Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Ky. tourism holds strong, officials say

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — Kentucky officials are not bracing for a drop-off in tourism despite the slowing economy and the public's anxiety over the threat of domestic terrorism.

        Kentucky Tourism Cabinet Secretary Ann Latta said Tuesday that the state's multibillion-dollar tourism industry — buoyed in recent years by Northern Kentucky attractions — has not seen a dramatic decrease in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

[photo] Visitors stroll through the plaza area of Newport on the Levee, a magnet attraction for Northern Kentucky, said Bob Stewart, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Travel.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “We are finding that people are looking for the kind of experience Kentucky has to offer,” Ms. Latta said. “People maybe want to get out to the smaller towns and communities, the rural areas, sort of back to nature stuff, where they feel safe.

        And while her evidence was largely anecdotal, Ms. Latta, in Northern Kentucky for a state tourism conference, is optimistic that Kentucky offers what travelers are looking for right now.

        She said attendance at fall festivals and activity at state parks have been steady in recent weeks. And during the Oct. 6 and 7 weekend in Perryville, a Central Kentucky town and the home of a state park, the annual reenactment of a Civil War battle attracted its largest crowd ever.

        The state's 2001 tourism marketing campaign will have an “In-home,-close-to-home” theme that promotes Kentucky residents visiting the state's tourist destinations with family and friends from neighboring states, Mr. Stewart said.

        “This was actually on the drawing board before Sept. 11, but it's a strategy that makes even more sense now,” he said. “The campaign will focus on Kentuckians inviting friends and family to come over from other states and visit. There a lot of new things to see and do in Kentucky, particularly here in Northern Kentucky, and we want to promote that as much as we can.”

        “In Northern Kentucky you have these new magnet attractions like the Newport Aquarium, the Newport on the Levee and others that help bring people to this area,” she said.

        Even though tourists and vacationers might find Kentucky a safe destination, the region's hotels are still reeling from a cutback in business and corporate travel, said Jim Willman, chairman-elect of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors.

        Because of the slowing economy and the long Comair strike, business at some hotels is off as much as 50 percent this year, Mr. Willman said.

        “On top of that we have a glut of hotel rooms,” he said. “In 1997, we had 4,200 hotel rooms in Northern Kentucky. Today, we have 7,200. We have had increases in tourism, but the business travel is down and that's hurting a lot of the hotels.”

        Mr. Willman said more convention and corporate-meeting business could be generated by additional spending on marketing. Two years ago state lawmakers passed a law allowing Northern Kentucky counties to increase the region's hotel tax by 1 cent on the dollar. That would raise $1 million a year for marketing the entire Greater Cincinnati area to potential visitors.

        But the county governments in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties have been reluctant to increase the tax. For instance, Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore have said he sees the benefits of the tax but hasn't been persuaded to support it.

        “But when business travel is down, that's not the time to stop marketing,” Mr. Willman said. “That's when you have to be more aggressive.”

        Tourism, however, continues to be a major industry in Northern Kentucky.

        Figures on last year's tourism activity show Northern Kentucky to be a growing draw for visitors to the state.

        Spending by tourists in the 13-county region jumped 11.8 percent last year to nearly $727 million, the largest increase of any part of the state, according to figures from the Tourism Development Cabinet.

        Overall in 2000, statewide tourism spending had its largest increase in seven years — 7.6 percent — at $8.8 billion, $624 million more than in 1999.

        Bob Stewart, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Travel,said he expects the $210 million Newport on the Levee entertainment, retail and nightlife complex to help boost the region, and the state's, tourism.

        “There are great stores there ... but it's not a shopping mall, and that's why guys like it,” Mr. Stewart said of the facility that offers an IMAX theater, GameWorks, a high-tech video game room that also food and alcoholic beverages and a Shadowbox Theater. “It's an entertainment destination that will attract people to the area.”

        “And once they come here they'll stay longer or come back another time to see the historic homes or the Cathedral (Basilica of the Assumption in Covington) or some of the other attractions in the area,” Ms. Latta said.

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