourism development
plan to promote economic development via tourism
within Blackstone Valley [22]. BVTC bases its approach
on the geotourism and civic tourism model of place de-
velopment which is aimed at improving the geographic,
social and economic layers of a local community; i.e. to
improve the quality of life of the local population via
tourism [23]. It emphasizes the empowerment and
well-being of the local community [24] and strengthen-
ing SMEs via community participation in order to allow
for easier adoption of and transition to new ideas and
opportunities [20,25]. The BVTC receives annually ap-
proximately $90,000 from federal and state governments
plus raises additional funds via tourism revenue, hotel
room tax, and private and individual donation, to carry
out the bulk of its operations. Total income and expen-
diture repo rted for fiscal year 2007 we re $1,056,350 and
$1,081,850 resp ectively [26]. The Blackstone Valley has
a story to tell, the genesis of the American Industrial
Revolution, and resources that visitors can enjoy (e.g.
old factory buildings, nature and mixed cultural commu-
nities) but lacks a single primary tourism asset. There-
fore the BVTC employs a micro-clustering strategy of
bundling many assets throughout the Valley whose ef-
fectiveness is dependent on an active and aware SME
Today the Blackstone Valley annually hosts over a
million tourists [23]. Tourism accounts for between 4 to
15% of total employment per community in 2006 [27]
and tourism income in 2006 was $99 million [28]. These
figures indicate that tourism is positively impacting the
economy of these communities. However we have a poor
understanding of the perceptions of the business sector
on the direction and implementation of tourism devel-
opment and their opinion of BVTC’s strategic model. In
this study we examined: 1) what perceptions and opin-
ions do SMEs have on the region’s tourism development
strategy; and 2) how do local businesses perceive the
work of the BVTC and other government or
quasi-governmental organizations in developing tourism
opportunities. This will be useful for other communities
as they develop their tourism industry.
3. Research Methodologies
Qualitative research methodology was used to assess the
perceptions of local tourism business owners and others
working in tourism on tourism development in the
Blackstone Valley. We were interested in understanding
their perceptions in five areas: 1) the local economic
situation; 2) tourism; 3) the BVTC; 4) other government
tourism programs and initiatives; and 5) business oppor-
tunities in tourism. In-depth semi-structured interviews
were used to identify factors which affect residences’
opinions and perceptions on the existing tourism industry
[29,30,31,32]. Lepp [31] and Westwood [32] pointed out
that this method allows for the injection of new and often
unexpected ideas and allows the interviewees to freely
express their points of view. Hernandez et al., [29] said
that the main advantage of in-depth interviews is that a
better understanding of respondents’ thinking and atti-
tudes on key issues could be obtained than with struc-
tured interviews. A 14 group question questionnaire was
created and asked to all interviewees (Table 1). If needed
up to 10 follow up questions were asked per interv iewee
(we believed that more than 24-25 questions may pro-
duce the poin t of diminishing return s in respect to qu ality
Nineteen people were interviewed, sixteen who repre-
sented different types of SMEs involved in the tourism
industry and three government officials involved in tour-
ism industry development, in the nine Blackstone Valley
communities (Table 2). We randomly selected 20 poten-
tial SME candidates using the member list from the
Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce [33] and
three government officials; all but four agreed to be in-
terviewed. Government officials were included not only
to act as reference sources on programs and initiatives
geared towards local to urism related businesses, but also
as measuring points to identify any inconsistency be-
tween the private and public sectors’ perceptions. With
the exception of two, all interviewees held positions
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
Table 1. The fourteen question groups asked to all inter viewee s
1 The Blackstone Valley region has experienced severe economic decline after its textile industry
moved to the South. Can you describe what type of economic models did your community use for
economic development? Do you see tourism as a vehicle for such development?
2 Can yo u please tell me wh at your or ganizat ion does in tourism? Why was it established? What is
your position?
3 Please list the strongest economic sectors in the Blackstone Valley. Where do you place tourism?
Do you see this list changing in the future?
