Op-Ed

Tourism a bright spot for state

Many Kentucky communities have attracted new jobs lately, and that's great news. But there's one industry that continues to grow and impact every Kentuckian in a positive way — tourism.

An independent study from Certec, Inc. concluded that travel and tourism in Kentucky added $11.3 billion to the state's economy in 2010, a 4.8 percent increase from 2009. The study also highlighted that 169,258 Kentuckians are employed by tourism-related businesses and receive $2.5 billion in salaries. As a result, $1.2 billion in state and local taxes was generated. Considering the economy and the price of gas, the state's tourism industry is doing well and continues to provide good jobs.

Let me share some examples:

■ The Kentucky Horse Park continues to reap the long-term benefits of hosting the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The park now has landed the Alltech National Horse Show, one of the oldest and most prestigious hunter-jumper shows in the country.

■ "The Kentucky Experience," organized at the Games by the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism, showcased the state as never before to a wide audience. The cooperation between state and local tourism organizations cemented relationships for years to come.

■ The Kentucky Department of Parks, the most complete parks system in America, is providing recreation opportunities to people in and around Kentucky, with equestrian camping being the newest attraction at several of our parks.

■ The Frankfort Convention Center has landed the most new business in years, including the national women's NAIA basketball tournament next year.

■ The Kentucky Sports Authority is attracting new sporting events, the most notable this year being the upcoming 2011 USA Wildwater National Team Trials, scheduled for October for the Russell Fork River in Elkhorn City.

■ The Office of Adventure Travel is opening unsurpassed adventure opportunities for all kinds of adventure seekers, all over Kentucky. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park will host the U.S. Adventure Racing National Championship in October.

■ The Kentucky Heritage Council, through its Kentucky Main Street and Renaissance on Main programs, has brought more than $350 million in investment and 200 new jobs to downtown areas.

■ The Kentucky Humanities Council delights audiences by bringing our history to life through the use of actors and Smithsonian exhibits.

■ The Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea has become a premier destination for travelers, and continues to provide new markets for Kentucky artists. And let's not forget that its restrooms have been judged the cleanest and best-designed along I-75.

■ State government worked to attract a Sprint Cup race to Kentucky Speedway on July 9. Other major sporting events such as the Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla and the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs will mean more national attention.

We also continue to reap the benefits of the "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" brand, which has been the marketing foundation upon which we continue to grow the state's travel and hospitality industry. Our visitors have told us that it is the most-known state brand in this region of the country.

Since we recently celebrated National Travel and Tourism Week in Kentucky, we want to thank all those in the hospitality industry in every county of the state. Tourism is more than people staying in our hotels and visiting our attractions. It's more than sporting events, conventions and special attractions. It is recreation, and it's a chance to refresh ourselves and enjoy ourselves before we return to our normal lives.

Just as a new industry coming to Kentucky is a form of economic development, so is tourism. The $11.3 billion economic impact affects every Kentuckian. The money spreads from person to person and from business to business. The fact that one in nine Kentucky jobs is tourism-related is a sign of the importance of this industry. And that's why it's worth celebrating.

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