Kentucky tourism officials want $75 million kickstartJune 4, 2021
Representatives from Kentucky’s tourism industry want $75 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan funding to help restart a key contributor to the state’s economy.
Officials from the Kentucky Travel Industry Association and three of the state’s largest markets testified Wednesday before the Interim Joint Committee Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Protection with a plan on how that funding request would be spent.
The Kentucky Department of Tourism would get $15 million specifically to market the state. Tourism commissions would get $35 million, and communities using those funds would match with local tourism dollars to promote their areas.
The final $25 million would be earmarked for a competitive grant program state tourism officials would oversee, with tourism commissions using the grant money to attract meetings and conventions.
Hank Phillips, president and CEO of the KTIA, told lawmakers in Frankfort that the request equals less than 3.5% of the money the state received from the Rescue Plan.
For perspective, the association’s website notes that visitors spent nearly $8 billion in the state in 2019 and the industry generated $1.5 billion in tax revenue.
“Three-and-a-half percent for the full recovery of an economic engine for this state and to create a springboard from which we can rise to a level never before achieved in terms of our national and international competitiveness and the productivity that we can bring about for the people of Kentucky,” Phillips said.
While restrictions have been loosened and the state will fully reopen later this month, the tourism and hospitality industry in Kentucky is still feeling the effects of the pandemic.
Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism, told lawmakers that hotels in Kentucky’s largest city should have midweek occupancy rates around 70% right now. However, they’re currently seeing occupancy rates range between 6% and 11%.
“We don’t have consistent business just yet,” she said.
Tourism representatives were hopeful for a special session to get the funding. That may not be likely as only Gov. Andy Beshear can call lawmakers back to Frankfort.
Lawmakers from both parties though expressed support though for the request.
“There is absolutely competition to bring them to our area, and I get that 100 percent” state Rep. Al Gentry (D-Louisville) said. “You got to sell that. You got to be able to sell your area. You got to be able to sell what you have, and whatever I can do to help in that endeavor, I’m going to be fighting for you.”
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