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Region shares tourism windfall

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

A record number of tourism dollars spent across the state last year includes a slight increase for western Kentucky.

Overall, the estimated economic impact of tourism reached a record $12.5 billion in 2013, a 2.6 percent increase from 2012.

Kentucky residents benefited from the influx of tourism dollars and the additional job opportunities provided by the industry with a total of 175,746 jobs in 2013, an increase of about 1,740 from 2012, according to  the Economic Impact of Kentucky's Travel and Tourism Industry 2012-2013 study.

The report is broken down into direct expenditures - spending that can be directly attributed to dollars spent to foster tourism - and total expenditures, which include both direct and indirect figures.

In McCracken County, 2012 direct expenditures came in at $198,250 and increased to $203,904 last year. For total expenditures, the amount increased from $311,807 to $320,538 in 2013.

Mary Hammond, executive director of the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Paducah provides an accessible, diverse and most importantly a personal experience for tourists.

"We know Paducah's story and work hard to tell that story and keep people coming back," she said. "We like the increases that are slow and steady so we can make sure every single person is happy with their experience."

She said Paducah provides a specific cultural product related to the National Quilt Museum and Quilt Week, its designation as a UNESCO Creative City, and the Paducah School of Art and Design's new Lower Town campus. Another component of Paducah tourism is the number of visitors who travel into town to further their education with quilting or art classes, according to Hammond.

The top three tourism markets for Paducah are Chicago, St. Louis and Nashville, Tenn., but regional visitors from southern Illinois, eastern Missouri and western Tennessee are also key.

She said another benefit is the collaboration of visitors centers throughout the region. According to a survey following this year's Quilt Week, more than half of attendees visited the lake region during their visit.

"We have to recruit new dollars into our community," Hammond said. "The whole region works amazingly well at doing that together."

Randy Newcomb, executive director of the Marshall County Tourism Commission, emphasized that weather is a key element to the number of tourists in western Kentucky because of the many outdoor activities the region offers.

"We are an outdoor driven destination, and western Kentucky is becoming the place for adventure tourism," he said.

Additional fishing tournaments in the Marshall County area and a renewed interest in camping have aided the increase, he said. In Marshall County, dollars spent increased from $72,480 to $74,292 in direct expenditures and from $113,929 to $116,787 in total expenditures.

Newcomb also pointed to the impact of the economy bouncing back and the region-wide impact of the continued revitalization of downtown Paducah. He expects the upward trend to continue as the region continues to become more visitor friendly.

"The area keeps seeing the increasing benefits of tourism as a good clean industry," he said. "The state imports money, and our visitors export a fun, memorable experience. That's one of the best economic generators."

Kim Kremer, director of the Grand Rivers Tourism Commission, said although the overall numbers in Livingston County declined slightly, going from $16,315 to $15,907 for direct and $25,647 to $25,006 for overall, their hotel bookings for 2013 and into this year have been strong.

"After the bitterly cold winter, people are ready to travel and get out on the lake," she said.

Debbie Dodd, office manager of Lake Barkley Tourism in Lyon County, said two of the determining factors for tourism dollars in western Kentucky are the weather and fuel prices. Much of the tourism growth over the last several years has been from an increase in regional visitors taking short day trips, she said.

The increase in boating continues to escalate with slips added to many area marinas and an increased interest in purchasing lakeside vacation homes, Dodd said. Lyon County increased from $26,594 to $27,233 in direct and from $41,807 to $42,810 in total from 2012 to 2013.

"Any upward trend is a good thing," Dodd said. "It's great to see that growth nearly across the board."

Other regional counties including Ballard, Calloway, Graves, and Trigg increased slightly or stayed flat from 2012 to 2013.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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