Kentucky tourism trends

Kentucky attributes tourism increase
to earlier funding initiatives

Carroll County, Northern Ky.
report having a stellar year

By Don Ward

(MADISON, Ind. (Sept. 2003) – While Indiana tourism officials struggle to cope with falling numbers in visitation and hotels stays, across the Ohio River, the story is much different.
The Kentucky Department of Travel in Frankfort reports a booming year. Even regionally in Carrollton, tourism is on the rise, according to Robin Caldwell, director of the Carrollton-Carroll County Tourism and Convention Commission.

Ky speedway crowd

Photo by Don Ward

Kentucky Speedway crowd Aug. 17, 2003

"This has been a record year for us (in innkeepers tax collection). Our July numbers were through the roof. And our March figures were $6,000 over our expectations. We’re very happy with that, and we’re even considering moving our office out onto Hwy. 227 to be closer to the interstate.”
Carroll County reaped $157,688 in innkeepers taxes for 2000, its highest in recent years, records show. In 2001, the number slipped to $153,873; in 2002 it dropped to $149,409. This year is up, with $84,088 reported through June, as compared to $64,192 during the same period last year.
“Our spring events were hurt by bad weather, but the summer has been great,” Caldwell said. Carollton annually plays host to the Kentucky Scottish Festival in May, the Kentucky B.A.S.S. Federation pro fishing tournament in June, the Bluegrass Festival in July and the Blues to the Point festival in September, among other events.
While Madison boasts tourism attractions such as the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, several historic homes, a historic Main Street shopping district, Clifty Falls State Park and a scenic riverfront, Carrollton relies on its location to busy I-71, Gen. Butler State Park and its proximity of 14 miles to the Kentucky Speedway.
More than anything, Carrollton’s seven hotels, four bed and breakfasts, and Gen. Butler State Resort Park’s lodge are helped by the city’s location on I-71 and booming industry along the Ohio River. What’s more, the state spends nearly twice as much on marketing tourism, $7 million compared to Indiana’s budgeted $4.5 million, before recent budget cuts reduced it further. Those numbers rank Kentucky 29th among U.S. states in spending on tourism development and marketing, compared to Indiana’s 42nd rank.
Robin Caldwell

Robin Caldwell, Carrollton tourism director

“Granted, a lot of our hotel rooms are filled with construction workers from the plants, but I know a lot of them are tourists,” said Caldwell. “The problem is getting those tourists to come downtown Carrollton. Our tourism board is in the process of finalizing a site on Hwy. 227 to move into so we can better direct people downtown.”
The state’s transportation department is embarking on a widening project of Hwy. 227 this year that, when finished, will make travel along the busy boulevard much easier. Furthermore, the opening of Gen. Butler’s Convention Center two years ago has become a popular destination for family reunions and corporate groups. It is nearly booked year-round, reports Butler’s group sales manager Donna Thomas.
Lodging at the park’s 55 rooms, however, have suffered in recent years. In fact, the Northern Kentucky region, which includes Butler Park, showed a negative 12.9 percent, the second-biggest decrease in occupancy rates for July 2003, compared with July 2002, state records show. Only Eastern Highlands-South region was worse, at 14.7 percent.
Gen. Butler’s general manager Steve Jones said he was concerned about how rising gas prices might affect visitation. “When gas prices go up as high as they are now, people don’t want to travel. There’s still a general feeling of uncertainty for a lot of people when it comes to travel.”
But state parks are only a part of the equation. In May, Kentucky Tourism Develop-ment Cabinet Secretary Ann Latta released a glowing report citing the state’s recovery from the events of September 2001. The tourism industry reached a milestone by topping $9.1 billion in 2002, the report said, with expenditures up $452 million over 2001, an increase of 5.2 percent.
Tourism-related employment also increased, by 4,355 jobs, and state and local tax revenues were also up.
More than 164,000 Kentuckians are employed in tourism-related jobs. The industry generates $942 million in state and local taxes.
“It’s obvious that the innovative programs we’ve introduced to obtain more tourism development are taking effect, and that more people are taking advantage of what the Commonwealth has to offer as a tourist destination,” Latta said.
Over a seven-year period, Kentucky tourism has increased by more than $2 billion, or 28.4 percent, the report said.
To achieve the goals, Latta cited Gov. Paul Patton’s move to designated $2 million from coal severance taxes to be used to promote Eastern Kentucky travel, which was up 11 percent last year alone. She also cited the passage of the Kentucky Tourism Development Act in 1996. The legislation generated nearly a half-billion in private capital invested in new or expanded major tourism attractions through incentives. Both the Kentucky Speedway and the Newport Aquarium were developed at that time and benefitted from the program.
“It just so happened that both attractions were in the Northern Kentucky region, and now we’re seeing the results of that,” said Barbara Atwood, assistant director of the Kentucky Department of Travel.
Atwood said that in 1999 prior the opening of the Kentucky Speedway, Gallatin County showed $2.9 million in economic impact from tourism; after the track opened, that number jumped to $23.4 million in 2000. That includes all tourism-related spending on such things as tickets, food, souvenirs, lodging and gas. And the county has virtually no hotels, although a Ramada Inn is opening soon.
By contrast, tourists pumped $38.3 million into Carroll County’s economy in 2002, which was down slightly from 2001.
“I believe we will get back to 2000 levels and surpass it, but it will just take some time because of these factors we can’t control, the biggest of which is the weather,” said Atwood, a 23-year veteran of the department.
In her May report, Latta said all of the state’s nine tourism regions showed gains in 2002. The Northern Kentucky region was up $46.3 million, to $721.6 million, ranking third behind Louisville and Lexington regions.
Despite these figures, Kentucky did not escape negative impact from 9/11 and the poor economy that continues to plague the nation. The state had its peak year of travel activity in 2000, with the numbers already declining in the months prior to 9/11, according to the state’s tourism research specialist Larry Southard. But by November and December 2001, travel activity had returned to normal levels.
For the entire year of 2001, activity at Kentucky’s tourism and travel facilities was down by 2.7 percent from 2000, and pass-through traffic was down by 4.9 percent. Travel spending was down by 3.1 percent.
In 2002, tourism and travel activity to Kentucky’s facilities increased by 2 percent, while pass-through travel increased by 1 percent over levels established in 2001. Spending by travlers increased by 2.8 percent from 2001 to 2002.
Southard said the industry is down about 5 percent so far in 2003, as compared to the same period last year. Business managers cite cool, rainy weather in spring and early summer,the continuing sluggish economy, and terrorism fears as primary factors.
“Any one of these factors would be a problem in and of itself,” Atwood said, “but throw them all together and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’ ”

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