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Business Enterprises for Sustainable Tourism Education Network
Think Tank VI: “Corporate Social Responsibility for Sustainable Tourism”
University of Girona, Spain 2006

“Stakeholder Involvement, Culture and Accountability in the Blackstone Valley: A Work in Progress”
Authors: Robert Billington, Ed. D., Veronica Cadoppi, MBA, and Natalie Carter

Institution: Sustainable Tourism Planning and Development Laboratory - Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, Inc.

Introduction: N/A

Methods: Case study research

Findings: Following its historical rise and fall, America’s first industrialized polluted landscape garnered federal and local support to remedy its near destruction. Today, the Blackstone Valley is a pragmatic example of translating theory into practice.

The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, since its inception in 1985, has applied determined leadership, innovation and commitment to its mission and innovative sustainable tourism principles in its work. This dedication to its destination, aligned with principles from the World Tourism Organization (2004), United Nations Environmental Programme & World Tourism Organization (2005), and National Geographic Society (2006), has led the way for the Blackstone Valley to become a sustainable tourism destination.

The Tourism Council has worked to preserve and enhance the Valley’s environment, respect the socio-cultural authenticity of the local communities, and provide economic growth to all stakeholders. Social responsibility from all sectors of the community have lead the Valley to find its direction, follow its vision and share it with others along the way (Billington & Manheim, 2002).

The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council continues to fulfill the vision of sustainable tourism through the Sustainable Tourism Planning and Development Laboratory. The Laboratory’s purpose is to share the Tourism Council’s experience in developing planned sustainable tourism with local, regional, state, provincial and worldwide tourism leaders, and community stakeholders seeking to develop viable and successful destinations.

Application of results: (1) Best practices to be refined or replicated, and (2) Participation in the Sustainable Planning and Development Tourism Laboratory

Conclusions: From America’s first industrialized and polluted landscape evolves the Sustainable Tourism Planning and Development Laboratory, a transformative learning initiative that prepares and encourages key decision makers and shapers to effectively design a sustainable vision for their respective communities. One of the essential outcomes of the Laboratory experience is the creation of a Tourism Development Plan to guide its sustainable tourism efforts.
Through the laboratory and other essential outreach projects, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council continues to serve as a catalyst for sustainable tourism supported by community and corporate collective consciousness.


Billington, R.D. (1999). Building bridges of peace, culture & prosperity through sustainable tourism. In R. W. Blanchard and G.D. Praetzel (Ed.), Third Global Conference - International Institute for Peace through Tourism. Regeneration of an industrial landscape through tourism – The Blackstone River Valley of New England (p. 74). New York: Niagara University.

Billington, R. D. (2004). Federal leverage attracts private investment at US heritage sites: A case study. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 10(4), 349-359.

Billington, R.D. & Manheim, P. (2002). Tourism in Asia: Development, Marketing, and Sustainability. In K. Chon, V.CS Heung & K. KF Wong (Ed.), Fifth Biennial Conference. Creating sustainable tourism development - The Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor - America’s First Industrialized Valley: the role of leadership - Creativity, cooperation and commitment (pp. 25-33). Hong Kong: School of Hotel and Tourism Management.

Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. (1992). Blackstone River Valley Rhode Island: Regional comprehensive tourism plan 1992 for the communities of Pawtucket, Cumberland, Central Falls, Woonsocket, North Smithfield, Glocester, Burrillville, Lincoln and Smithfield. Pawtucket, RI: Author.

Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor. (2006). John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor: What’s a Corridor? Retrieved February 10, 2006.

Dodds, R. & Joppe, M. (2005, June). CSR in the tourism industry? The status of and potential for certification, codes of conduct and guidelines. Study prepared for the CSR Practice Foreign Investment Advisory Service Investment Climate Department.

Fraser, B.W. (2005, February). Corporate social responsibility. Internal Auditor. 41-47.

Henderson, H. (2005). Socially responsible practice have business seeing green. Journal of Financial Planning, 16.

Henderson, D. (2005). The role of business in the world of today. Dual responsibilities of NGOs: market and institutional responsibilities and ethics. Journal of Corporate Citizenship,17, 30-32. London: Greenleaf Publishing.

National Geographic Society. (2006). National Geographic Center for sustainable destinations: About geotourism. Retrieved February 10, 2006, from http://nationalgeographic.com/travel/sustainable/about_geotourism.html

Ritchie, J.R.B. & Crouch, G.I. (2003). The competitive destination: A sustainable tourism perspective. Oxon, UK: CABI Publishing.

