FRANKFORT – Last week, state tourism leaders unveiled the latest annual study on the positive impact this industry has in Kentucky. In a word, the news was good.
Overall, tourism generated more than $15 billion in direct and indirect sales in 2017, with the direct sales portion increasing by almost four percent over 2016’s total. Tourism supported more than 195,000 jobs and provided a little more than $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenue.
What makes these numbers even better is that every region of the state saw an uptick, with Western and Northern Kentucky seeing the biggest increases.
There is a lot of hard work behind this success, but Kentucky is blessed to have some built-in advantages, too. We’re home to such one-of-a-kind draws as Mammoth Cave and the Kentucky Derby as well as the country’s population center east of the Rockies, which essentially means that no state is closer to more Americans than ours.
Mammoth Cave is not only the world’s largest cave at 400 miles and counting; this national park is also the United States’ second-oldest paid tourist attraction, after Niagara Falls. Its first customers made the trek underground a little more than two centuries ago.
Aboveground, we also have a lot going in our favor. Outdoor tourism, for one, brought in almost $13 billion in 2016, according to a national study cited last summer by our Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
We generated a major portion of that ourselves, with nearly two-thirds of Kentuckians taking part in such activities as camping, fishing, hunting, trail riding and wildlife watching. Nationally, outdoor enthusiasts spent almost $890 billion during that year.
Perhaps our biggest draw of out-of-state visitors is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which drew more than a million people in 2017, the second year in a row we’ve reached seven figures.
There are actually two trails, with one focused on the larger heritage distilleries and the other on the craft distilleries. Combined, there are about two dozen of them on these two trails, with most in Central Kentucky.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly approved two new laws designed to help them and our microbreweries. Those will make it easier for the distilleries to ship their product to customers and for the microbreweries to sell more on-site and at places like festivals.
Another new law designed to bolster tourism calls on state officials to collaborate with Civil War advocates to see what more the state can do to preserve and promote these historic battlefields and related sites. Legislators will receive a report of their findings toward the end of this year.
While places like Perryville’s Battlefield are well-known, we have others that are noteworthy in their own right. One of those is Laurel County’s Battle of Camp Wildcat, which may be relatively small and little-known but is one of the Union Army’s first victories of the Civil War.
With school about out and summer upon us, now is an ideal time to make plans to take in a part of Kentucky you might not have seen. In addition to those I’ve mentioned, there’s also the Country Music Highway in the east and the National Quilt Museum in the west. The Western Hemisphere’s only moonbow is at Cumberland Falls, while a unique zipline tour can be found underground at Louisville’s Mega Cavern.
More information about these and many other destinations can be found online at on www.kentuckytourism.com. It’s a great place to begin planning your summer and fall.
If you have any comments about this or any other issue affecting Kentucky, please let me know. My email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the General Assembly’s toll-free message line is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.