Home » Economic Outlook: Tourism — Excitement Around Kentucky Tourism Continues to Grow

Economic Outlook: Tourism — Excitement Around Kentucky Tourism Continues to Grow

By Mark Green

This year Louisville will host the 150th running of the fames Kentucky Derby, an anniversary that will be celebrated with even more fanfare than usual.

VisitLEX President Mary Quinn Ramer expects incremental growth in 2024 after a couple of “banner years” coming out of the pandemic.

In addition to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that enabled enhanced marketing efforts, having the new Central Bank Center with up to 100,000 square feet of event space up and running to woo meeting planners is providing another boost, she said.

“As soon as we are able to get meeting planners into Lexington and see the space … it’s an easy sell from there,” she said.

In addition to entertainment zones throughout the area that continue to thrive, Ramer is also excited about Town Branch Park, a $39 million development on nine acres adjoining Central Bank Center and Rupp Arena set to open in 2025 with trails, dog park, cafe, play areas, water features and more. A new Lexington Sporting Club soccer arena is set to open near I-75 in 2024 as well.
“We have seen such fabulous growth coming out of the pandemic. I think there is a very exciting inflection point for the way our destination has evolved over the past decade, and now that it’s all materialized you can really see how it all works together,” she said.

Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission Executive Director Danielle Wilson said the area has seen a surge the past three years in tourism.

“The proliferation of short-term rentals, a widespread boost in economic impact spending, the establishment of new restaurants, and an overall uptick in visitor numbers all contribute to this positive trend,” she said.

In 2024, she’s looking to construction of a state-of-the-art indoor/outdoor sports complex pending grant approval to attract new hotels, bolster local infrastructure and encourage growth not only in sports tourism but the regional economy.

ARPA funding has been used in various ways, including an improved website and expansion of advertising efforts, engaging in research companies to gain new insights and tap new markets, Wilson said.

In Northern Kentucky, Julie Kirkpatrick, meetNKY president/CEO, expects continued growth in 2024, close to 5% year over year in the regional market.

“We have a strong convention year at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, a strong lineup of great concerts coming to the region like the Foo Fighters, Kenny Chesney and the soon-to-be-released Cincinnati Music Festival lineup,” she said.

Aiding this trend is the return of daily direct flights to Paris from CVG airport via Delta scheduled for May 2024. This is in addition to international visitors to the region using British Airways’ service, now in its second year, Kirkpatrick said.

“We are opening several new hotels in 2024 as well as welcoming back an iconic regional art event in October, BLINK!” she said.

Louisville’s tourism economy is also projected to grow in 2024, though perhaps more modestly compared to 2023, Louisville Tourism President/CEO Cleo Battle said.

“In 2023, some of our top events and tradeshows experienced record numbers, and we anticipate there will continue to be demand,” he said, citing Louder than Life music festival, Equip Expo, The Utility Expo and TFN’s Run 4 Roses as examples.

The Lake Cumberland area has seen a tremendous surge in tourism over the past three years and this positive trend is expected to continue.

Battle also points to the record-breaking year the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport had in 2023, with nearly all airlines experiencing double digit growth, a trend expected to continue in 2024.

Features in publications like Travel + Leisure, The New York Times and others included Louisville in “best of” lists for places to travel, potentially enticing readers to plan their own visits.

A number of new hotels are slated to debut this year, including the $115 million, 130-room Tempo by Hilton in the city’s Nulu area and the $60 million Canopy Derby City Hotel downtown with 168 rooms.

Major events in Louisville on tap for 2024 include the 150th Kentucky Derby as Churchill Downs wraps up $180 million in renovations to its paddock area, PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, USA Gymnastics Winter Cup, USA Fencing and more.