Next time you visit your favorite local restaurant, take a scenic drive along a country road or sip your favorite Kentucky libation, keep in mind that those attractions not only entertain us, they provide billions in economic development.
That’s right, billions.
A new state survey released May 10 showed that total travel spending in 2015 topped the $2 billion mark for the first time ever in Fayette County.
According to the “Economic Impact of Kentucky’s Travel and Tourism Industry – 2014 and 2015,” Fayette had $2.02 billion in total travel spending, and the statewide impact was more than $13.7 billion.
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The annual survey also showed that tourism was responsible for more than 186,000 jobs in Kentucky in 2015 — with 15,339 of those in Fayette County.
We have much to celebrate: Local pride and homegrown innovation continue to reshape and evolve our dining, bourbon and craft-beer scenes, inspiring more visitors and garnering attention from critically acclaimed publications.
Lexington successfully set the scene for American Pharoah’s incredible Grand-Slam victory at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland, solidifying our title as the Horse Capital of the World and placing us at the center of an iconic moment in Thoroughbred racing history.
Additional highlights from the past year include:
▪ There were double-digit increases in hotel rooms booked through convention sales, which reached 102,575; hotel room revenue, which topped $173 million; and room tax collected, which was more than $10 million.
▪ Demand for hotel rooms grew at a healthy 5.5 percent to total almost 1.8 million.
▪ 95,000 people attended the two-day Breeders’ Cup.
▪ 29 new new restaurants and bars opened.
▪ Eight craft breweries are now on the Brewgrass Trail, and more than 200 people completed their “passports” by visiting each brewery.
▪ VisitLEX’s Visitors’ Center served more than 25,000 visitors, which was a 23.5 percent growth in traffic.
▪ Lexington was featured in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune and Garden & Gun magazine. Much of this national earned media was the result of VisitLEX serving as host to almost 60 travel writers from across the country.
All of that has been accomplished before the Lexington Convention Center expansion, which will catapult us from being competitive for 65 percent of the national convention market to 90 percent.
And when you consider that the convention visitor spends $290 per day compared to $130 for the leisure traveler, the economic impact grows even more.
This expansion will be further maximized as studies show that for every $1 in public investment, another $4 in private investment follows.
As impressive as those numbers are, they are just one aspect of the value of tourism.
For example, conventions also serve as effective outreach to recruiting companies. An international company came to Lexington for the Coal Prep Show and subsequently located here. (As an aside, that event was forced to move to Louisville this year because it outgrew the Lexington Convention Center — another concrete example of the wisdom of expanding the convention center.)
The amenities I’ve cited are more than just a benefit to tourists. Lexingtonians have the opportunity to experience on a daily basis the attractions that bring thousands of visitors to our community each year. We invite you to join in on the experience by checking out www.visitlex.com/Staycation.
And long-lasting benefits are realized from tourism dollars, which provide valuable resources to invest back into our community, help improve the quality of life for all our residents and make our daily lives richer.
Mary Quinn Ramer is president of VisitLEX, Lexington’s convention and visitors bureau.