A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Mary Quinn Ramer: Lexington boosts tourism by leveraging partnerships with signature industries

There are two trends dominating the tourism industry – technology and authenticity. Travelers have an amazing amount of resources at their fingertips when they book their trips, and they want to experience something different.

That has worked in Lexington’s favor as people expand their searches beyond the standard tourist stops to immerse themselves in their destinations, complete with genuine interactions, local cuisine and one-of-a-kind activities.

By leveraging those trends, we have set record levels of tourism the last two years. The economic impact of travel and tourism in Fayette County has topped $2 billion annually.

In order to continue this positive trajectory, the travel industry is working to better show potential visitors all we have to offer, specifically in international markets. We must maximize our outreach to the more than 75 million who visit the United States.

Those international visitors also demand unique experience, but they don’t use technology as much to book their itineraries. They still rely on people to package their trips.

Our signature industries, such as bourbon and horses, attract foreign visitors as do our culinary destinations and Southern hospitality. It comes as no surprise that once they get here, visitors love what our city and state have to offer. However, it remains a difficult task to market a local region like Central Kentucky effectively to audiences abroad because we aren’t as well-known as larger American cities.

With the help of state partners such as the Kentucky Department of Tourism as well as national programs, we are well on our way to growing our share of the international travel market.

Brand USA, our country’s international marketing arm, partners with organizations like ours to help us promote our local destinations. Created as a public-private partnership, this national program doesn’t use taxpayer money, yet pays dividends to regional economies. In 2017, each dollar invested in international marketing generated $27 of visitor spending in the United States.

And it’s not just Lexington reaping the benefits. Since its creation in 2010, Brand USA has been responsible for more than $17 billion in economic growth across the country. Its work attracting international visitors supports 50,000 jobs.

Without Brand USA, Lexington would not be able to capitalize on the current trends of the tourism market because attracting high-spending visitors takes time, effort and substantial investment. Brand USA recognizes the importance of marketing the United States’ most authentic destinations.

To sustain and expand the growth in tourism that Lexington has achieved, we need our Congressional delegation to support pro-travel policies. Congress was smart in creating a program like Brand USA, and it is our hope they ensure its place in the future.

These public-private partnerships help us leverage our investment and maximize our impact around the globe.

Mary Quinn Ramer is president of VisitLEX, a destination sales, marketing, and service organization charged with promoting Lexington’s Bluegrass Region for the purpose of attracting visitors and growing the economy. For more information, visit www.visitlex.

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