RI ranked worst state for a road trip, but tourism numbers show much different picture
The sun is out, and with many schools set to close for summer vacation this week it’s the perfect time for families to start thinking about vacations of their own. While trips by plane are the most time-efficient means of travel, there are few images more iconic to the American experience than packing up the family station wagging and hitting the open road.
Unfortunately, not too many families seem inclined to take a road trip to Rhode Island, at least according to one study recently published by finance and analytical research company WalletHub, which ranked the Ocean State as the worst road trip destination in the country.
The study examined three key dimensions from each state – costs, safety and available activities – and scored them based on 31 relevant metrics, such as cost of gas and tolls, quality of roads and bridges and the volume of desirable attractions such as national parks and shoreline in order to assess a rating to each state.
Rhode Island wound up with just a 38.58 rating according to the graded metrics assessed by WalletHub research, which utilized data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Council for Community and Economic Research, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Park Service, among other organizations and companies, to guide their research.
According to the study, the top five best states for summer road trips were Wyoming (number one), followed by North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas and Florida.
Rhode Island suffered most in its 48th ranking in terms of the costs associated with a road trip, such as high gas prices and, by the study’s determination, the second highest prices for car repairs in the nation (ahead of only Connecticut). Rhode Island also ranked 49th in the activities rank, despite having a high percentage of mileage along the ocean shoreline and scenic roads throughout its span.
Little Rhody stays true to its name in terms of national park space, as it ranked next to last in terms of having the second lowest percentage of its land be designated as National Parkland. Rhode Island only has two official national parks: The Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park and the Roger Williams National Memorial, which has the distinction of being one of the smallest national parks in the country officially described as being about four and a half acres big.
However, Rhode Island also ranked sixth best in the nation in terms of safety for travelers to the state. The state has fared well in previous studies regarding safety, and Warwick was recently named the third safest city in the country by WalletHub last year. This bright spot, however, clearly did not outweigh the low scores from the other two examined dimensions.
Commerce Corporation disagrees
As with any study, it is especially important to be wary of how data is examined and the conclusions that are made. It should be noted that the study did not seek to identify which states attract the most people from road trips, or which states bring in the most tourists, but rather analyzed criteria that they felt would contribute negatively or positively to a road trip during the summer and assessed rankings based on these relatively arbitrary attributes.
For example in this study, it should be noted that Hawaii ranked as the 47th best place to take a road trip, ahead of places like Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware – despite, obviously, being completely inaccessible in the traditional sense of a road trip.
“It's a little misconstrued,” said Lara Salamano, Chief Marketing Officer for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, in response to the study. “They don’t always seem to take into account the full truth of the situation.”
The truth from the Commerce Corporation’s perspective, as analyzed via the most recent 2017 economic impact visitors study from Tourism Economics (an Oxford Economics company who prepares annual reports for them and many states and countries around the world), is that Rhode Island’s tourism industry and booming and not showing any signs of slowing down.
“All trends say we are growing double digits to date from last year...We know we're seeing great growth,” she said. “We know the people are coming and want to visit Rhode Island.”
Salamano reported that Rhode Island had 24.6 million visitors in 2017, 7.6 million of which stayed overnight. In total, the state’s “travel economy” (an all-encompassing number that takes into consideration all the businesses and economic factors influenced by tourism in the state) reached 6.5 billion people – a 5.4 percent increase from 2016 and a 23 percent increase from just five years ago.
To defend her position, Salamano reported how a new advertising campaign, which dubs Rhode Island as “fun sized,” has already generated about $1.9 million in hotel revenue from just under $700,000 spent on short, 10-second digital advertisements that are specifically targeted to areas within driving distance of Rhode Island, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
Salamano was curious as to how Rhode Island could rank so low in the study in terms of the amount of available attractions, as she feels the state contains a wide variety of opportunities all within a short distance from one another – a kind of unilateral accessibility not many states can boast. This is, in fact, the crucial focus of the online advertising campaign, which shows everything from surfing in Narragansett and dining in Providence to snowboarding and hiking elsewhere in the state.
“That's the whole concept of being fun sized,” she said. “On Saturday we went to beach and on Saturday night my husband and I came to Providence and had an amazing meal. There’s everything from nature walks to big city living and dining all within 30 minutes.”
Additionally, Salamano was puzzled by the assessment that Rhode Island was too expensive for a road trip.
“We have so many beaches and almost free, beautiful attractions here,” she said, mentioning free walking tours of scenic locations such as Newport and trails throughout the state, which she said was 59 percent forested. “Many of these things don’t cost money to travelers.”
Despite the negative findings of the study, Salamano said there was no cause for concern for the tourism industry in Rhode Island.
“I think Rhode Island is a great state, we're seeing visitors coming and tourism is up,” she said. “We're so accessible, we've got great ports and great beaches, great greenery and trails, great attractions, great food, great children’s activities. We have a little something for everybody.”