Rodwell, R. (2006, January 21). Social responsibility moves up the agenda companies are realizing the value of adopting core principles following much corporate disgrace [Electronic version]. South China Morning Post Publishers, Ltd.

Rypkema, D.D. (2006, Winter). Economics, sustainability, and historic preservation. Forum Journal, 20(2), 27-38.
Shultz, C. (2001, April). The Blackstone River’s industrial evolution. Yankee Magazine, 65(3), 64-79, 146-147.
Society of American Travel Writers. (1995). Phoenix Award to Robert D. Billington: For outstanding accomplishment in conservation and preservation.

Travel Industry Association of America. (2006). Economic Impact of Domestic Travel on the Blackstone Valley at Rhode Island/Massachusetts in 2004. Research Department. Washington D.C.: Author.

United Nations Environment Programme & World Tourism Organization. (2005). Making tourism more sustainable: A guide for policy makers. Paris, France and Madrid, Spain: Authors.

Wade, J.A. (1999). Students as environmental change agents. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 11(5), 251-255.

World Tourism Organization. (2001). Global code of ethics for tourism. Thirteenth WTO General Assembly: Resolution. Santiago, Chile: Author.

World Tourism Organization. (2004). Sustainable development of tourism: conceptual definition. Retrieved February 10, 2006, from http://www.world-tourism.org/frameset/frame_sustainable.html


“The Blackstone River, that runs through the heart of the Valley has carried enormous waves of prosperity, hope and the dreams of generations. It has also seen disappointment and despair as its waters carried away the textile industry to other shores. But today, that has all changed thanks to the marvelous restoration and reclamation projects” (J. Reed, US Senator, personal communication, April, 12, 2006).

The Blackstone River Valley is located in New England, the northeast corner of the United States. It is the home of over 500,000 people living in twenty-four cities and towns throughout 454 square miles of land in the watershed of the Blackstone River. It is the first industrialized river valley in the North American continent. It's where the American Industrial Revolution was launched and a business-manufacturing model expanded to transform the United States into an industrial world power. Millions of immigrants came to the Valley in search of the American dream. Yet, after 150 years of immigration, economic growth and success, the Blackstone Valley experienced a brutal economic and social downturn bringing high unemployment, empty factories and homes, a decline in resident's morale, and a heavily polluted river. In 1982 the unemployment rate was at a high of 14%.

From the organization of people with a dream and need to survive, emerged leadership, corporate social responsibility, and a vision of tourism development as an instrument to regenerate the Blackstone Valley communities by working to become a destination of interest to visitors. This innovative approach led to a drop in unemployment, an improved quality-of-life, and return of pride-of-place. Thoughts of sustainable economic change arose. Billington (1999) noted that “a Valley-wide systematic regeneration” (p. 74) surfaced in the 1980’s looking for what the Valley once had had: a robust economy and strong community values. Assisting with the turnaround, the US Congress recognized the national significance of the Blackstone Valley by establishing the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission (BRVNHCC) in 1986. This commission was designed to support, protect and celebrate the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. The emerging Blackstone Valley as a visitor destination needed the national imprimatur to help tell its significant story to the world. Likewise, President Clinton declared the Blackstone River an American Heritage River in 1998. The story of the Blackstone Valley is one of dynamic change. After almost 40 years of significant economic, environmental, socio-cultural and historical degradation, thoughtful tourism development and a new approach to corporate social responsibility emerged in the Blackstone Valley to transform this once proud, then desecrated landscape, into an interesting place to live, work and visit. Today the Blackstone Valley is a viable destination and a role model in sustainable tourism management (Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 2006; Billington & Manheim, 2002; Billington, 1999).

Here is its story, and how leadership, commitment and social awareness, in collaboration with city, state, and federal governments and thoughtful corporations, have been working to transform the Blackstone River Valley into a laboratory where successful sustainable tourism practices are implemented and shared, and can be modeled to shape destinations around the world.


The Blackstone River Valley takes a fundamental place in the history of the United States because it is where the American Industrial Revolution started, changing its landscape and transforming life in this nation. The 46-mile long Blackstone River flows north to south, from Worcester, Massachusetts to the top of Narragansett Bay, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The importance of the Blackstone River arises in its power and energy produced by the 438 feet drop in elevation and its naturally winding path. Only the Niagara River drops faster on the North American continent, making the Blackstone a naturally powerful river for industrialists to harness their water-powered machinery. The Blackstone Valley attracted over 1,000 textile factories and resulted in the construction of dams, water power structures, canals, locks, and complete villages including commercial and social centers (Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 2006).

