Home » Somerset-Pulaski tourism spending climbs to record $150.9M in 2023

Somerset-Pulaski tourism spending climbs to record $150.9M in 2023

Tourism spending in the Capital of Lake Cumberland grew 4.4% in 2023.

SOMERSET, Ky. — Just when tourism and economic development professionals thought Somerset-Pulaski County couldn’t possibly shatter another record in tourism spending, it did. Kentucky Department of Tourism figure show total spending in The Capital of Lake Cumberland climbed to $150.9 million in 2023, a $6.38 million increase over the previous year.

Tourism supports 1,158 jobs in the community, and visitor spending saved Pulaski County residents $11 million in state and local taxes in 2023 — an average of $564 per household.

The study, prepared by Tourism Economics, profiles the economy by measuring the relationships among industries and consumers and quantifying three levels of impact: direct (visitor spending), indirect (supply-chain effects) and induced (new consumption generated by household income).

Lake Cumberland Tourism Executive Director Michelle Allen said the news was a welcome surprise and another reminder that progress and partnerships go hand-in-hand.

“I knew we could see an increase this year, but I expected it to be a small, incremental increase,” Allen said. “I never dreamed we would be this high. We knocked it out of the park. Tourism is the handshake of economic development, and our community is a wonderful representation of it. I am so grateful our local leaders see the value in collaboration and investing in tourism. Without it, we simply wouldn’t be able to achieve this repeated success.”

Somerset-Pulaski County has broken tourism spending records four out of the last five years, the only anomaly being in 2020, because of the global pandemic. Even then, spending held its own because Lake Cumberland is an outdoor destination. When other communities saw declines as large as 60 percent during the pandemic, Somerset-Pulaski County only dropped 20.

Allen and See Somerset Tourism Director Leslie Ikerd have worked to market Somerset-Pulaski County in new and innovative ways during the last year. They partner on this effort, sharing state tourism co-op dollars allocated based on the size of the destination marketing organization. In addition, the two tourism entities have launched several campaigns with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds awarded in 2022, to include digital billboards in Nashville; launching new websites and and a new travel guide; purchasing digital kiosks for marinas, hotels and other high-traffic visitor locations that allow people to interact with tourism resources; and social media and influencer marketing to engage new visitors.

While these efforts have certainly contributed to Somerset-Pulaski County’s tourism success, Ikerd said none of them would be possible without the leaders who said “yes” to revitalizing downtown and reimaging a community focused on quality of life and providing unique, high-level experiences that showcase all of the area’s talented and hardworking artists, musicians and business owners.

Somerset Pulaski County attractions have a water focus but include more than Lake Cumberland.

“While Lake Cumberland has always been the main attraction, we have worked diligently to rebuild a well-rounded visitor experience that complements what you can do on the water,” Ikerd said. “Our downtown is now bustling with businesses, restaurants, nightlife and festivals when just a few years ago it was dark and quiet. Somerset has become so much more than a city on Lake Cumberland. We are the spirit of southern Kentucky because we’ve chosen to embrace everything that makes us special and share it with everyone who will listen. And people are definitely listening. It’s been incredible to be a part of this movement.”

Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) President and CEO Chris Girdler congratulated Allen and Ikerd for their work to build experiences and a welcoming environment for visitors while serving as a model for partnership and collaboration in the industry.

“These numbers don’t happen by accident and are proof that the hard work our tourism professionals are putting in is paying off,” Girdler said. “It all starts with the visit. A tourism leader in Irving, Texas once explained it this way in a speech: ‘If you build a place where people want to visit, you’ll build a place where people want to live. If you build a place where people want to live, you’ll build a place where people want to work. If you build a place where people want to work, you’ll build a place where business wants to be. And, if you build a place where business wants to be, we’ll be back to building a place where people want to visit.’ This is the cycle we are building in Somerset-Pulaski County. A place everyone wants to be. And it is working.”