4 What kind of government initiatives and funding support the local tourism industry?
5 What percentage of your tourism business relies on local vendors?
6 Is your business affected by seasonality in tourism visitation?
7 The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council is responsible for promoting tourism in the region in vari-
ous ways, from direct activities, such as festivals and tours to indirect activities such as real estate
development. Have you established a relationship with the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council,
and if so please describe it? Have they had an impact on your business? If so, how? What is your
opinion of the BVTC?
8 Tell me about the impact of tourism, both good and bad, on your community.
9 What type of support is your tourism business receiving from the local/state/federal government?
10 Do you think the approach, such as taxation programs, development programs, job generation pro-
grams, that the local government is taking on old mills and buildings is effective? Do you think the
local community will benefit from this? Do you think they can do more?
11 How does your town differentiate its tourist assets in comparison to neighboring towns and re-
12 How do you find the tourism infrastructure system in your area? Is it efficient? Do you think
out-of-town visitors find it useful?
13 If you were to make any changes to the current tourism model of the BVTC, what would it be and
14 Would you continue to invest in tourism, and why?
Table 2. The Background of the Interviewees
Interviewee Code Sector Location Gender
AB #1
AB #2
RL #1
RL #2
RL #3
RL #4
GT #1
GT #2
GT #3
LB #1
LB #2
LB #3
RE #1
RT #1
MG #1
RB #1
RB #2
RB #3
RB #4
Tourism and leisure
Tourism and leisure
Tourism and leisure
Tourism and leisure
Real estate
Manufacturing #1
Retail business #1
Retail business #2
Retail business #3
Retail business #4
North Smithfield
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
which involved decision-making in their respective or-
ganizations. All interviews occurred between November
1 and December 6, 2007. We conducted all of the inter-
views and interviewees. The interviews were digitally
recorded (averaged approximately 30 minutes) and tran-
scribed verbatim. Thematic analysis and triangulation
were used by the authors to gain insights into the an-
swers [34].
4. Themes from the Interviews
We grouped the themes that emerged into five categories:
1) Tourism Development and Economic Growth; 2)
Blackstone Valley Tourism Council; 3) Aid from Federal,
State and Local Governments for Tourism Development;
4) Business Development; and 5) Cooperation among
4.1 Tourism Development and Economic
After experiencing years of economic depression, most
businesses are beginning to see positive changes in the
I think we are seeing evolution. I think it will be
more gradual, but I see possibilities to grow and
prosper.” ( RL #1 )
Most interviewees said that tourism has become an
important economic sector in the Blackstone Valley.
Many specifically mentioned two area that the BVTC
has emphasized over the years: 1) historical and heritage
tourism with phrases such as “a lot of history,” “a bit of
history,” “heritage tourism” and “incredible amount of
historical value” commonly used by the interviewees;
and 2) recently developed tourism activities or assets, e.g.
the boat tours, the museums, arts festivals and walking
tours. When interviewees were asked if they anticipated
tourism playing a major economic role in the future,
opinions gravitated between ‘having potential’ and ‘re-
maining at the present state,’ although several from more
rural, low tourism areas, said that it was “non-existent”
or “not visible” in their respective communities but was
in others. Interestingly, several business owners from
Pawtucket and Woonsocket, where tourism assets are
well developed and accessible, questioned the existence
of a glass ceiling which limits tourism’s growth:
“We are a developing area. Now the question is will
we be able to keep it to gether? Will it come and go? I
am not quite sure.” (LB #3)
A recurring theme was the underdeveloped main
streets or downtown areas and the crucial role these play
in a community:
“I guess they need to push it in this area. It needs to
be more developed, especially the Downtown area. If
you want to bring tourists in, you’ve got to have
something for them to do , and I don’t think we have.”
