FRANKFORT, Ky. – More than 500,000 people visited Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries in 2012, the first time that the world-renowned tourism attraction has broken the half-million mark since its inception in 1999.
The new attendance record of 509,292 is a 15 percent increase over 2011, with travelers from all 50 states and more than 50 countries making the iconic Bluegrass journey, said Adam Johnson, Director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience.
“We are happily overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “Our legendary distilleries are doing more than ever to welcome Bourbon visitors and give them a first-hand, educational and interactive look at the art and science behind our timeless craft.”
Four Roses, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark unveiled new and improved tourism experiences in 2012. Wild Turkey broke ground on its new visitor’s center that’s set to debut later this year, and Alltech’s Town Branch Distillery joined the tour in September.
In addition, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail program launched its own line of merchandise in 2012 with sales of apparel, glassware and specialty items available at all seven participating distilleries and online at www.kybourbontrailshop.com.
And, for the first time, the tour welcomed official sponsors to enhance the visitor experience, including the Louisville Marriott East, R & R Limo, The Woodford Inn, The Beaumont Inn, Art Eatables and more.
“It’s really been a special year,” Johnson said, who was hired by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association in February as the group’s first-ever Director of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail program. “We couldn’t be happier with the success and growth.”
Created by the KDA in 1999, the landmark tour features Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg; Heaven Hill in Bardstown; Jim Beam in Clermont; Maker’s Mark in Loretto; Town Branch in Lexington and Woodford Reserve in Versailles.
The attendance record wasn’t the only milestone set in 2012, Johnson said. The KDA’s “Passport” program that rewards visitors who receive stamps at all Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries also reached an all-time high.
A total of 18,360 people from 50 states and 11 countries completed their Passport in 2012. That’s a 56 percent increase over the previous year and a whopping 9,614 percent increase since the Passport program started in 2007.
Each Passport holder receives a free t-shirt to commemorate their achievement. “We are literally mailing shirts as fast as we can print them,” Johnson said. “That’s a good problem to have.”
The KDA expects to record its 50,000th Passport holder in early 2013, Johnson said.
Passport holders are bringing much-needed revenue to local communities with a Kentucky Bourbon Trail distillery, said KDA President Eric Gregory. A University of Louisville study found that each person who completes the tour spends $737 on average.
“That means the tour has poured more than $32 million into local coffers in the last five years alone,” Gregory said, noting that 85 percent of Kentucky Bourbon Trail visitors come from outside the state.
“We believe the fiscal impact is actually much higher because it does not include the millions of people who haven’t finished their Passports,” Gregory said. “We hope they come back soon and get those final stamps.”
Other noteworthy visitor statistics from 2012:
♦ Ohio overtook Kentucky as the top state for Passport completions
♦ 75 percent of visitors stayed in a hotel or bed and breakfast
♦ More than 53 percent had household incomes above $80,000
♦ 70 percent came to Kentucky just for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour
“Kentucky is the only place in the world where visitors can enjoy the one, true authentic Bourbon experience,” Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming new and returning visitors in 2013, breaking more records and sharing our Kentucky mash appeal.”