OLDHAM COUNTY, Ky. — If you ask Kim Hydes, “Oldham County Tourism serves as the county’s driveway and front porch. Our Tourism marketing efforts often result in the first time a visitor has heard of Oldham County.” Hydes has been Executive Director of Oldham County Tourism & Conventions for the last 16 years, a period of tremendous development from the ground up that shows no sign of slowing down.
Tourism has breathed new life into the county’s economy unprecedentedly. In 2022 alone, Tourism brought $46 million into Oldham County’s local economy and supported over 400 Oldham County jobs, according to a report compiled by Tourism Economics.
In 2021, Oldham County Tourism contributed $37.97 million to the state’s economy. The constant rise in numbers – close to 10 million in two short years – shows Hydes’s astronomical efforts in Tourism development through marketing and promoting attractions, events, and partnerships to promote all things Kentucky.
As one of the state’s most important and valuable industries, tourism is essential to Kentucky. Oldham County is no exception, bringing in $5.2 million in state and local taxes in 2022.
The increased impact in Oldham County Tourism is on par with state tourism’s huge gains last year, generating a record $12.9 billion in total economic impact to the Commonwealth alone. Hydes attended a meeting on August 8th at Lexington’s Crank & Broom Craft Ice Cream. Governor Andy Beshear joined state tourism leaders to celebrate this record-breaking year in which Tourism visitation surpassed pre-pandemic volumes.
An estimated 75.94 million visitors spent $8.92 billion in Kentucky last year, a growth rate of 16.4 %. Visitors spend their hard-earned money in a variety of ways when it comes to Tourism: food and beverage rank at the top, followed by lodging, retail spending, and then recreational activities. Oldham County is not lax in any of these areas.
Falling into the Bourbon, Horses & History Region of Kentucky, Oldham County checks every box on the list when it comes to creating the most inclusive destination spot to be found. Hydes is the current chairman of Kentucky’s 15-county Bourbon, Horses & History Region.
From April to November, tours are offered of 15 local farms and gardens, the largest number of educational, hands-on, interactive Farm Tours in the state. In just seven months, 11,000+ guests visit Oldham County to take these popular tours. People come from all over the U.S., including Tennessee, Michigan, Northern Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Texas, to find what they cannot find anywhere else.
Visitors can enjoy all breeds of horses on five farms, from retired racehorses to carriage-driving horses. Additional tours incorporate bison, sheep, dairy cows, botanical gardens, nature preserves, and organic and sustainable farms.
Fueled by Executive Director Dr. Paul Cappiello’s passion for horticulture, Yew Dell has transformed into a premier horticultural hub recognized worldwide for its research and extensive plant collection. Cappiello’s knowledge and extensive experience in the field have allowed him to develop the property once owned by Theodore Klein into a botanical garden and public space that all can share.
In promoting such attractions as Yew Dell, Tourism goes beyond Oldham County and the state to market Oldham County’s uniqueness and draw people in. “We will be a featured destination in Garden & Gun magazine as part of a featured event called Garden & Gun Distilled,” said Hydes. “We will be partnering with Garden & Gun magazine to host WOMEN OF WHISKEY: AN EPICUREAN CELEBRATION OF BOURBON.”
She said Oldham County Tourism chose Yew Dell Botanical Gardens as the attraction to showcase in Garden & Gun for this project. “Marketing for Garden & Gun Distilled started in September 2023 and will continue through April 2024, ending with a celebration of bourbon that includes the best female chefs and bourbon connoisseurs in the U.S.” The Garden & Gun Distilled project is a community collaboration including Oldham County, Lexington, Louisville, Bardstown, and Bullitt County.
Part of Tourism’s focus is to create new events such as Women of Whiskey. Yew Dell has also hosted the Old Kentucky Home bike tour for the last two years. This event has drawn many to the county to participate or watch their friends and families participate in the bike tour.
“The Louisville Bicycle Club’s OKHT tour is a great partnership,” Cappiello said. “I’m a longtime member of LBC, and when they were looking for a new host site for the event, they approached me about hosting it at Yew Dell. We fully support the idea because we are always looking for ways for Yew Dell to help support the local community.”
The economic impact of Tourism goes beyond the surface. “Visitor spending creates jobs and helps attract new businesses and services we rely on,” said Hydes. Tourism-supported jobs earned laborers $15.9 million in wages last year.
Over the last year, Hydes said Tourism could apply for ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding “to rebrand Oldham County Tourism and expand our reach in geographic locations that we would not otherwise be able to afford but were showing promise in Kentucky overall. We targeted more of northern IN, NY, NJ, MI, TX, and PA. Then increased spending in states we had seen showing up in our research, but were still minor states such as FL, NC and TN.”
Oldham County Tourism has increased its awareness through new branding and participation in travel shows, as evidenced by website traffic. “In comparing our Fiscal Year 2020 website traffic to our Fiscal Year 2023 traffic, we saw an overall increase,” she said. “Specifically, we saw an overall increase of 202.9% in users when comparing FY23 to FY20 traffic. Page views increased by 409.71%, with the average pages per session increasing by 59%. The average time spent on our website increased by 78.1%, and our bounce rate decreased by 25.4%.”
“Kim has worked incredibly hard at expanding Oldham County’s target market through a multi-faceted marketing program that matches attractions and interested parties in a complete program,” said Chairman Abbott.