The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - Preliminary figures for Kentucky tourism last year show a decline of 2 percent to 4 percent from 2001, while the two regions of the state with national parks showed some gains in the second and third quarters.
Tourism in Kentucky's third-largest industry at $8.7 billion a year, behind automobile manufacturing and other transportation equipment, and health services.
Final state figures for 2002 won't be available until May, but the state Department of Travel said early data showed small increases for the areas around Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Gap national parks.
"I think there were a couple of factors at work," said Barbara Atwood, assistant director of the department's Division of Marketing and Advertising. "There was that patriotic feeling that people wanted to go and visit things that represented our country, and obviously a national park is one of the things that come to mind.
"On another level, it was more of nostalgia. We were hit really hard in 2001" because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she said. "People kind of wanted to return to the vacations of their past that they remembered."
Nationwide, leisure travel increased 2 percent during the first half of last year, and Americans took more trips closer to home, the Washington-based Travel Industry Association of America said. Trips to locations within the same region were up 8 percent in the first half of 2002.
Officials say tourists spent $5.3 billion on lodging, meals, visitor attractions, gas and shopping in Kentucky in 2001. The other $3.4 billion included goods and services supplied to travel-related businesses.
For the Mammoth Cave region, tourism was up 6.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with a year earlier. In the Cumberland Gap region, it was up 8 percent in the second quarter and 6.4 percent in the third quarter.
Kentucky's national parks attract tourists for several reasons. Both are located on or near major interstate highways, making them easily accessible and attractive for day visits.
Also, tours and camping are more affordable for families than other attractions and hotel stays. Both parks offer cave tours and miles of hiking trails.
Most of the 1.5 million annual visitors to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are tourists taking day trips, said park Ranger Carol Borneman. The park sits in Bell and Harlan counties in Kentucky's southeastern corner and spills over into Virginia and Tennessee.
Kentucky's tourism picture isn't as bad as it could be because the state has never relied heavily on air travel, which hasn't recovered since the 2001 attacks, Ms. Atwood said.
While state tourism officials are optimistic about a better year in 2003, "there is a lot of uncertainty" given ongoing threats of terrorism and the possibility of war with Iraq, Ms. Atwood said.
"The whole travel industry is being driven by things that are totally out of our control," she said.
Text of Gov. Taft's State of the State speech
Priest subject of investigation
Feelings go deep about abortion
Taft wants tax hikes; threatens major cuts
Dueling abortion marches see urgency
Anti-abortion rally causes stir
Bundle up: This could be coldest this winter gets
IN THE TRISTATE
Talks on severance deal OK, Krings says
Obituary: Irvin Beren, 87, surgeon
2 accused in West End slaying
'Neighborhoods' developer's theme for Forest Fair
Presidential adviser tells of balancing work and family
Tristate A.M. Report
PULFER: Bust in Silverton
BUTLER, WARREN, CLERMONT
What about us? ask neighbors in lead discovery
Franklin residents to get say on renovating, replacing school
Faces of lives lost to help save others
Butler Co. eyes retail center tax deal
Bikes sandwich with runs in the cold
Long hair gets snip, needy child is helped
Forest Park offers aid to businesses forced to relocate
Detective faces stalking charge
Mason to survey citizens about where to spend bounty of money
Day-care center at high school may be forced to close
Taft turns to a favorite tool
Art exhibit: We see through a lens, darkly
Study to test Botox on kids' headaches
Vets fighting mystery virus killing horses
Ohio smallpox vaccine limited
Police sift factors in fatal wreck
Tourism dips in Ky. except for 2 national parks
Tenured teachers may face layoffs
State goal is cleaner air over Mammoth Cave
Sunken towboat not seen as big problem