COVID-19 takes a toll on Newport’s tourism industry, Folk and Jazz festivals

Summer in Newport will be looking much different this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions on large group gatherings.

NEWPORT, R.I. (WLNE) – Summer in Newport will be looking much different this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions on large group gatherings.

The city relies on the tourism industry for a major chunk of its revenue, but with large events canceled or postponed, the economic impact from the pandemic is set to be devastating.

“For the last 8 weeks, each week consecutively has brought sad news about a cancellation of another major event.”

Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport, said weddings and conferences have been pushed to the fall, and as the weeks go on, concerts and festivals are getting canceled. He said all of the events combined generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Newport.

“We’re losing a lot of taxes. There’s sales taxes, lodging taxes, meals taxes… So the loss is significant, but what’s interesting is that people’s spirits are high.”

Smith said people visiting Newport will have to find new ways to enjoy the summer months. He said dining at restaurants, enjoying the water, hiking, and fishing are just some alternatives to attending large events.

“The event schedule is not gonna happen, so people are gonna have to find other ways to enjoy our city. While the big events aren’t gonna happen, there’s still gonna be a lot of fun things happening this summer,” said Smith.

On Wednesday, the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk festivals were called off. Both events take place over two weekends in August.

“Our biggest payoff is on six days, and those six days are gone,” said Jay Sweet, executive producer of the festivals.

Sweet praised Governor Gina Raimondo for her help, saying it was a partnership between his organization and her office to make the tough decision.

The festivals are offering those who already purchased tickets a refund, but, Sweet says, he hopes fans will donate the money, or apply their ticket value to next year’s event.

“In this time of adversity and hardships it was in our DNA to of course let the decision about our future be in the hands of our fans.”

Sweet said, he doesn’t yet know the financial impact this will have on the organization, but he hopes to have a better idea over the next few weeks when the refund window closes.

“The health of us as an organization, it’s in the balance right now. There are certain numbers if we don’t get to, we’re gonna have to make substantial changes both to our own organization and the amount of work we can do for Rhode Island, New England and well beyond.”

The organization helps fund other musical non-profits, donates money and instruments to school music programs, and supports musicians. But to do that, they rely on the money they make from merchandise, alcohol sales, and parking.

“Everything is in the hands of the fans right now because we don’t have the ability to go sell beer or parking… Income that’s not gonna happen this year, and that’s a very big chunk of money that has evaporated.”

Sweet said the festival hopes to go on as planned in 2021.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: News