McCracken County showed a 2.7 percent increase in tourism dollars, which brought nearly $190.5 million to the county’s economy. The Western Waterlands region showed an increase of 4.1 percent, an influx of $472 million. Those numbers, however, only reflect direct tourism expenditures — those spent at tourist destinations and hotels — and don’t reflect how tourists spent money on gas and restaurant meals around the county. Those estimated numbers show McCracken’s total to be closer to $299.5 million.
Pat Stipes, broadcast specialist for the Kentucky Department of Travel & Tourism, said that he attributes McCracken County’s growth to the resources that are put into it.
“When you look at the money that is spent to bring people into the county, you can only compare it to somewhere like Bowling Green,” Stipes said. “A lot of cities only have dreams. Paducah has the resources to make those dreams a reality.”
Most western Kentucky destinations showed improvement in 2011. Calloway County showed just over a 3 percent increase, nearly $67.5 million. Marshall County’s increase was larger at 4.4 percent, about $69.3 million. Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau President Mary Hammond chalked McCracken County’s rise up to the many awards the city has won over the past 18 months.
Marshall County Tourism Commission director Randy Newcomb said great weather and even better fishing helped the Kentucky Lake area to have a growth higher than the state average.
“When word gets out that the fishing is good, no one ignores it,” Newcomb said. “If we can show even the slightest bit of an increase in this economic climate we are very, very happy about it.”
Call Corianne Egan, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.
Current year shows higher increase
The numbers for 2011 showed growth, but tourism officials are expecting better numbers for 2012. McCracken County numbers may have been slightly lower in 2011 because of historically high spring flooding, which also forced a drop off of nearly 5,000 for the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Show and Contest. Attendance was back up to normal — just over 30,000 people — in 2012.
Erin Carrico, director of the Murray CVB, said the city added some new events — a United States Tennis Association tournament and the Kentucky Senior Games — in the first and second quarters that helped her show a 15 percent increase through those months. Her third quarter, which was bolstered by the nationally ranked Murray State University men’s basketball team, showed an extreme uptick.
“It is kind of scary those breakout numbers rely on our basketball team doing well,” Carrico said. “But that is why we save dollars from year to year and are frugal with our money. You can’t rely on those dollars, they aren’t guaranteed. But it is great to see that kind of growth.”
Other counties — notably Marshall County — have unexpectedly high numbers for the first quarter of 2012. Marshall County Tourism Commission executive director Randy Newcomb said the warm weather has almost offset the economic impact caused by a ship colliding with the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge. Newcomb said the hotel tax numbers for the county’s first quarter are up 20 percent.
“It didn’t have the damage that we had expected,” Newcomb said. “It actually attracted a lot of people because they wanted to see the bridge for themselves. And the weather has been so great that more people are taking spring trips down here. The bridge didn’t cut us off, all it did was make us come up with alternate routes.”
Graves County just hired a full-time tourism director in Laura Cook. While the county may not have destination tourism, Cook and her team are hoping to find a festival to anchor them to the tourism bandwagon.
“That is what we have been missing,” Cook said. “We have come up with ideas and executed them, but then made changes the next year or changed the event. No one does that to their festivals. Paducah doesn’t do it to their quilters, Trigg to their Ham Festival or Murray to Freedom Fest. We need to find one event and stay consistent with it.”
— Corianne Egan