By Mark Green
Though slammed like everyone else in the devastated tourism industry, Kentucky’s convention and visitors bureaus are applying their typically upbeat natures to the job of holding on long enough financially until they can shift their energies to climbing back out of a sudden and deep COVID-19 pandemic recession.
CVBs have responded by becoming community information hubs, creating initiatives to keep spirits up while encouraging healthy best practices and using creative juices to keep up positive branding for businesses and attractions that no one can go see in person right now.
The Kentucky Travel Industry Association surveyed its members this week and created a bullet list of 117 things CVBs and other partners have done in response to the crisis.
KTIA decided to post the resulting list of what is happening to serve as a resource of ideas fellow partners might adopt or adapt. The bullet-point list is at ktia.com/cvb-covid-19-partner-assistance-initiatives.
“People are trying to stay upbeat, but the industry …. has been devastated,” said Hank Philips, CEO/president of KTIA. “You look at closed attractions, closed restaurants – except for carry out – and closed hotels, and everyone is struggling for survival. Revenue has plummeted.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Kentucky tourism was a more than $11.2 billion industry that employed 95,000 and generated $787 million in state and local tax revenue, Phillips said.
The quasi-governmental CVBs are in the same financial straits as their for-profit and non-profit tourism sector partners, but the CVBs that facilitate and support that economic activity are not currently in line for any help from the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
CVBs are funded by their local hotel tax and in some of the small cities by their local restaurant tax, Phillips said
“It’s not your typically upbeat tourism industry,” Phillips said when asked about the mood. “But it is a resilient industry. I have not heard anyone say they there will not be a rebound. Everyone is anxious to get past where we are and get started on the rebuilding process.”
As travel began to decline and came to a standstill in March, KTIA began to hear from the CVBS about how they were adapting, shifting from a usual outward focus on tourism related activity toward an inward look at what they can do support their communities, Phillips said.
Many focused on what they can do to help their restaurants, hotels and closed attractions. Efforts quickly extended not only to tourism industry partners but to their communities. Some CVBs became the go-to source of what is open and what is not.
“Everyone all over the state came up with ideas,” Phillips said.
Should people who go through the list on KTIA’s website and want to contact a local CVB or agency to get details, he suggested googling the entity for its contact info or calling him at (502) 223-8687.
KTIA and its members are having ongoing communications with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office and those of Kentucky’s other congressional delegation members regarding potential federal relief measures to support local convention and visitors bureau and tourism office operations.
“CVBs need relief now so they can later play the critical role in the travel industry’s rebound,” Phillips said.