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The Town of South Kingstown has created a “COVID Safe Harbor” marketing campaign to help consumers identify local businesses following coronavirus-related safety measures recommended by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Although state officials are taking a slow path toward re-starting attractions and businesses that feed local tourism, town officials and business leaders are advertising the community is open for business.

Town officials, in an effort sought by local businesses mired in losses, are sending letters to nearly 3,000 out-of-town property owners declaring: “You can come back with confidence.”

Both want to address head on coronavirus fears that could spoil tourism, business owners have said, adding that they want to capture any amount of revenue possible as Memorial Day weekend heralds the start of the summer season.

“On behalf of the Town Council, I’m writing to let you know that South Kingstown’s restaurants and businesses have been busy preparing for the summer season and town officials are working to make sure summer in South Kingstown will be as COVID-safe as possible,” Robert Zarnetske, town manager, wrote in the letter mailed earlier this week.  

It’s also about a pro-active move to safeguard against the state’s slow re-opening that could leave potential tourists – revenue generators for business – going elsewhere this summer, business leaders have said.

Ralph Mollis, North Kingstown town manager, said he heard about this mailing that South Kingstown is doing and “we are open to such a campaign and intend on discussing further in the near future,” he said.

The approach may also be incorporated into efforts by local chambers of commerce, Zarnetske said.

Included in the effort is a social media campaign with a planned video portraying various business owners each reciting one way they are helping to keep their business safe from infection and welcoming for visitors.

Joseph Viele, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and South Kingstown Town Council member, said the video complements the letter and also reaches those who don’t own property.

“You’ll see and feel we’re open for business and how we’re protecting you,” he said about the central message in the 30-to-90-second video. “Businesses are ready and they are eager,” he said.

It’s been an extraordinary tough two months for South County businesses whose profit margins normally sink in the winter as tourism wanes. Earnings rise again in the spring through the autumn as tourists and day trippers pump in cash that lifts the margins.

With the coronavirus sickening people, state officials’ restrictions to stop its spread, public reactions to the illness,  and no full recovery date yet ahead, forecasts for a fall virus resurgence hold possibly more bad news for them.

These leave business owners wary about their own and others’ businesses failing from being chained to inescapable and intermingled economic drivers for the South County region.

In a series of town council weekly workshops to discuss what can be done to help, many owners voiced the desire that there is a need to be proactive using available marketing tools, such as town mailing lists to out-of-town property owners.

In the letter Zarnetske points out that the town has been working with local businesses to create as “COVID Safe Harbor” program. It will include a special logo with that message embossed on it.

“Working with local businesses, we’ve designed a “COVID Safe Harbor” program we want to share with you. Our COVID Safe Harbor logo will help you identify businesses that have implemented the recommendations made by the RI Department of Health and completed the State’s COVID-19 safety checklist,” he wrote.

These businesses may be randomly spot inspected by state and local officials throughout the summer to ensure consistent COVID-safe practices. “While there are no absolute guarantees, we hope that our local commitment will provide you with peace of mind as you consider your summer plans,” he said.

It also signals that the businesses follow the town’s best practices and innovations to improve customer security.

“Things will be different this year, there is no doubt about it,” he acknowledges and previews some changes such as fewer beach passes, reservation-only dining for a limited number of tables and the surge in the take-out order business for restaurants keeping open during the pandemic.

However, he draws on the attractions as remembered by visitors to entice them to return to the Ocean State.

“There will be a little more distance between the beach towels, but the sun will be just as close as it ever was and roar of the waves will still be heard,” he wrote.

“The laughter and smiles will still be here and the memories made will still last a lifetime. We want you to know you can come back and we hope you’ll join us soon,” he said.

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