Providence, capital of the State of Rhode Island, is located a few miles south of Pawtucket, where the first successful cotton-spinning mill in America was constructed. In the late 18th century, Providence businessmen expanded their China Trade shipping endeavors, which had a key role in the industrialization of the Blackstone Valley.
For thousands of years the pristine waters of the Blackstone River were home for several species of fish, such as Atlantic salmon, shad, and alewives, coming north up the Narragansett Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. The Nipmuck, Wampanoag and Narragansett Indians migrated along the banks of the Blackstone River. Likewise, European settlers arrived to the Blackstone Valley in 1635, building farms and villages along the Blackstone River and using its waters for fishing, drinking and basic gristmills.

This small village scenery was altered in 1790, when Samuel Slater, an English immigrant brought to the Valley his experience as an apprentice in an English cotton-spinning mill. At that time, most of this new country worked in agriculture, and textile goods were produced in the home, so Slater’s knowledge of waterpower and mechanized spinning became an opportunity for him to develop the textile industry and to make his fortune. Slater was able to reproduce the British cotton spinning, roving and carding machines he had used as an apprentice in Belper, England, thereby giving birth to the America's Industrial Revolution; and with it the sense of corporate social responsibility.
Simultaneously, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, eliminating the time-consuming dilemma of handpicking seeds out of cotton. This event, in conjunction with Slater’s system of labor and manufacturing being used throughout the nation, generated interest in the cotton industry from the South. Consequently, this initiated the explosion of the textile industry and economic independence in the United States.

In 1792, Slater constructed the first dam across the Blackstone River to manage its flow and to power the waterwheels for the factory that was to become the first successful water powered cotton-spinning mill in America a year later. Samuel Slater developed what was later known as the Rhode Island System of manufacturing: constructing complex and complete villages for families coming to work in the textile mills built along the Blackstone River. Corporate social responsibility, as understood at that time, created a way of living never seen before in America. Families lived in houses built by the mill owners, attended corporate built churches, made purchases at corporate-owned stores, and sent children to school on Sunday to keep them occupied on their one day off. Private enterprises were growing as vehicles for economic development. The more factories that were built, the more families came to America to work. This pattern of development in the Blackstone Valley sustained itself well through the 1940’s. This rapid expansion and consumptive style of development eventually paved the way for economic disinvestments and depression.

While encouraging economic growth, the textile industry had severe damaging impacts on the environment of the Blackstone River. Beginning with the construction of Slater's mill, private businesses built forty-five dams in the Blackstone River to power their mills over the next 150 years. As they searched for financial growth, they disregarded the sustainability of the region and the health of the River. This could be viewed as corporate irresponsibility, however more than likely, no one was conscious of the negative impact these acts had on the Blackstone River. The emerging age of American industrialization attracted workers from all over the world. This movement expanded from Rhode Island to New England and later to the rest of the United States, changing its agricultural economy to an imposing industrial economy. In the 1860’s, the need for American men to fight in the of the Civil War encouraged the textile industry further creating more opportunities for employment in the mills in the Blackstone Valley.

In the 1930’s inexpensive, reliable electrical power and low-cost unorganized labor encouraged factories to abandon the Blackstone Valley and move south, as they sought more efficient ways to manufacture their products. The exodus continued through the 1940's and to some extent continues today. This mass departure left empty deteriorating mills, a polluted landscape and discouraged communities. The Blackstone Valley was confronted with increasing unemployment and demoralized residents that had a distinct lack of respect for their river. By the 1950’s, the Valley had lost its morale, its identity and its vision (Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 2006; Billington & Manheim, 2002).

The rationale behind business, as traditionally understood, does not support the commitment of corporate enterprises to broadly accepted social and environmental objectives (Henderson, 2005). This self-centered corporate behavior was one of the main contributors to the deterioration of the Blackstone River Valley. In order to achieve sustainable development, which implied not only reaching to the economic dimension, but also to the socio-cultural and environmental aspects, there was an imperative need for corporations to voluntarily be responsible for all stakeholders involved in their operations (customers, employees, and investors), and to focus on improving the quality of life of local residents and visitors (Dodds & Joppe, 2005; Rodwell, 2006; Fraser, 2005; Henderson; 2005). Likewise, the World Tourism Organization (2001) considered that all stakeholders in tourism development, including the public and private sectors, have mutually dependent duties in the individual and community growth of tourism. Regenerating the Valley required businesses to redefine their role and mission, as well as their ways of operating.


