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Rhode Island hasn't always done a good job of promoting itself as a tourist destination.
During the 1980s, the state created catchy ads touting Rhode Island as "the biggest little state in the Union," yet didn't invest money to run them outside the Ocean State. Other slogans such as "America's First Resort" and "Our People Make Us Great" never really caught on. (We couldn't even remember them. We had to look them up.)
So it seemed plausible when Mark Brodeur, director of the state's tourism division, told The Journal that Rhode Island's current tourism budget is $720,000, which he said is less than 10 percent of the $11 million that, on average, other states spend promoting tourism.
But we wanted to know whether the level is really that low, especially if you factor in Rhode Island's small size.
Our first stop was a call to Brodeur's office, where we asked for the source of his numbers. He wasn't available for an immediate answer so we did some digging on our own.
New Hampshire's Division of Travel & Tourism Development had no trouble coming up with numbers. Spokesman Tai Freligh e-mailed us a January 2010 report from the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group in Washington, D.C., that surveyed tourism budgets for 2008 to 2009.
It reports that Rhode Island ranked 48th out of 48 states when it came to spending money on tourism promotion. (The report had no data for Massachusetts or New Jersey.) It listed the median state expenditure for state tourism offices as nearly $11.8 million, the "average" Brodeur was apparently referring to.
Ten percent of $11.8 million would be $1.18 million. The $720,000 Rhode Island spends is, in fact, less than 10 percent of that (8.5 percent, in fact).
So far so good.
Then the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, at Brodeur's request, sent us statistics, citing U.S. Travel as the source, that seemed more complete.
According to the newer figures for the now-complete 2010 fiscal year, Rhode Island again ranked dead last on the total amount spent. Second from the bottom was Connecticut, which cut its tourism spending from $5.7 million for the 2009 fiscal year to $981,538 the following year.
The median amount spent by a state was $10.2 million. Even if Rhode Island was spending $1 million promoting tourism, we would still be 10 percent below the norm, according to the numbers Brodeur's office sent us.
Brodeur's statement continued to ring true.
However, when we adjusted the numbers to account for Rhode Island's size, it revealed a different story.
But first, for the benefit of people who are savvy in math, we have to nitpick.
The "average" state tourism budget numbers that we've been citing ($11.8 million in 2009 and $10.2 million in 2010) aren't really averages. They're medians -- or the amounts spent by the two states in the middle of the list, as ranked by the amount spent. (The true average in both years is actually higher -- $13.5 million in 2010, for example -- because a few states such as Hawaii and California spent a disproportionately higher amount.)
So far, the distinction hasn't mattered. Whether you talk about average or median, Rhode Island's spending is 10 percent below either figure.
Now let's talk about per person (also known as per capita) spending.
We divided each state expenditure by the state's population, using U.S. Census Bureau estimates for July 1, 2009.
Suddenly our ranking improves, but not by much.
For 2010, Rhode Island was fifth from the bottom, at 68 cents per person. Only Ohio, Indiana, New York and Connecticut spent less.
But the amount wasn't low enough for Brodeur's statement to be accurate. According to our calculations, based on the numbers provided by the EDC, states, on average, spent $4.69 per person promoting tourism. The median was $2.40 per person.
Ten percent of the average spent would be 47 cents. Ten percent of the median spent would be 24 cents.
At 68 cents, we were well above both those amounts.
When Brodeur says that Rhode Island spends less than 10 percent of what the average state spends promoting tourism, that's true only if you ignore each state's population. Once that is factored into the equation, no matter which "average" you look at, his statement is wrong.
But in the end, Brodeur's broader point that, compared with other states, Rhode Island spends very little promoting tourism is correct, especially when you take into consideration the fact that Rhode Island's tourism office had a budget of nearly $3 million in 1994.
So Brodeur gets an "I survived the Truth-O-Meter" T-shirt and a ruling of Mostly True.
ProJo.com, "Market R.I. as destination for multi-layered tourism experience, consultants say," Dec. 2, 2010
Report, "2008-2009 Survey of U.S. State and Territory Tourism Office Budgets," U.S. Travel Association and the National Laboratory for Tourism & eCommerce, Temple University," Jan. 2010, accessed Dec. 8, 2010
Email, Melissa Chambers, senior communications manager, Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, Dec. 9, 2010
U.S. Census Bureau, "National and State Population Estimates," accessed Dec. 8, 2010
Email, Harold Daniel, associate professor of marketing, University of Maine, Dec. 8, 2010
Report, "State Tourism Office Funding," Pennsylvania Tourism Office," February 2010, accessed Dec. 10, 2010
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