(The Center Square) – Tourism in Kentucky rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 and then some, according to a report Gov. Andy Beshear released Tuesday.
The study conducted by Tourism Economics found 75.9 million people visited the state last year and spent $8.9 billion during their trips. Those numbers surpassed 2019 totals by 3% for visitors and 12% for spending.
When other factors are included, the report found tourism created a $12.9 billion economic impact in Kentucky last year, an increase of more than $1 billion from 2019.
“These numbers underscore the economic benefits of tourism and the importance of investing in our local communities,” Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet Lindy Casebier said in a release.
Beshear, who unveiled the report in Lexington, described the tourism industry as essential to the state’s economy. The report showed the state’s efforts “pay off in such a historic way.”
It’s possible 2023’s numbers could exceed those from last year. Last year, the state received $75 million in federal funds for tourism recovery efforts. That money came from the ARPA bill Congress passed in 2021.
“From horse country and outdoor adventure to history, arts, culture and our world-famous bourbon, Kentucky has a little something for every traveler – but what really sets us apart is the hospitality and kindness of the hardworking Kentuckians in this industry,” Beshear said in a statement.
Beshear, a Democrat, is seeking re-election this fall and faces a tough challenge from Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. The governor has campaigned on the state’s post-COVID economy, which has generated record surpluses and helped push the number of jobs statewide past 2 million.
In his stump speech at Fancy Farm on Saturday, Beshear likened his campaign to a championship football team, saying winning teams don’t remove the quarterback or replace the head coach.
Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both General Assembly chambers, have repeatedly questioned how much credit Beshear deserves for the state’s economy. GOP lawmakers say the fiscally conservative policies and tax reforms they’ve pushed through the legislature – and at times overriding Beshear vetoes – have spurred the billion-dollar surpluses the state has generated in recent fiscal years.
“The Republican majority has been in charge since 2017, and the results have put our state on the trajectory that it’s on today,” state Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, said at the Western Kentucky political event Saturday. “We’ve passed bills aimed at eliminating the state income tax, modernizing tax code, reforming unemployment insurance and workers comp.”