The Blackstone Valley was tired, abused and depleted. It needed a way out of high unemployment, abandoned mills, and a deteriorating quality of life. No promotional roadmap, developed by either the state of Massachusetts or Rhode Island, included the Blackstone Valley as a destination. Public policy makers were indifferent to the difficulties the Valley was enduring. In response, leadership and corporate social responsibility were a priority subsequently emerging from within the ailing community.

In the 1970’s, signs of sustainable development began to emerge. Project ZAP, a locally based community initiative, turned out 10,000 residents, as well as corporate and government leaders to begin the clean up of the Blackstone River. In addition, other state and federal environmental initiatives such as Earth Day, the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the establishment of the US Clean Water Act emerged, to begin the regenerative work to clean up the Blackstone River. The state of Rhode Island was asked to analyze the creation of a linear park along the river’s banks in the 1980’s. Because the Blackstone River flowed through Massachusetts and Rhode Island, this project required bi-state collaboration: Rhode Island and Massachusetts would have to jointly clean up the river and subsequently consider developing public recreational land along the banks of the Blackstone River to insure its restoration for future generations. In view of this, and in recognition of the historical significance of the area as the “Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution”, Congress established the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor as a unit of the National Park Service to manage the cultural, historical and natural resources of the Blackstone River Valley in 1986. According to Rypkema (2006), economic development can be shaped in many ways, such as industrial employment, job security and waterfront development. Yet, historic preservation and downtown revitalization are the only two ways to achieve economic and community development concurrently. Therefore, the Blackstone Valley by implementing this course of action is being preserved to tell its story to the world.

As the Valley embraced 24 communities in over 400,000 acres of land, where 500,000 residents lived and work, the United States needed an efficient way to manage and interpret this challenging landscape. They applied a new type of historic and land preservation management system for the United States called a National Heritage Corridor. Through this mechanism, the National Park Service would work collaboratively with both states and their communities but it would not own or manage land or buildings. Therefore, redevelopment and restoration projects would have to be undertaken by state, city or private entities, with the National Park Service providing coordination, technical assistance, financial support and national distinction to the region.

The vital characteristic of the new Act provides that a top-down management framework from the federal government is prohibited. Instead, the Act is based on two principles: leadership from above and leadership from below. This principle has today more strength than ever (Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 2006; Billington & Manheim, 2002).

This federal legislative Act was important to give local leaders of the Blackstone Valley a way to assist in preservation and protection of the lands along the banks of the river and to obtain resources to encourage economic development, while maintaining and enhancing the character of the Valley: its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. These are the principles later defined by the National Geographic Society and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (National Geographic Society, 2006; World Tourism Organization, 2004). This was a new form of legislation in the United States; it assisted two states and 24 cities and towns to work together with a common planning mechanism, with technical support, and financial assistance from the National Park Service.

The US Department of Interior appointed a nineteen-person Commission to supervise and direct this partnership. The Commission’s responsibilities are to (1) operate within the community; (2) improve the quality of the river; (3) preserve the history of the Valley; (4) support the diverse cultures and traditions; (5) develop interpretative programs about the Valley and; (6) integrate and encourage quality economic development. Regeneration was based on the community needing to work together and corporations recognizing and managing their social responsibility (Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 2006; Billington & Manheim, 2002; Schultz, 2001).


A wide strategy to plan, develop and promote tourism in the Blackstone Valley began with the incorporation of the not-for-profit organization, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, and the development of a business plan for tourism improvements in nine of the Valley communities located in Rhode Island. Despite many skeptics, the Council initiated an innovative tourism development vision in the industrialized Blackstone Valley in 1985. In support to this vision, the state of Rhode Island designated the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council as the regional tourism development agency for the Northern Rhode Island Tourism District. The Council was responsible for tourism development in the cities of Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket and the towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Glocester and Burrillville. Much to the surprise of many private businesses and public officials, tourism development in the Valley began to display results and signs of interest from visitors. Comprehensive planning continued a year later, in 1986, with the creation of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission to achieve the macro objectives the US Congress defined that same year. These goals embraced education, land-management planning, historic and heritage preservation, environmental protection, and respect for the socio-cultural authenticity of the local communities (Billington, 2004).
Even though tourism was a emerging in the Valley, the National Heritage Corridor modeled the strategies of sustainable tourism development created and applied by the Tourism Council as a way to efficiently accomplish the objectives defined in its master plan. This is, to reinvigorate the Valley’s purpose, identity and direction.

