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Kentucky tourism targets safe rebound from COVID-19

When Gov. Andy Beshear announced Kentucky’s latest gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions in June, he acknowledged the importance of the commonwealth’s tourism industry. 

“Kentucky tourism serves a vital role in sustaining local communities and small businesses that thrive on travel spending,” Beshear says. “As summer arrives, it is important that we ensure our reopening efforts protect the health and well-being of our fellow Kentuckians as well as distribute economic recovery across the commonwealth.” 

According to the Kentucky Travel Industry Association (KTIA), in a typical year, tourism accounts for about 71.6 million visitors, who spend nearly $7.6 billion in Kentucky. In 2018, visitors contributed $787 million in state and local taxes. 

When the pandemic hit in March, the tourism industry took a quick hit. The state’s travel ban closed attractions and restaurants, and hotels lost virtually all of their business. Conferences, festivals and major events were canceled or postponed. 

“You cannot experience all that near-total damage to an industry and be anything short of devastated,” says Hank Phillips, KTIA president and CEO. 

“But the most important point is that being devastated does not mean being defeated,” Phillips quickly adds. “People will travel again, and Kentucky has all the same tremendous experiences to offer them as we had before the crisis. And the people who make up this industry are anxious to extend the same friendly welcome and warm hospitality that Kentucky is known for.” 

Kentucky tourism officials analyzed data from a national COVID- 19 U.S. Travel Sentiment Survey. Nearly 50% of respondents feel safe taking a road trip and 57% feel safe engaging in outdoor recreational activities. That bodes well for Kentucky with its central location and expansive park system. 

“Tourism spending in Kentucky is already starting to rebound as we head into the summer,” says Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Mike Berry. “We believe this a positive sign for the future of tourism recovery, and we are hopeful this upward trend continues as reopening efforts are underway in Kentucky.” 

Phillips says, “There is a treasure chest of experiences and memories just waiting for Kentuckians to discover right in our own backyard. And here’s a bonus idea. Instead of one long-distance vacation this year, one that you may not be entirely comfortable taking yet, you can plan and afford multiple shorter-distance Kentucky trips.” 

Click here to read the full Q&A with KTIA’s Phillips. 

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