(LB #2)
“(Main Street redevelopment) kind of reverberated
out to trying to, because the mill center was vacant,
and it’s still vacant today. That’s the biggest focus of
what we are redeveloping. Begin in the heart of the
town. It’s the town’s face and identity, but it starts
building there, and aims to recapture what was con-
structed to make things work.” (GT #1)
These comments center on the still insufficient activi-
ties for local residents and tourists. Several interviewees
emphasized that it was indispensable for main taining the
integrity of place and hoped that the Blackstone Valley
would not be weighed down with amusement park type
The survey also found that the level of comprehension
on what tourism entails differed among interviewees.
The majority linked tourism to business opportunities
and economic enhancement. However, a few classified
the sector as sightseeing activities for leisure visitors,
separating business-related visitors from the tourist
category. Below is a quote from a lodging business de-
scribing its type of guests:
I have three kinds of business: tourism business,
business and third is, what I would call, “business-
(LB #3)
It also appears that some local residents are not fully
aware of the degree of tourism development. For exam-
“…the locals are oblivious to tourism. As a matter of
fact, when they find out th at I am a bed and breakfas t
operator, they say, “In Woonsocket, you have a bed
and breakfast?” (LB #3)
This lodging business further commented that unless
they were directly involved in a tourism business, they
would not have been aware that such a sector existed.
4.1.1 Investing in Tourism
Nearly every local business interviewed who is involved
in tourism commented that they would continue to invest
in tourism. Many foresee new business opportunities and
are aware that if properly developed and marketed tour-
ism can have substantial economic impact on their busi-
ness and communities. However several interviewees
stated that they would continue to do so only as long as
there was return on investment:
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
All we need to do is create vehicles (tourism assets
such as textile mills and waterfalls)...for example to
bring the people over here, and once the people come,
I think business will also come, but business are not
going to invest money if they see they are not getting
positive results.” (MG #1)
I would continue as far as marketing dollars and
what not... but you can only invest in what you are
going to see a return on, so as long as you can see a
financial return then you continue to do that.”
(AB #2)
Government officials similarly backed this providing
that there is sufficient funding. All government officials
said that they were doing as much as they could possibly
do to support the region’s economic development as well
as the efforts of the BVTC:
I can’t say that it’s (tourism) bad. Because if any-
thing, I mean hopefully we will see more of it in the
future. It’d be nice to have another bed-and-breakfast
here and there. That’s something I would like to try to
see, and encourage the sector.” (GT #1)
4.1.2 Public Transportation
The general consensus on the transportation infrastruc-
ture in the Blackstone Valley was “good” or “fairly
good” but several pointed out that improvements still
need to be made. For instance, one lodging manager
pointed out that it was not easy to navigate visitors
through the Blackstone Valley’s transportation system,
nor could they rely on taxis as their services were poor.
The interviews highlighted that the majority of visitors
visited the region used their own vehicle while only a
small percentage using public transportation. One busi-
ness owner recognized the importance of infrastructural
development in their community:
We are tiny for any type of public transpor tation, but
if we did have the train, boy, would our community
grow even more.” (RB #3)
According to one government official, discussions
have been held on developing a more visitor- and envi-
ronment-friendly transportation system in the Blackstone
Valley. Although public awareness is still relatively low
on this particular subject, the development and imple-
mentation efforts of bike paths and pedestrian-friendly
streets are widely recognized by the interviewees.