The first step towards transforming the Valley was to create a framework to encourage and promote socially responsible practices among corporations, consumers and communities. The Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor Commission had to encourage residents and businesses to act responsibly and to prioritize a long-term return on investment instead of short-term economic benefits, which could support harmful and wasteful land use. Building a sense of social responsibility among residents was essential in order to regenerate the Valley. The community had to understand that the Blackstone River could be reborn. America’s first polluted river had to be cleaned up so that residents could be proud of it. Since the 1970’s with the original river Project ZAP, each year state and national initiatives have been successful in the cleanup of the Blackstone River. At least one hundred thousand automobile tires have been removed from the river and estimates indicate that it will take ten more years to clean up the river to a moderate level for swimming and fishing. Community leaders have attracted hundreds of residents to work on Blackstone River cleanup projects each year and cleanup efforts continue to take place today (Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 2006; Billington & Manheim, 2002; Billington, 2004).

In 1992, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council created the Regional Comprehensive Tourism Development Plan for Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley, which was consistent with other state-mandated plans for economic development, low-income housing, heritage preservation and industrial development in the Blackstone Valley. This plan promoted synchronized Valley-wide economic development, while preserving its important industrial heritage, factory-rich landscapes, socio-cultural diversity, and enhancing a highly degraded environment (Billington, 2004). In respect to tourism planning, Patrick Kennedy, US Congressman, stated, “the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council has worked to inspire private and public investment, and renewed sense of pride in the Blackstone Valley” (personal communication, April 16, 2006). The plan pointed the direction for public and private sectors to take creative actions and to advocate Valley tourism strategists to “think regionally and act locally” (Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, 1992, p. 7).

David Stein, Principal Partner of RE: Investments, Inc, Redevelops Historic Real Estate noted that the Council built and now maintains widespread support for its vision from every constituent and stakeholder of the community including residents, regulators, politicians, the National Park Service, environmental organizations, colleges and universities, as well as the business community (personal communication, May 1, 2006). This strategy was also the basis for tourism planning in the Massachusetts section of the Blackstone Valley and ultimately, it became the foundation for the development of a joint tourism strategic plan and program, which has been in place since 2000. This type of comprehensive long-term planning was key in the task of educating and engaging the private sector in making the Blackstone Valley a viable sustainable visitor destination (Billington & Manheim, 2002; Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, 1992). “The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council plays a key role in promoting the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor” (L. Chafee, US Senator, personal communication, April 28, 2006).

Further, according to David Stein, Principal Partner of RE: Investments, Inc, Redevelops Historic Real Estate, over the past seven years his business has been engaged in diverse projects in the Blackstone Valley. He noted that the real estate firm was first drawn to the Blackstone Valley because of its rich history and abundance of magnificently crafted mill buildings poised for adaptive reuse. “We stayed to work in the Blackstone Valley largely because of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. The Council is first among organizations, in both the public and private sectors, dedicated to strengthening Valley communities and to fostering economic growth. I attribute my company's success directly to the extraordinary work and accomplishments of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council” (personal communication, May 1, 2006).
As a result of such exhaustive planning, in just two decades of existence the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council has overseen the emergence of the region as a significant destination for both heritage and nature-based tourism. David DePetrillo, Director Rhode Island Division of Tourism and immediate past Chair of the US Council of State Travel Directors stated, “The Blackstone Valley region of Rhode Island is probably one of the best examples in the country of a destination that built its tourism promotion and product development program from practically a zero base. The numerous innovative new products it has developed, like its popular riverboat cruises and themed train rides, have helped to solidify the tourism industry as a critical part of the region’s economic base (personal communication, May 1, 2006).


The US Federal Government has assisted the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission with approximately $1,000,000 each year to help the Valley develop its programs. The National Heritage Corridor expends these funds in programs to clean the river, increase tourism, construct museums, interpret the national story, and develop a river access system. The place-making actions of the Tourism Council and the National Heritage Corridor have attracted over $500,000,000 in private investment to the Blackstone River Valley since 1986, which assists the overall regeneration plan. Stein affirmed, “as the Council began to breath new life into the Valley, walkers, joggers and bicyclists returned followed by developers, new residents, businesses and tourists from all over the world” (personal communication, May 1, 2006). Additionally, artists and small business owners started to find the Blackstone Valley an appealing place to settle (Billington, 2004; Billington & Manheim, 2002).

Creativity, leadership, engagement and collaboration at all levels of the community have helped the Blackstone Valley. Today, four full-service Visitor Centers are open along the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor with another under construction. Samuel Slater’s Mill has been preserved and is the centerpiece for Pawtucket riverfront and downtown Main Street development. Today, Slater Mill operates as a museum offering working exhibits and living history presentations. National Park Rangers traverse the Valley to tell the story of the Birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution. There are now at least 21 species of fish living in the Blackstone River where in the 1970’s there were only two species.

