PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — People travel from all over the world to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, see the autumn leaves turn in Vermont and New Hampshire and eat lobster in Maine. A new campaign involving tourism officials in three states to the south and west of Boston is aimed at peeling off some of those visitors and attracting new ones to a region they have dubbed "SoNew."
A series of tours on Saturday is the first event in their effort to tie together several attractions in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut in an attempt to turn Southern New England into a national and international destination.
"If you know Southern New England, if you know the Blackstone Valley, if you know Cape Cod, if you know the area between Mystic and Newport and you linger in the borderlands between Connecticut and Rhode Island, you've discovered an area that is deep in history, has incredible natural beauty, beautiful natural features," said Peter Glankoff, executive vice president at the Sea Research Foundation, which operates Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. "There's so much to discover."
While the six New England states are marketed nationally and internationally as a single destination, much of the attention is focused on the northern states. Glankoff and colleagues including Bob Billington, director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in Rhode Island, have been talking about ways to better connect their destinations.
For example, visitors interested in ocean life might not know the whaling museum in New Bedford, Mass., whale watching on Cape Cod and the Mystic Aquarium are all within a short drive of each other, said Matt Caspari of Caspari McCormick, a Delaware-based marketing firm that works with the Mystic Aquarium and who came up with the "SoNew" name.
Caspari said unifying some of the attractions by way of a coordinated campaign can help people plan their vacations. Otherwise, they may not realize how easy it is to go kayaking in the Blackstone River, visit the Newport mansions and Mystic Seaport and see Cape Cod all in one short trip.
Right now, tourists "really have to do a lot of research to connect the dots. The idea here is that it'll allow people to connect the dots, and it will give us a recognizable geography that will attract people from far away," Caspari said. "It will allow the visitor to make the full story without going to dozens of websites to research it themselves, and it will allow the attractions to link up to other attractions."
Another initiative being planned is a bicycle race between Newport and Mystic, which coordinators hope to launch next year, Caspari said.
Saturday's program, called Southern New England Discovery Tours, is an expansion of a smaller program, called Tour Rhode Island, which Billington's group has run. He expanded it this year beyond the state's borders as a way to take the first steps in the SoNew campaign. Thirteen different bus tours and one bicycle tour will depart Saturday morning, most leaving from Twin River casino in Lincoln, R.I.
They will visit destinations as varied as the Worcester, Mass., canal district to the Rhode Island Statehouse to "paranormal" locations in the so-called Quiet Corner of Connecticut, where the three states come together.
Billington called the bus tours the beginning of an effort to build recognition of Southern New England.
"If local people know their locale, their state and their surrounding area better, they become the ambassadors, they become the salespeople," Billington said. "We need hundreds of people talking and chatting and Facebooking about Southern New England."