4.1.3 Security and Safety
In recent years, issues on security and safety have be-
come important in the tourism industry. An interviewee
I don’t feel comfortable sending somebody (guest)
down that way (downtown area), because there’s
really nothing open at night, and I don’t think it’s
safe.” (LB #2)
4.2 Blackstone Valley Tourism Council
Opinion on the work and accomplishments of the BVTC
is mostly positive. Interviewees acknowledge and recog-
nize the organization’s efforts to rebuild the region’s
economy and image, particularly their strength in tour-
ism advocacy. Many businesses expressed a sense of
trust in their operations and initiatives and an apprecia-
tion in BVTC’s transparency. Phrases such as “great
asset,” “active,” “innovative,” “very involved,” and
“wonderful” we re used to desc ri be t he or ganization:
I do follow the activities of the Blackstone Valley
Tourism Council and they are very active.” (LB #3)
We are proud to be part of the Blackstone Valley,
and we think highly of the organization.” (RL #1)
“…we have an organization like Blackstone Valley
Tourism Council which has been very, very successful
in raising the profile of the Valley.” (GT #3)
4.2.1 Partnership
The majority of interviewees said that their businesses
had established some form of partnership, or are in the
process of establishing one, with th e BVTC:
“…there is visibility such as vehicles, brochures,
newsletter, Guide to the Blackstone Valley, e-mail
newsletters which is very effective, a group sales per-
son at their officethey (BVTC) have a lot of mar-
keting vehicles, have the capability to utilize those
things in a monumental way to the assets in this City
and all of the Blackstone Valley. I love to see them
utilize those assets more.” (RL #2)
They (BVTC) are a great help and assistance as we
don’t have to do it. They do the marketing for us.”
(AB #1)
However, some criticisms were expressed. One lodg-
ing owner (LB #1) said that the organization’s promoting
and marketing activities with him were not as beneficial
as originally anticipated and no follow-up communica-
tion was established between the two entities. Others
expressed a sense of the limitations of the BVTC’s op-
erational capabilities and go als:
“…We’ve been trying to establish a relationship with
them (BVTC), a marketing relationship with
themThey’ve been unreliableWe’ve sent them
our press releases, it doesn’t get into their publica-
tionsI think they are focused on their own events,
and not on their partnerships with organizations like
us. We directly conflict.” (RL #2)
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
“…stretched thin with his (Bob Billington, president
of BVTC) job, duties and teachings, and everything
that he has to do. He is not as accessible as he should
be.” (GT #2)
I do establish a relationship with them and they es-
tablished a relationship with me, but I am a dot on a
large circle for them. They have a much broader fo-
cus, and they should.” (LB #3)
Most interviewees acknowledged the leadership and
support of the BVTC in the region’s tourism sector. The
following are three examples:
There’s…an old farmhouse in town, probably the
most rural part of town.. Bob and I worked together
to make a zoning change, to make it legal, to make it
all happen. So that’s a very small scaledsmall pro-
priety owner example of how, but ho w we can think of
one little piece of tourism…” (GT #1)
I am in the process of doing that (establishing a re-
lationship with BVTC). So you know, why do it. I
would like to see my community grow, and to see my
business grow.” (RB #3).
“…they (BVTC) have an advertising opportunity
coming up that we will probably be taking advantage
of it as well. It will be in a magazine and they a re very
active staying in contact with local businesses, so
through emails and mailin gs th at kind of things, so we
are always paying attention and reading what they
are send us, and if it’s something that works for us,
we get involved.” (AB #2)
4.2.2 Changes
The majority of interviewees commented that the current
BVTC’s tourism geotourism model should continue:
Make any changes? That’s a hard one. No, it’s so
hard to answer something like that. I wouldn’t make
any changes. I would just keep going with what they
(BVTC) are doing, and making it betterand what I
mean by that isyou keep going with the same effort
that they have, and I think they are going to achieve
good positive results…” (MG #1)
Well, I wouldn’t change a thing . I think they (BVTC)
have a pretty good handle on things. It’s hard just to
get people to visit this Blackstone Valley. It’s not an
easy sellwhere you know Newport or Cape Cod,
you’ve got the beaches. You work what you have ba-
sically.” (RT #1)
Nevert heless the interv iewees did expr ess the need for
changes to improve tourism development and wanted the
BVTC to help implement these changes. The changes
1) More support and fund ing from State government
2) Enhance marketing and promotional strategies
3) Communication transparency
4) Enhance public transportation in the region
5) Further develop present attractions and add new ones
6) Retain the John H. Chafee Blackstone Valley Na-
tional Heritage Corridor Commission
Most interviewees had the first two items as the most
important. The third item is a key in keeping the local
community involved in the region’s economic develop-
ment, as the following quote shows:
We are developing. We do communicate with each
other along the Valley, but there needs to be a little
more...I guess, “crystallization,” is a good word. We
are still working, we are working together, we are
more aware of each other now than we’ve ever were,
and by the way, we never thought of ourselves living
in the Blackstone Valley. We all lived in different
communities, do you get my drift? Now we are begin-
ning to think of ourselves as living in this Valleyand
each one of us has a story to tell.” (RL #3)
Partnership with the BVTC also led businesses into
establishing ‘sub-partnerships’ amongst themselves. For
instance, a lodging business located in Woonsocket de-
scribed having established partnerships with businesses
like the Museum of Work and Culture and local restau-
rants as a way to not only enhance their businesses, but
also to present a hospitable ambient to visitors.
