Corporate caution last year led to a dip in visitor spending in Northern Kentucky, which saw a 6 percent decrease to $306 million in 2008. Northern Kentucky banks on high-frequency corporate travelers – and their dollars – to boost visitor spending. Corporate spending accounts for about 40 percent of visitor spending in Northern Kentucky. But as businesses have cut back on travel because of the economic downturn, spending at the region’s attractions had dropped.
That’s according to the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau 2008 Annual Report, which tracked the impact of visitor spending in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. In Louisville and Lexington, visitor activity figures were mixed. Lexington saw flat activity, while Louisville’s figures are expected to be slightly higher for the year.
With the current economic climate, it’s not a given that businesses or individuals will travel this year. But those visitor dollars are highly coveted, so officials from the commonwealth’s three biggest bureaus are working to attract new spending in a variety of ways, including a bus tour, discounting hotel rates and developing new markets.
Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Tom Caradonio said last year’s fuel cost spike, combined with cutbacks in corporate spending and flights out of the region’s Delta hub were among reasons for the decrease. He thinks it will take some time for corporate spending and travel to resume to higher levels.
“We don’t think we’ll see a turnaround until sometime in 2011,” he said.
That’s why attracting other market segments will be important for Northern Kentucky this year and next. The recently opened Bank of Kentucky Center at Northern Kentucky University’s campus helped offset lower corporate spending last year, and will play an increasing role in the region’s ability to attract visitors, Caradonio said.
“We are going after religious groups that want to meet in an arena setting and regional sports activities like wrestling, basketball and volleyball. Those things help us fill the gaps that are created (by lower business travel). When there is a decrease in one market, then (visitor attractions) are amiable to working with other groups. I learned a long time ago, sell what you can sell,” Caradonio said.
The bureau also plans to use technology to make the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington more attractive. A big upgrade will be the use of mobile marketing technology that allows planners to communicate information about a conference to attendees’ cell phones.
Louisville hasn’t yet released official numbers for 2008, Convention Center President and CEO James Wood said. But he expects spending will actually be up. Louisville’s Valhalla Golf Club hosted international golf’s biggest event, the Ryder Cup, last September, and Wood said this deserves much of the credit for creating an up year.
To keep momentum going, this month the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau is embarking on an ambitious regional bus tour by bureau officials and area attractions representatives focused on leisure travel. This promotional tour in a wrapped bus will stop in Chicago, Nashville, Cincinnati, Lexington and other nearby cities that are a short day-trip away. The Louisville bureau believes people who still want to travel may give Louisville a chance instead of flying to a farther destination.
In Lexington, the Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau doesn’t track visitor spending, but indicators show a slight dip in visitor activity from 2008 compared to 2007, said Bureau Vice President of Sales Dennis Johnston.
However, Lexington has the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games to look forward to and should get a little action from test events taking place at the Kentucky Horse Park this year, Johnston said.
The bureau also has several plans to boost visitor spending this year as well. Every person whose lead helps bring a meeting of 50 or more room nights to Lexington will be entered in a drawing to win a $1,000 gift certificate. A corporate incentive credits visitors $10 per room for up to 10 rooms for people who stay in participating hotels throughout 2009.
Johnston says he thinks Lexington is at its bottom now with spending basically flat. He expects an uptick in the third and fourth quarters of 2009.
“We’ve not really seen a huge loss. We were fairly flat last year, and flat is the new up,” he said.