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Tourism's economic impact

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Earlier this month, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet released its annual report Economic Impact of Kentucky’s Travel and Tourism Industry. Tourism has long been an important job creator in Kentucky, and as the report revealed, those opportunities are growing across the state. Tourism-generated jobs provided more than $3.2 billion in wages to Kentucky workers in 2016—an increase of more than $156 million from 2015 wages.

In Hardin County, where I serve as executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau, and in every other county in the Lincoln Trail region, we picked up new tourism jobs in 2016.

That job growth and the growth of our larger region goes hand in hand, of course, with the industry’s core goal – attract visitors to a community to spend money. And as the report indicates, visitors find our area worthy of their tourism dollars.

The eight counties of the Lincoln Trail region as well as seven other counties in the greater Louisville area make up the Bourbon, Horses and History tourism region. In this tourism region, visitors made more than $2.8 billion in direct expenditures in 2016, up more than $100 million over the prior year, according to the economic impact report. Add the indirect expenditures related to tourism, and the total economic impact in the Bourbon, Horses and History region was more than $4.4 billion in 2016, up $185 million over 2015.

When we think about how we will grow tourism even further, we would be remiss to overlook the importance of our tourism workforce.

“Having a quality workforce is critical for successful tourism efforts,” said Ilsa Johnson, executive director of the City of Leitchfield Tourism and Convention Commission. “So many of the people working in tourism have the opportunity to interact with visitors and to leave an impression that influences the visitor’s overall experience in our community.”

The tourism industry commonly is known for first jobs. These front-line positions include hotel clerks, servers, housekeepers and retail associates to name a few. The importance of soft skills can’t be overemphasized.

Workers who can communicate effectively, work as part of team, solve problems and value customer service will succeed.

A system that helps to develop those workers can have an invaluable impact on the industry, and we’re excited about what our high schools, the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, economic development professionals and others are doing to further develop work ethic and soft skills across our region.

While tourism is an excellent industry for students, transitioning workers and those seeking part-time opportunities, the great news is that the industry offers pathways to higher paying careers as well. From those who plan and orchestrate tours and events to those who manage hotels and restaurants, workers who want to take on more responsibility and grow a rewarding career can find those opportunities.

Plus, as tourism grows in a community, so does commercial development, namely dining, shopping and entertainment destinations. That equates not only to additional opportunities for workers at all levels of their careers, but also opportunities for entrepreneurs.

As executive director of the Bardstown-Nelson County Tourism and Convention Commission Dawn Przystal says, tourism offers endless potential for entrepreneurs.

“The tourism industry is so broad, and in Bardstown, for example, with our downtown and locally owned shops, restaurants and bed and breakfast establishments, there is plenty of opportunity for someone who has a business idea and wants to serve our visitors,” she said.

We know an immense amount of research is considered as a business determines a location, and one of the key measures is daytime population. An event at the Elizabethtown Sports Park, for instance, can add thousands to the local population.

When we boost those numbers, we create more business for our local businesses and our communities earn new development.

Our region has so much to offer visitors – natural beauty, outdoor adventure, rich history, the storied bourbon tradition, beautiful downtown districts and more.

Moreover, our region’s tourism has a lot to offer our residents, both in career opportunities and the economic vitality that helps drive the quality of life we all enjoy.

Sherry Murphy is executive director of the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. She can be reached at 270-765-2175.