NEWPORT, R.I. -- The Preservation Society of Newport County is concerned about a drop in the number of visitors to its opulent mansions, a trend the head of the organization described as a ''major concern."
The society's Gilded Age mansions, which include The Breakers and Marble House, draw about 800,000 visitors a year and are the fourth most-visited cultural attraction in New England.
But visits to the society's mansions have decreased by about 10 percent since the mid-1990s, and other cultural and historical sites in the region have experienced even steeper drops.
''Basically, what we're seeing is a steady, long-term drop in the number of people visiting the Newport mansions," Trudy Coxe, CEO of the Preservation Society, told The Providence Sunday Journal.
''Some years, like this one, it goes up. Other years, it goes down. But overall, the numbers are trending down, and that's a major concern for us," Coxe said.
The society, which will celebrate its 60th birthday next weekend, is the state's largest cultural organization, with a budget of $18 million in 2005 and a staff of more than 120 full-time workers.
It has adopted strategies to draw more tourists to the mansions, including offering family-friendly tours and selling tour packages that allow for visits to multiple houses.
Coxe said the travel industry has changed over the years, with fewer Americans seeming interested in visiting historical attractions.
''So far, it's not a full-fledged crisis, but it's worrisome," Coxe said. ''Beginning in the early 1990s, attendance at cultural and historical sites around New England began dropping. And it's continued to drop, off and on, ever since."
Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium in Boston, said many vacationers are taking leisure-based trips to spas and resorts.
Coxe said she thought it ''doesn't make sense" that Rhode Island has seven separate tourism districts that divide the state and vie for money and attention.
But David DePetrillo, the state tourism director, defended the districts.
''Yes, Rhode Island is a small state, but that doesn't mean that what's good for Newport or South County is also good for the Blackstone Valley," DePetrillo said.
''The reason we have different tourism regions is because different areas appeal to different people."