Louisville Bounds from the Starting Gate to Boost Tourism

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Big things are happening in Louisville, Kentucky. Starting at Louisville Tourism, where Karen Williams, a 30-year veteran, will retire as president and CEO on June 30, and the current chief operating officer, Cleo Battle, will take over. Before becoming chief operating officer, he was executive vice president.

This isn’t the only change happening in the city.

In 2019, Louisville Tourism hired Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc. to lay a vision for how the city can increase visitors from a current level of nearly 16.5 million to 25 million by 2030. The plan includes the participation of more than 2,500 industry and community stakeholders, and even more private and public agencies will be involved over the next five years.

Areas of priority are mobility and connectivity, workforce development, product development, Louisville’s bourbon connection, neighborhood preservation and development, economic development, and policies for sustainable tourism growth.

Before the pandemic, visitor numbers were trending in the right direction. Longwoods International reported that Louisville’s overnight visitation increased three percent in 2019 from 2018, and visitor spending was up nearly seven percent.

Despite Covid, 2021 will be year of significant growth for the city. Of the top 15 projected events, all pending state approval, most have an estimated impact in the tens of millions. Not surprisingly, the Kentucky Derby, with a projected economic impact of just under $200 million, leads the pack. Some 6,000 new hotel rooms are either coming soon, proposed or were added in the past 18 months.

“As we eagerly look towards 2021, the return to regular meetings and travel is imminent. We know this has been an extraordinary challenging time, as many people truly miss travel,” Williams says. “Whether they have been unable to visit family and friends, explore new cultures or make business connections, there is newfound realization just how critical our industry is—especially to those that rely on the hospitality industry for their livelihood. As one of the worst-hit industries, we are optimistic the return to travel will give our once 60,000-strong Louisville-area hospitality workers the vital boost needed for economic survival.”

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