4.3 Aid from Federal, State and Local Govern-
ments for Tourism Develo pment
There was strong agreement among interviewees that for
tourism development, while the BVTC was doing as
much as it could, most Federal and State funding for
tourism development was funneled to the two major
tourist destinations in Rhode Island, Providence and
Newport, and very little to the Blackstone Valley. In
addition many believed that the bed tax which is sup-
posed to fund tourism development did not help them as
much as it could.
They (BVTC) are doing so much, and they a re doing
everything I think that can possibly be done. I give
them an A+ for their efforts. I can’t think of anything
to do that they haven’t already done. It would be nice
if the State of Rhode Island could get as actively in-
volved in promoting tou rism in the Blackstone Valley
(RB #2)
“…how can tourism grow in the area when there isn’t
a funding mechanism that can be tapped? I know that
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council tries to get
money from the State, from the bed tax. It does get
some money from the State, but not enough money as
compared to Newport.” (LB #3)
Government officials interviewed agreed that the
amount of public funding for tourism development was
We could do morewe could do more financially.
We would like to have more development funding for
startup projects, where we have in the past been suc-
cessful in leveraging several federal funding so that
the leverage ratio was 20 to 1. So from relatively
modest funding we can through our partnerships
really get a lot more money pumped into redeveloping
mills or other economic activities.” (GT #3)
This official noted that they would like to see tourism
evolve where it can be self-sustained since “ultimately it
is an economic activity,” and not dependent on “seed
money from non-profits or heritage programs”.
In spite of the lack of support at the state and federal
level, several local businesses acknowledged the efforts
made by their respective local governments:
“…I can’t complain with the economic development
office because they certainly have been a huge help
it was through them that I learned about the arts and
entertainment tax exempt thing and the grant for the
signage.” (RB #3)
Everything reasonably been kind of successful be-
cause we’ve had consistent leadership and support
(from local government), politics never really made it
into the frame and mess things up. I don’t know if you
talk about politics at all, but it’s important.” (GT #1)
4.4 Business Development
Most interviewees perceived tourism business opportuni-
ties in the region. Several commented that they had ei-
ther recently started a new tourism business or enhanced
their businesses operations and utilized local government
programs and the BVTC’s marketing resources.
“…certainly Pawtucket is one, especially in the arts.
With all the studios that they have created in the old
millsthey are extremely impressiveso I would
say that Pawtucket has certainly done their homework.
And these are communities that have struggled like
Woonsocket that are reallykind of coming out with
a renewed face.” (RB #3)
We need to start more restaurants in our cities.”
(GT #2)
Several interviewees pointed out that problems exist in
developing tourism related businesses within the Black-
stone Valley region. Several believe that there is insuffi-
cient funding for an economic development plan, much
less develop a tourism industry:
There’s not a lot of a gencies ou t there willing to g ive
a helping hand. To give them better tax or tax incen-
tives and things like that. There not much for th e little
guy…” (RE #1)
I think financial backing to attract tourism busi-
nesses is needed.” (RB #3)
There is a sense among the interviewees that unless
the business is involved in the arts, farming or other gov-
ernment-led initiative, not many options are available to
encourage small-scale tourism businesses to develop.
