FRANKFORT – There is never a bad time to visit the commonwealth, but when it comes to tourism, it’s hard to beat the month of May. Those few weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Memorial Day are arguably when we look our best.
This is also a good time of year, in fact, to review what the industry means to us, which is what state officials did last week when they released the latest annual study on tourism’s impact here.
Overall, it generated nearly $14 billion in direct and indirect sales in 2015, which was a five percent increase over 2014’s total. It supported 186,000 jobs and provided nearly $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenue.
I’m proud to say that our region outpaced the state average, and Floyd County saw the direct and indirect impact of tourism rise by about $6.5 million over 2014’s totals.
This number is a testament to all that we have to offer, from the God-given beauty to the hard work by our local tourist and business leaders, whom I cannot thank enough for all that they do.
Some other advantages Kentucky has include being home to such one-of-a-kind draws as Mammoth Cave as well as being 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 exactly two centuries ago.
The year 1816 is also the same year a young Abraham Lincoln and his family left Kentucky for Indiana. His LaRue County birthplace is the second of the commonwealth’s four national sites, with the other two at Cumberland Gap and Big South Fork.
A separate study this spring by the National Park Service found that these four sites welcomed 1.76 million people last year.
That’s about double the number of tourists who visited our fast-growing Bourbon Trail, which began in 1999. There are actually two trails, with one focused on the larger heritage distilleries and the other on the craft distilleries. Nearly nine out of 10 visiting come from outside of Kentucky, and the overall total is almost certain to go up as we add as many as 20 more distilleries over the next 18 months.
In an effort to help spur this along, the General Assembly approved a new law this year that will make it easier for the bourbon, beer and wine industries to grow. This legislation will principally raise production limits and make it easier for these businesses to better serve their customers.
Other positive changes during the legislative session include the authorization of a new trail – to highlight our covered bridges – and $18 million in the budget to make some critical updates to our state parks. A new commission, meanwhile, will help educate and prepare activities next year to celebrate Kentucky’s 225th anniversary as a commonwealth.
With summer upon us, now is an ideal time to make plans to see more of all that we have to offer. There’s our own Country Music Highway, for example, and the National Quilt Museum out in Paducah. The Western Hemisphere’s only moonbow is at Cumberland Falls, while a unique zipline tour can be found underground at Louisville’s Mega Cavern.
In August 2017, the eyes of the world will be on Kentucky, which will have the longest view anywhere of a total solar eclipse. It’s been almost 40 years since the last one could be seen in the lower 48 states and nearly a century since one could be viewed from the east to the west coasts. Local organizers in the Hopkinsville area, where the viewing will be longest, are calling it “the most exciting 2 minutes, 40 seconds in astronomy.”
If you and your family would like to learn more about all that we have to offer, visit www.kentuckytourism.com online to see what is available. There are hundreds of easy-to-find events occurring around the year, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.