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Tourism: Pent-Up Demand Unleashing Optimism at Venues

By wmadministrator

Kentucky’s hospitality sector feels like its leisure travel and convention business clientele is packed and ready to return in 2022 if the worst of the pandemic impacts are indeed behind us. Business was strong and growing heading into early 2020, when the arrival of COVID-19 caused the cancellation of gatherings that are at the core of much hospitality and tourism business. While many people may like working at home, they still want to get out of the house for some recreation, vacation and convention action.

“Kentucky, particularly Louisville, is well positioned to continue the upward economic trajectory seen in 2021 due to strong market segments in logistics, manufacturing, health care, bourbon and sports. Bourbon tourism and urban bourbon visitor experiences will be in high demand while festivals, concerts and other special events continue to resume, driving additional business into 2022 that we did not see in 2020 or 2021. Group business will see an upswing, consistently growing as in-person meetings come back on the convention calendar. However, 2022 corporate travel (nationally and locally) is still not expected to be seen at the road-warrior levels they generated in 2019, though the meetings industry is cautiously optimistic for the return of corporate travel in 2023. As a destination marketing organization, we will be carefully and cautiously looking at our spending and staffing levels in 2022, with destination promotion dollars increasing and the full-time employee count remaining fairly similar to 2021 levels.”

Doug Bennett Executive Vice President, Louisville Toursim

“I am very optimistic that Kentucky’s economy will continue to improve in 2022. More job opportunities are coming to Kentucky and companies are investing in their businesses like never before.  The travel industry was hit first and hardest throughout the pandemic, and although it is still in recovery mode, there are many indicators that travel will continue to rebound in 2022. There is still considerable pent-up demand to travel, and those that did not get out in 2021 are making plans for vacations in 2022. Larger cities in Kentucky may be on a slower rebound, but our many smaller communities are seeing tourism booms due to Kentucky’s wide-open spaces, lakes and outdoor adventure. The attraction of vacation rentals for travelers has exploded across Kentucky, which has been great for Kentucky’s housing market as well as adding additional lodging options to our smaller communities. Because of the enormous uptick in domestic travel, we have greatly increased our advertising budget in 2022. Kentucky has a bright future for travel.”

Janette Marson Executive Director, Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission

“The tourism industry is still in recovery mode due to the challenges it continues to face during the pandemic. While things are not back to “normal” at Kentucky Derby Museum, we have seen a strong uptick in attendance and revenue numbers from 2020, which directly reflects the belief that those desiring to travel are beginning to do so.

Last summer and early fall, we saw a surge in visitors from drivable markets that equaled or surpassed our 2019 attendance numbers. We have seen our slowest recovery in the area of international travel and are hopeful this will change in 2022 with many of the previous travel bans now lifted. While social events such as weddings and parties are steadily driving the museum’s rental income, we have not yet seen the return of corporate entities booking large meetings or gatherings.

The museum’s long-term strategic plan remains steadfast, as does our commitment to an outstanding visitor experience. Plans are in place to update current offerings as well as introduce exciting new exhibits in the coming years.

There is still a looming concern that new COVID-19 variants will affect the tourism sector, but we are optimistic that there is a brighter future ahead in which Kentucky Derby Museum will continue on the path to recovery and hopefully greater success in 2022.”

Patrick Armstrong President/CEO, Kentucky Derby Museum

“As we look to 2022, research indicates plenty of pent-up travel demand. However, people will remain cautious in selecting their travel destinations. Lexington and Central Kentucky are well positioned to capitalize by showcasing the type of outdoor activities and rural landscapes travelers desire.  Demand for bourbon tourism and visits to horse farms remain strong as well. Business travel and conventions are beginning to rebound, and we are thrilled about the grand opening of the expanded Central Bank Center in February, the near completion of Town Branch Commons, and the start of construction on Town Branch Park. The end of the year will bring excitement and worldwide attention to Lexington as the Breeders’ Cup Championship returns to Keeneland in November. We are excited and hopeful about Lexington and the Bluegrass Region tourism industry in 2022!”