4.5 Cooperation Among Stakeholders
Problems in cooperation and communication between
government and the private sector were expressed by
many interviewees. Many local businesses were unable
to clearly define one government initiative or program
outside of the BVTC which seriously supports the tour-
ism industry in the region:
Probably a better question for tourism folksI guess,
in a nice way of saying, we don’t receive the incen-
tives that other industries would.” (RL #1)
The two most referred programs were the hotel taxa-
tion program (the bed tax) and the arts initiative pro-
“…we have a 6% room tax, and that’s supposed to
help tourismWhat we get for our 6% is some maps I
think.” (LB #1)
Particularly the current Mayorhas put in place
with his department of planning and redevelopment
several initiatives, some of them even groundbreaking
for the State, groundbreaking for the area, such as tax
incentives for artists in several different areas of the
city, where artists can sell their work and the buyers
are not required to pay sales tax.” (RL #2)
Government officials realized that lack of communi-
cation exists when it comes to informing the local com-
munity about their programs:
But I don’t think that some of the older people un-
derstand the benefits of what is happening with the
arts and it all sort o f rests on our shoulders. We have
to communicate better about the positive impact that
will ultimately impact them.” (GT #2)
“…one question I have is that we are recently trying
to keep the economic development agencies involved
in the discussion, but it is not clear to me that they,
even though they talk about how important tourism is,
that they actively and very directly participate in
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
promoting tourism.” (GT #3)
I think there was a big push for a while. The current
administration has taken a back seat towards tour-
ism.” (RE #1)
5. Discussion
Despite the importance of the tourism industry for
Blackstone Valley’s economic development, we found
two areas of concern. First, the low level of comprehen-
sion by some interviewees about governmental support
programs for tourism development. Second, there ap-
pears to be a subtle discrepancy between the vision of the
BVTC, which is based on a macro regional level, and the
vision of local businesses, which is based on a more mi-
cro local level.
Interviewees who do not directly benefit from the ho-
tel tax allocation fund or from BVTC programs rarely
mentioned other government support or incentive pro-
grams for tourism development available through local
or state governments. A problem may be that these pro-
grams are not offered through a single umbrella program
but rather by different departments, e.g. planning, eco-
nomic development or community development. This
may create difficulties in the process of how local busi-
nesses perceive and understand government support pro-
grams. In a study by Palmer and Bejou [35] on American
and British tourism destination marketing alliances
(DMA), e.g. Visitor and Convention Bureaus (VCBs)
and Tourism Development Action Program (TDAPs)
organizations (comparable to BVTC), notes that funding
is affected by how organizations were formed and struc-
tured. In the United States, the majority of collaborative
stakeholders partnering with these organizations do not
directly fund them, but taxation and business revenue are
the main funding sources; SMEs are more recipients of
support than partners in tourism development programs.
In the United K ingdom stakeholders play a direct role in
supporting and funding these organizations and as such
are closely involved with development planning. Conse-
quently feedback, communication and accessibility be-
tween SMEs and governmental officials and organiza-
tions are greater in the UK than in the American model.
Although the BVTC is not a VCB by definition, it shares
a similar organizational structure; thus, in 2006 funding
was obtained through program revenue (40%), hotel oc-
cupancy tax (30%), and ticket sales and store revenue
(1%) [26] .