The Blackstone Canal, constructed alongside the river in 1828, has recently been placed on the US National Register of Historic Places and is now a destination for education, public recreation and passive enjoyment. Many of the Blackstone’s working mills and mill villages are being restored and converted into housing or sophisticated office and retail space.
In 1997, the city of Woonsocket led the effort to preserve their history and cultures of the Blackstone Valley by developing the Museum of Work and Culture, to give tribute to the immigrant groups and the work they performed to shape the lifestyle of the Blackstone Valley. The Irish-American band Pendragon hosts regular performances in a renovated theater they created in a former Masonic Temple.

The cities of Pawtucket and Providence have developed special arts districts. A bicycle path that extends the length of Blackstone River is being constructed. Today, many cultural attractions and events draw thousands of visitors to the Blackstone Valley.

Since 1993, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council has carried nearly 300,000 people on its riverboat Blackstone Valley Explorer. In 1999, the Council launched two 50-passenger riverboats to bring public to the Blackstone Valley using the riverway as an alternative to the Interstate highway system. In 2000, a British-built canal boat, The Samuel Slater, was imported to operate river tours and serve as Rhode Island’s first floating bed and breakfast. A third riverboat, the Spirit of the Blackstone Valley, is also used to cruise sections of the Blackstone and Providence rivers.

Events like the Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Race and Taiwan Day Festival collaborate with city and state governments, private developers, local residents, the Chinese American Church, China Airlines, the Taipei Office of Culture and Economic Development of Boston, the Taiwan Visitor Association and the Taiwan, Republic of China, to develop an impressive riverfront event with international entertainment. Herb Weiss, Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer, noted, “The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council works closely with the City of Pawtucket to plan and develop tourism in our community. Through their efforts, Pawtucket has become a destination for tens of thousands of people” (personal communication, April 29, 2006).

In 2005, a first-time event highlighted the historic, artistic, cultural and environmental attributes of the Blackstone River Valley by providing a weekend to celebrate the Preserve America designations. The Blackstone Valley Footsteps in History Preserve America Program was the largest and most inclusive, arts, environmental, heritage and cultural event in the National Heritage Corridor’s history, encompassing the 24 communities at 150 venues throughout the Valley. This event took place through the collaborative effort of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and several prominent corporations. In March 2006, the Blackstone River Tourism Council was present to receive a $120,000 federal grant from First Lady Laura Bush to continue and expand the Blackstone Valley Footsteps in History event through 2006 and 2007.

Elderhostel, study groups, as well as communities throughout the world have used the Blackstone Valley as a classroom. The Tourism Council currently offers ten Elderhostel programs annually, which take place over weekend and weeklong periods. These are built to create an educational setting for groups seeking to learn and experience the Valley first-hand.
Today, several regional educational institutions, such as Johnson & Wales University, Holy Cross College, Clark University, Brown University, and University of Rhode Island include the Blackstone Valley as part of their curriculum (Billington & Manheim, 2002). Likewise, the business community works closely with the Tourism Council in several ways to develop the Blackstone as a destination. John Gregory, President of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce notes that because of the pride instilled by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in the fact that it is are a destination area, many in the business community have stepped up to contribute. “In some cases it has been financial support to help historic landmarks like Slater Mill. In other cases it’s encouraging employees to volunteer for everything from community clean-up days to volunteering for the National Park Service. The Chamber is fortunate to have a partner like the Tourism Council. We have worked with them on traditional projects as well as less traditional projects like the Blackstone Valley Flood Forum in early 2006. The Tourism Council and the Chamber reacted to the concerns of the community after the flood in October 2005 and the forum was one of the results of that shared pride in the Valley” (personal communication, April 29, 2006).

These positive changes led corporations to reflect on the need to be responsible for all community stakeholders. Several Blackstone Valley investors and corporations are making decisions on their future plans using social and ethical principles and realizing they could be even more profitable by being sensitive to the preservation, the social and the environmental goals of the community. According to Stein “having reached the end of its useful life as a source of water power and as a repository for industrial and domestic waste, the Blackstone River was depleted of life and left unfit to attract new life. Into this environment steps the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. It started with the basics - a vision of a renewed, richly revitalized river valley. It was a vision of a region where people are drawn to live, work, recreate and otherwise celebrate the natural and made-made wonders. It was a vision of a river once again fishable, swimmable and functioning as a lure for boaters. To match the industrial starkness of the Valley with its post-industrial vision, the Tourism Council set about the daunting task to lead this catalytic change pixel by pixel” (personal communication, May 1, 2006).

