By Karen Williams
It’s no secret if you’ve been in Louisville for the last decade that the city’s profile as a tourism destination has been on the rise. From convention center expansion, new hotels and renovations to added festivals and events, Louisville is attracting more than 16 million visitors each year to its growing infrastructure. There is even an entire niche built around a signature asset we had long taken for granted, with 10 new spirits attractions opened since 2013. This is now the only place in the world to have an Urban Bourbon Experience.
This growth is being recognized by national media with “best of” accolades stacking up. USA Today says the city is the “Best Weekend Getaway for Families in the US.” Southern Living proclaims Louisville as a “Best Food City in the South.” Cosmopolitan Magazine touts “Coolest Bachelorette Destination” to match GQ Magazine’s former “Best Mancation” accolade. It seems Louisville is truly offering something for everyone.
I’m frequently asked, “don’t we have enough hotel rooms?” I can tell you even with this unprecedented growth we see proof there’s room for more. In the first quarter of last year, Bourbon City was crowned one of the hottest hotel markets in the country by CBRE Research, outpacing competitive cities, even with the room supply increase. In fact, Louisville had the largest year-over-year hotel demand increase in the first quarter of 2019 at 11.4%, while demand nationally only grew 2.4% in the same quarter.
What this means is that the city’s hotel demand is quickly absorbing the 1,500 hotel rooms added over the last 18 months. We do currently have another 1,300 rooms in the pipeline but our total inventory of 22,000 rooms lags those of our competition. We are at a disadvantage when competing with markets of 30,000 or more rooms for those large citywide conventions that drive high economic return.
Speaking of economic return, as the third largest industry in Louisville, supporting over 27,000 local jobs — tourism truly is at the forefront as one of Louisville’s key economic drivers. In addition to the $3.5 billion generated for the local economy by visitor spending, each local household would pay $750 more in state and local taxes without tourism revenue.
This public and private investment is paying off as guests come from around the globe attend a meeting, convention, special event, as a leisure guest or a combination. Many of our industry partners are experiencing growing numbers of attraction and event attendance to the record-breaking passenger total at the Muhammad Ali Louisville International Airport. We also know there is a lot of work to be done in revitalizing more neighborhoods, addressing workforce issues and housing and transportation challenges. We believe a strong tourism economy can help address some of these needs and make Louisville a more desirable place to visit and live.
The health of our destination affects all of us, not just visitors. To capitalize on this upward momentum and potential for more economic growth, we are embarking on a 10-month study to feed into a complete Destination Strategic Plan. Louisville Tourism has engaged JLL’s Global Tourism and Destinations practice to lead the planning process that will help guide future development in Louisville.
As the official Destination Marketing Organization for Louisville Metro, Louisville Tourism’s mission is to inspire travel to the city and plan for the future of Louisville as a destination and we need input from you, our community. Throughout the study, JLL will be engaging stakeholders in a variety of ways including monthly email updates, surveys, in-person focus groups and soliciting comments from the public. We’d like you to take this journey with us and become an ambassador-at-large by helping our city continue to evolve as a world-class tourism destination. Visit our website dedicated to stakeholder updates giving you direct access to JLL for suggestions and comments.
Karen Williams is president and CEO of Louisville Tourism, responsible for enhancing the area’s economy through tourism development.