Two interviewees in th is study revealed that economic
development agencies are keen about tourism, yet their
involvement and promotional efforts are weak. In 1997,
the Rhode Island Policy Council (RIPC) presented a re-
port which provided analysis and recommendations on
emerging economic sectors, including tourism [21]. The
report showed that the management segment of the tour-
ism infrastructure is layered by organizations devoted to
their regional tourism promotion and development ac-
tivities, but lack the flexibility to collaborate in a
state-level policy development and implementation
scheme. It notes that local businesses perceived that the
“overall problem is that neither the State nor th e regional
tourism promotion agencies adequately listen or are re-
sponsive to their needs” [21]. Brunetto and Farr-Wharton
[12] argue that SMEs place great importance on issue of
trust when deciding on government programs. This
strongly reiterates the issue of communication and ac-
RIPC recommends that the state’s tourism develop-
ment efforts should be actively led by the private sector
in order to diffuse bureaucratic problems as well as pro-
viding this sector ownership of the efforts [21]. From the
perceptions obtained from our interviewees, it is clear
that not all local businesses have the same degree of un-
derstanding and/or involvement in the region’s tourism
development scheme. In a 2003 policy report, the Euro-
pean Commission found that SMEs have a tendency to
not readily communicate their views to the government
due to their lack of time and resources deriving from
their small operations which leads to their low involve-
ment in policy and law making [36]. This led the Euro-
pean Union to create an environment for SMEs to ac-
tively participate in community policy making, reducing
bureaucratic layers, modifying laws and establishing
“one-stop-shops” to reduce administrative costs [36].
Thomas and Thomas [37] state that local businesses will
naturally become involv ed in influencing local policies if
their operations are closely linked to the region’s future,
and vice versa. Their case study on the community of
Saltaire, Bradford, England, found that “local mi-
cro-enterprises for all their success in liaising with ag en-
cies do not possess the wealth of the resources that can
assist effective policy mobilization” [37].
The definition of small business in Rhode Island is
“one that has 30 or fewer full-time employees, or has
$1 million or less in gross receipts” [38]. Szivas [39]
notes that starting a tour ism business is relatively easy as
no formal education or skill set is required and can be
pursued with low capital. Most of the SMEs participating
in this study consisted of less than 10 employees and
many do not have the expertise and/or financial re-
sources to undertake marketing and promotional efforts.
As a result they rely on the BVTC’s well-established
promotional marketing and distribution services. Much
of BVTC’s operations are based on developing and im-
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
Copyright © 2009 SciRes JSSM
plementing tourism programs and activities, yet the per-
ceptions stated by both local businesses and local gov-
ernment officials indicate that BVTC’s services are be-
ing sought in a more collaborative and facilitating role.
Local governments see the need for BVTC’s presence
and tourism expertise at the decision- making level, while
local businesses, particularly those involved in tourism
event implementation, seek this through collaboration.
Although to date, BVTC has worked in various capaci-
ties, the survey suggests that its model is placing strain
on the organization’s resources. If continued, this could
lead to stagnant results for the Blackstone Valley tour ism
industry. Frustration and disappointment by local busi-
nesses is beginning to surface.
Today for many communities, tourism is being used
for economic regeneration. Bahaire and Elliott-White [40 ]
note that when a local community perceives itself as be-
ing the tourism ‘product,’ as in civic or geo-tourism,
empowerment and participation is imperative in realizing
a self-sustaining industry. Yet, they argue that this sce-
nario has led communities to p lay a vouch ing role fo r the
sole purpose of commercial growth. This situation was
found to a certain extent in this study (GT #1). It has
been argued that the participation of all stakeholders is
unrealistic due to the difference in objectives that each
may have [40]. However, Billington [22] notes that such
synchronization can occur in the tourism industry when
all sectors of the commun ity adhere to social resp onsibil-
ity; i.e. tourism equates to being a collective effort. This
was the BVTC’s model during the initial revitalization of
the Blackstone Valley. The question now is how syn-
chronization can continue in a growing economy.