According to Fraser (2005), Rodwell (2006) and Dodds & Joppe (2005), the definition of corporate social responsibility and sustainable tourism share similar principles and elements, in that both concentrate on identifying and engaging stakeholders and assuring forethought of how their actions impact others. While corporate social responsibility refers to companies’ simultaneous obligation to all of its stakeholders and the search for sustainable development, sustainable tourism development requires optimal use of environmental resources, respect for the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, and economic benefits to all stakeholders (World Tourism Organization, 2004). In addition, there are increasing overall societal and environmental concerns, which increase the demand for more sustainable destinations and travel preferences. This trend is increasing the pressure for destination management policies and corporate responsibility. Businesses impact lives, finances, health, and safety of their employees, consumers, suppliers and investors, therefore corporations are challenged to be successful while at the same time be aware of the world where they operate (Henderson, 2005). Similarly, Ritchie and Crouch (2003) affirmed that tourism activities and new business development contributes to destination growth and competitiveness in several ways, such as, competition, cooperation, specialization, innovation, facilitation, investment, development, etc.

“The Valley has come back to life, with new generations living along its banks and a river that is cleaner and more usable everyday. It is certainly a destination and hopefully becoming one of growing international recognition” (J. Reed, US Senator, personal communication, April 12, 2006).

A selection of the private investments that have taken place in the Valley include the following:

  • $4 million to renovate the American Heritage River Building, Pawtucket, 1999.

  • $4 million to transform the Green & Daniels Mills into condominiums and offices, Pawtucket.

  • $30 million to build the Pawtucket Riverfront Lofts, condominiums and office space, Pawtucket.

  • $40 million to transform a former textile mill into a housing complex adjacent to the Blackstone Bike Path and River, Cumberland.

  • $1 million to develop the former Narragansett Knitting Mills as a housing complex, Woonsocket.

  • $200 million to transform the former Ocean State Steel Company into housing, offices and retail space, East Providence.

  • $45 million to build riverfront condominiums, Sutton, MA.

  • $25 million to develop three river projects, North Smithfield (in early stages).

  • $16 million to construct a Hotel on the Pawtucket River, currently under construction.

  • $2 million to develop Central Falls Landing, pending.

Private investment in the Blackstone Valley is now dwarfing the federal investment, which initially led the public regeneration investment (Billington, 2004; Billington & Manheim, 2002).

While the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council considers heritage development, social improvement, infrastructure development, education improvements, cultural sharing and economic development all equally important bottom lines and essential for a destination to develop and maintain genuine competitiveness, economic impacts of tourism are always of most interest to practitioners (Ritchie & Crouch, 2003). According to a recent preliminary study for the calendar year 2004, performed by the Research Department of the Travel Industry Association of America, 12% of the visitation to the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is for business purposes, 48% of visitors stayed overnight and $474.4 million was spent on transportation, lodging, food, entertainment and recreation, and incidentals. This activity generated 6,400 jobs, $124.6 million in wages and salary income and $39.6 million in tax revenue (Travel Industry Association of America, 2006). The Tourism Council’s work is recognized statewide. The Honorable D. Carcieri, Rhode Island Governor, recently acknowledged, “since its beginning, the Tourism Council has worked to develop, promote and expand the economic and community development base of the cities and towns in Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley” (personal communication, April 21, 2006).


There is a growing need in communities around the world to design thoughtful tourism planning and development strategies. The concept of effective tourism planning in a community eludes many of today's destination management organizations. The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, in the interest of being socially responsible, is interested in sharing its practices with the world, by with creating the Sustainable Tourism Planning and Development Laboratory in the Blackstone River Valley.

Tourism may impact a community negatively or positively. To minimize the negative effects, it must be developed considering many interests, including stakeholder participation and thoughtful policy. The Laboratory will prepare current and future leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to build and shape a successful sustainable tourism destination.

The Laboratory’s purpose is to introduce the concept of planned sustainable tourism to local, regional, state, provincial and worldwide tourism organization leaders and their stakeholders.

The Laboratory is an experiential community-based learning opportunity that offers tailor-made solutions to communities seeking to shape a tourism development program with internationally practiced tourism planning strategies. Each Laboratory experience is presented over a five-day period and is designed to empower stakeholders in leading enlightened community development.

