It’s certainly good news that a new report by Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet has found the economic impact of tourism grew by 5.2 percent in eastern Kentucky in 2012, outpacing the overall statewide growth rate. However, we would be more excited bout the report if we had more confidence in how tourism spending is calculated by state government.
For example, when construction workers and others stay in area motels while temporarily working in the area, most people would not consider such people as “tourists,” but that’s what they are. They may not spend any time visiting local attractions, playing golf or hiking trails while in the area, but they may see a show at the Paramounts Arts Center if they can get tickets, or go to the movie. That makes them tourists, and on any given night, out-of-town workers fill most of the hotel and motel rooms in this corner of the state.
But we also know that most of those attending shows at the Paramount, going to movies and dining in restaurants live here. They don’t think of themselves as tourists, and since it is impossible to tell out-of-towners from local residents by simply looking at spending numbers, it is virtually impossible to accurately calculate tourism spending.
Nevertheless, since most of us who live here do not consider northeast Kentucky as a place to vacation like Gatlinburg, Tenn., Branson, Mo., and Orlando, Fla., are, we tend to underestimate the impact or tourism on the area economy. But we can think of a number of attractions that bring people from other areas to this region, maybe not for a week’s vacation but at least for a night or two. Here are just a few:
-- Greenbo Lake State Resort Park, Carter Caves State Resort Park, Yatesville Lake State Park and Grayson Lake State Park.
While Kentucky’s state parks may no longer be able to accurately boast of being the “nation’s finest,” they are still great places to visit. All four parks listed above have excellent campgrounds, and Greenbo and Carter Caves also both have beautiful lodges and cabins. The state parks are among the few places in this region where many families do spend their entire vacations. We know because we have done so many times, and we have always had a great time. New attractions are always being added to the parks. Greenbo Lake will have a SCUBA diving area this summer, and several of the parks are adding ziplines, new trails, horse campsites, and theme weekends..
It may surprise some people just how many drive many miles to Ashland each Independence Day just to see the Summer Motions concerts, the arts and crafts, and other attractions at Central Park and at Veterans Riverfront Park. And why not? The concerts and other activities are all free, making them the best entertainment value anywhere. Oh, that the July 4th fireworks on the riverfront are the best in the region.
--Paramount Arts Center.
While many, if not most, of the people attending shows at the Paramount live in this community, we know of people who have driven from Columbus, Cincinnati, Charleston and even farther just to see a show at the Paramount. For example, we know of out-of-town residents who recently drove more than 200 miles just to see Loretta Lynn in concert at the Paramount. That’s not unusual. Many people come to Ashland just to see concerts, plays and other attractions at the historic theater in the heart of downtown.
--Winter Wonderland of Lights.
The annual holiday display in Central Park has been going on enough years that many of us tend to take it for granted. But many people who do not live in this community annually schedule a trip to Ashland at Christmas just to see the lights in the park. And Ashland’s Christmas Parade is still the region’s best.
--Poage Landing Days in Ashland, Old Fashion Days in Greenbo, Memory Days in Grayson and the Labor Day Weekend in Catlettsburg.
Nearly every community in this region has a special weekend and all of them are tourist attractions. They are fun events suitable for the entire family.
We could go on, but you get our point. From players and their families coming to town for a weekend sports tournament, to hunters driving hundreds of miles in hopes of bagging an elk, to people coming to town for family and school reunions, there are always visitors in this region, and they all add to the local economy.
The Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet’s report said tourism spending increased by more than $19 million in the Kentucky Appalachian Region to $384 million in 2012. In our immediate area, only Boyd County experienced a decline in tourism spending in 2012, and it was slight, from $171,9 million to $168.9 million.
When he became mayor of Ashland in January, Chuck Charles said his vision for the city was to make Ashland as “destination city” — a place where people would plan to spend the bulk of their vacation, and not just a night or two on the way to somewhere else. As the former long-time president of Summer Motion, Charles knows what it takes to attract people to the city. If anyone can make Ashland a “destination city,” it is Chuck Charles.