This study found that Blackstone Valley tourism re-
lated businesses have to some degree established part-
nerships not only with the BVTC, but also with other
businesses. As explained by one leisure business, its de-
veloping of partnerships with several restaurants and
retail stores in its vicinity has not only created business
opportunities but believes these will further increase in
the future. This practice has expanded the concept of
tourism in the community. However, the survey found
that partnerships are usually limited to businesses in in-
terrelated sectors, such as lodging, restaurants, leisure
facilities and amenity suppliers. For example, one real
estate business distanced itself from ‘tourism’ businesses
as it felt that no relevancy or benefits could be perceived
or gained from them. Perhaps the match between real
estate and tourism may seem unproductive at first, yet it
can not be n eglected th at hidden o pportun ities ex ist, su ch
as working with tourism to not only promote properties,
but also the “livability” of the destination. This was
found by Tsundoda and Mendlinger [41] in Peterborough
New Hampshire were real estate businesses view tourists
as potential customers. This situation tak es us back to the
original argument on the comprehension level by local
businesses in reference to the region’s economic devel-
opment plan and vision via tourism. Lack of comprehen-
sion could potentially hinder the exploration and exploi-
tation of new business opportunities.
6. Conclusions
The BVTC’s tourism development strategy for the
Blackstone Valley has helped to produce a tourism in-
dustry where none existed before. For the most part the
local business community is very supported of the or-
ganization and supports it direction. However we did
find three potentially worrying issues:
(a) communication between business owners and gov-
ernment officials - the problems associated with commu-
nication between business owners and government offi-
cials is most apparent in the lack of awareness or under-
standing by a number of business owners on availability
of local government funding for tourism development
when such funds are available. Regardless of the causes
and faults of this issue, it has produced a degree of re-
(b) government funding – the lack of strong govern-
ment financial support, especially at the state and federal
level, is perceived by the business community to hinder
tourism development as opposed to other state destina-
tions, e.g. Newport and Providence, which they believe
receive more funding from the state.
(c) future of the BVTC – a number of interviewees
expressed the possible need as tourism increases for the
BVTC to rethink its strategic role in developing and
managing tourism assets.
In respect to these issues we are making 4 recommen-
dations for strengthening the present environment for
local businesses and the BVTC, with the ultimate objec-
tive to create a self-sustaining and viable tourism indus-
try for the future:
6.1 Shifting of Roles
As the tourism industry matures the BVTC may wish to
shift from tourism asset development, coordination and
implementation to a more tourism asset facilitator role.
This will alleviate the BVTC staff from implementing
and managing time consuming projects and activities to
concentrate in strategic planning, while simultaneously
strengthening collaborative partnerships with local busi-
nesses by transferring ‘ownership’ or management of
assets. In order to further shift their role, it may be feasi-
ble for the BVTC to develop a system based on licensing
Figure 1. Program licensing model for the BVTC
their services and programs to interested parties, and in
return, the designated parties pays royalty fees to the
BVTC (Figure 1) [42]. This will reduce BVTC’s human
resource constraint while protecting the program’s mis-
sion and funding. In addition, this may be coupled with
the development of tourism entrepreneurship programs
which will be discussed under the fourth recommenda-
6.2 Strengthening Advocacy
The aim is to provide SMEs in tourism a strong advocate
for a better and fair business environment. Underfunded
programs seem to have hindered development or exis-
tence of some local businesses. As the BVTC has effec-
tively advocated on behalf of local businesses on key
issues such as zoning and fire regulations in the past (see
GT #1), this role should become more important as tour-
ism grows.
6.3 Improving Communication
There is a need to develop a better communication strat-
egy and/or framework for bridging the gaps between the
public and the private sectors. This issue was frequently
referred to in the survey by both local businesses and
government officials. Strengthening BVTC’s role in
communication between different entities can lead to
improved efficiency, consistency and transparency.
6.4 Educational Programs
There is a need to improve the entrepreneurial skills of
local businesses which in turn should help raise the qual-
ity of tourism businesses and products throughout the
Blackstone Valley region. The study showed that local
businesses search for guidance on day-to-day operations
and business development. The BVTC has provided
consultation to startups on a one-to-one basis, ultimately
considered for support if the business is foreseen as one
with staying power. The BVTC may wish to develop a
tourism entrepreneurship education program which can
simultaneously function for networking and entrepreneu-
rial morale.
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