Mary Quinn Ramer President/CEO, VisitLex

“Tourism serves as a mechanism for fostering economic growth in communities throughout the commonwealth. Despite COVID-19, Kentucky has welcomed seven new tourism development projects totaling $7.4 billion in investment. These projects, combined with Gov. Beshear’s investment of $5.8 million in federal CARES Act and EDA funding, have further positioned the tourism industry to return to pre-pandemic success. The economic momentum Kentucky is experiencing has placed us at the forefront as a destination ideal for travel and business. Within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population, our economic landscape creates the perfect recipe for businesses to thrive in Kentucky.”

Mike Berry Secretary, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet

“Absent a continued increase in inflation and any significant disruptions due to the omicron variant, the U.S. and Kentucky economies should be very strong next year.  Travel will continue to increase, although the Kentucky tourism industry will still be in recovery mode from the toll taken by the pandemic, especially the meetings and conferences sector. Competitiveness will be a significant challenge for the industry because even as travel increases, tourism in Kentucky must contend with increased tourism marketing investments by other states, which is why we are currently pressing for a marketing fund appropriation from Kentucky’s American Rescue Plan funds.”

Hank Phillips President/CEO , Kentucky Tourism Industry Association

“We are confident our state and national economy will continue to grow in 2022, as we see more businesses reopening.  The live entertainment industry was one of the first to close and the last to reopen, devastating this important sector of our economy.  We are encouraged by box office results since Kentucky Performing Arts reopened our venues, but we are still below pre-pandemic levels.  As national touring increases and we continue to demonstrate our ability to host events safely, we anticipate an increase in events and sales. We have plans to increase staffing and capital expenses incrementally throughout the year as business returns and we are excited to play a major role in revitalizing our downtown and city.”

Kim Baker President/CEO Kentucky Preforming Arts

“I expect the economy in Kentucky to bounce back faster than many other states because of our strong industries, including tourism. We are a driving state, which makes us very attractive economically. Currently, we are seeing visitor numbers rise because of our proximity to larger urban areas (Knoxville, St. Louis, Nashville, etc.).  Our state offers great outdoor options, which are attractive to the overall consumer in this climate. We were very fortunate that we did not have to lose any staff and we have optimistically reinstated many of our budget cuts from the previous year.”

Erin Carrico Executive Director, Murray Conventuon and Vistors Bureau

“While many industries have been negatively affected, the Kentucky tourism industry was one of the first hit, hardest hit and appears to be the last to fully reach pre-pandemic levels. Owensboro has experienced over 19 months of event postponements and cancellations. I can foresee a slight, temporary bounce in 2022, but workforce challenges and the lack of funding for marketing and event recruitment will slow our ability to reach our overall potential. Tourism puts people to work and attracts new people and jobs to our community. In Owensboro, it is a key component in creating an economic impact and improving the quality of life for our residents.”

Mark Calitri President/CEO, Visit Owensboro

“I expect a lot of sunshine in 2022. There has been pent-up travel demand, especially with our neighbors in Canada and across Europe, and we feel we will see a resumption of travel into the Northern Kentucky region. We are especially looking forward to business travel getting stronger and a good return to hosting full conventions and events. Travel will continue its rebound in 2022. While there will continue to be news about the pandemic, I do believe the worst is behind us. We look forward to bringing new visitors to the state. At MeetNKY, we are entering a restaffing mode and will be adding staff in 2022.”

Julie Kirkpatrick President/CEO, MeetNKY

“The outlook for the tourism and events industry is improving day by day as we start 2022. We not only produce and host some of the largest events in the country, but also manage and operate the Kentucky Exposition Center and the Kentucky International Convention Center. We are about 30% away from returning to the same number of events before the pandemic began. As we reach 100%, supply chain shortages and labor staffing will create more challenges for us to do more with less. Pent-up demand is evident and we seek to capture the interest of clients and guests from around the world.”

-David S. Beck President/CEO, Kentucky Venues