With 20 years’ experience in sustainable tourism planning and development in the Birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council collegially shares its expertise. Led by highly skilled practitioners with extensive experience in the private and public sectors, this program provides a transformative learning experience that prepares and encourages key decision makers and shapers to contribute effectively to their communities. It is important that businesses evolve along the continuum towards the “sustainable vision” and managers and stakeholders are able to develop strategies to facilitate this progression (Wade, 1999). Peter Conway, Vice President of Conway Tours/Grayline highlighted the public and private collaboration dynamic existing in the Valley, stating, “The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council has demonstrated how important it is for non-profit tourism agencies to work with corporations and the business community at large to achieve their goals. To augment its limited budget, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council has reached out to companies such as Conway Tours/Gray Line of Rhode Island to build partnerships in order to further develop and enhance tourism in the Blackstone Valley and beyond” (personal communication, April 28, 2006).

The Tourism Council has worked on four continents, exchanging ideas and forming relationships that have nourished economic development and considers international leadership vital for the Laboratory’s success. Current staff members of the Tourism Laboratory come from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Rwanda, Canada, and Colombia.
One of the essential outcomes of the Laboratory experience is the creation of a Tourism Development Plan to guide the participating community’s sustainable tourism efforts. Participating communities will receive a Comprehensive Tourism Development Plan, which they work to create while and subsequent to attending the Laboratory. The Plan will be delivered to the community 60 days after completion of the Laboratory sessions and will be a blueprint for the community's tourism future. While community participants are encouraged to attend the Tourism Laboratory in the Blackstone Valley, to observe and experience a regenerating tourism destination, a team from the Tourism Laboratory will travel to the corresponding community if this is not possible.

The presentation for the Tourism Laboratory experience is flexible. It can be held at any time during the year, based on the needs of the interested community. To best maximize the experience, the Tourism Laboratory encourages a group of three to eight people from the community to attend. The balance of tourism planning theory and practical application provides decision makers with knowledge and expertise to achieve sustainable and demonstrable results in their communities.

Since the Tourism Laboratory is uniquely tailored to meet the needs of the participating communities, participants are asked to submit in-depth information about their community two months prior to the commencement of the Laboratory experience. Only one community at a time will participate in the Laboratory. Moreover, the fees for the Laboratory include tuition, accommodations, meals, and transportation within the Laboratory setting. All travel expenses for the Laboratory are responsibility of the participants and/or their respective administrations.

A typical day at the Laboratory will begin with a classroom discussion led by a Subject Matter Expert and will be followed by field-learning experiences to balance tourism planning theory and practical application. Depending on the topics to be addressed, typical afternoons at the Laboratory will reiterate the structure of the morning session. At the end of each day, the group will have the opportunity to debrief at a dinner meeting, and discuss ideas and lessons learned. This shared collegiality with the experts provides civic leaders with the necessary knowledge and expertise to achieve sustainable and demonstrable results in their communities.

The Laboratory is accessible via Amtrak Railroad, by Greyhound Bus, Logan International Airport Boston, MA (BOS), and TF Green Airport Providence, RI (PVD). Instructional materials are mined from the World Tourism Organization, the Business Enterprises for Sustainable Tourism Education Network, National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, and other recognized best-practice tourism planning and development organizations.


This paper examines the impact of education, leadership, involvement and social and corporate awareness upon the regeneration of the communities in the Blackstone Valley. Sustainable tourism planning and development has created positive change in the Valley over several decades. Partnerships among the private and public sectors, historic preservation, landscape enhancements, and education have stopped the economic “free-fall” and created awareness “to endure that the Blackstone Valley is not just a place to live but a place worth living” (Billington & Manheim, 2002, p.358). Through the Blackstone Valley’s efforts, business constituencies have begun to recognize the importance of being responsible to the society where they operate, beyond their traditional functions of encouraging wealth and profit (Billington, 2004).

The Blackstone Valley has applied World Tourism Organization (2004) and United Nations Environmental Programme & World Tourism Organization (2005) principles to move to a sustainable visitor destination. The Valley has preserved its environment, respected the socio-cultural authenticity of the local communities, and provided economic growth to all stakeholders. Leadership, creativity, collaboration, commitment and social accountability from all sectors of the community have lead the Valley to find its direction, follow its vision and share it with others along the way (Billington & Manheim, 2002).

The Sustainable Planning and Development Tourism Laboratory is the next challenge for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in its dedication to lead social responsibility to the larger community. According to the Society of American Travel Writers (1995), the Blackstone Valley is the “Phoenix rising”. The Tourism Council accepts that commendation with the eagerness to share their success.

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