Senator Leads Effort to Help Kentucky and Georgetown
Get Tourism Back on Its Feet
August 2, 2022
COVID-19 had a devastating impact on most of the world’s industries and economies. One of the hardest hit was the travel and tourism industry, with trillions of dollars in lost spending and pandemic fallout contributing heavily to unemployment.
In Kentucky, visitation decreased by 8.1 percent and visitor spending declined by 26.5 percent in 2020, according to an economic impact report prepared for the Kentucky Department of Tourism.
“COVID triggered an unprecedented crisis in the tourism economy,” said Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather. “Communities across the state were suffering and in dire need of help.”
Earlier this year, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic relief bill, which addresses the need for short-term economic relief and provides long-term investments for economic recovery. From this amount, the Kentucky Travel Industry Association (KTIA) requested $75 million from the 2022 General Assembly to fund a grant program to promote the state’s attractions.
Supporting this appeal and instrumental in helping secure the funding for Kentucky’s travel and tourism industry was Senator Damon Thayer-R, Majority Floor Leader. Thayer represents the 17th Senate District which includes southern Kenton County, Grant County, Scott County and part of Fayette County.
“Tourism is one of our most important industries,” said Thayer. “It has a huge impact on our economy and provides for tens of thousands of jobs and significant tax revenue.
“The industry took a big hit during COVID and the shutdowns, and the surrounding states were way out ahead of us in using ARPA funds. Since tourism qualifies under ARPA rules, I thought it was appropriate to vigorously pursue funding to promote marketing in our state like the surrounding states.”
Tourism is an $8.9 billion industry in Kentucky. The $75 million Thayer helped secure will have far-reaching impact, both across the state and for individual communities.
“When people come into communities to visit the tourist attractions, they stay in hotels and Airbnbs, eat at restaurants, purchase gas, shop in stores – and it has a tremendous trickle-down effect on the economy,” said Thayer. “Whether it is Kentuckians doing a daytrip or staycation or people coming from other states to visit our attractions, they all provide dollars that trickle-down into our economy.
“In my region, we have numerous important tourist attractions,” he continued. “This includes the Kentucky Horse Park, Ark Encounter, several wineries, breweries and bourbon distilleries, to name just a few. I know the importance of these attractions in terms of jobs in my community and thought it was a natural fit for me to be the lead advocate for these extra dollars.”
Some of the funding is earmarked for Kentucky’s Tourism Cabinet to run ads regionally and nationally that encourage people to visit the state. The rest will be allocated to individual convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) and tourism commissions across the state. The funds are for strictly prescribed purposes relating to tourism marketing and come with restrictions regulating their use.
“We don’t know how much the local CVBs will get, but no matter the amount, thanks to Senator Thayer, the money will positively impact our marketing and advertising budget and play a role in what we can do to attract visitors to Kentucky and Georgetown,” said Lori Saunders, executive director of the Georgetown/Scott County Tourism Commission. “We’ll have a much wider reach and will be able to afford things we’ve never been able to before.”
To achieve its goal of attracting visitors back – and in greater numbers – Georgetown/Scott County Tourism is focusing on applying the funds to several critical areas, all allowable under the grant program’s guidelines. These include the need for a new website and new marketing material, including a brochure, branding researching and to further explore and incorporate Georgetown as the “Birthplace of Bourbon” into current branding.
In advocating the need for relief funding for Kentucky’s tourism industry, Thayer had two key outcomes in mind: to get people traveling to and around Kentucky to visit attractions to support jobs and for local and state tax revenues.
“Senator Thayer has always been a champion of Kentucky tourism,” said Scott County Judge/Executive Joe Pat Covington. “He is a vocal supporter of the industry, and this was never truer than during the pandemic. He understood the devastation and acted quickly to find ways to mediate the damage.”
Using his hometown as an example, Thayer stated: “I’m keenly aware of how tourist attractions drive our economy. When I’m out in local restaurants or grocery stores, there are many people there who are visiting the Kentucky Horse Park or Ark Encounter and staying at Georgetown hotels, shopping in our stores and eating in our restaurants.
“I want them to keep coming and to visit in even greater numbers than prior to COVID.”