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Shelby County sees big tourism increase

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Visitors’ spending up 9.2 percent from 2011

By Todd Martin

Shelby County raked in nearly $78 million in tourism money in 2012, an increase of 9.2 percent over 2011, based on an annual statewide survey.

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“That’s money for tourism and travel expenses,” said Katie Fussenegger, executive director of the Shelby County Tourism & Visitors Bureau. “That goes to hotels, shopping, restaurants, gasoline purchased by travelers and other places. The state has a formula they use that’s based on a number of visitors we provide.”

Shelby’s increase was part of a 4.2 percent statewide increase in tourism impact, pushing the state’s tourism dollars to $12.2 billion in 2012. And the increases this year came without a one-time major tourism event.

“There was nothing really big this year, no World Equestrian Games, no Ryder Cup, no PGA event,” Fussenegger said.

“I think this gives us a true view of how much travel decreased over the years and shows that it’s back on the rise. Our region grew 6.3 percent to lead the way, but it was part of a great gain across the board. Places like Louisville and Lexington were up like two-point-nine percent, so we had a great year.”

Shelby County is part of the what the state calls its Bourbon, Horses & History region, which also includes Breckenridge, Bullitt, Grayson, Hardin, Henry, Jefferson, Larue, Marion, Meade, Nelson, Oldham, Spencer, Trimble and Washington counties.

Other high-growth regions were the Western Waterlands, and Caves, Lakes & Corvettes both up 5.5 percent, and Kentucky Appalachians, up 5.2 percent.

The $78 million for Shelby County and the state totals, include indirect expenditures, which are results of direct money spent in the area. The direct expenditures for the year in Shelby County were $49.4 million and for the state were $7.8 billion.

Shelby County draws a lot of interest because of its prime location within its region. Located right in the middle of horse attractions in Louisville and Lexington and nestled between the Urban Bourbon Trail and several Bourbon Trail stops, it’s an ideal resting place.

“This is a great location,” Fussenegger said. “We fit right in among all the Bourbon Trail stops, and it was recently voted the number one attraction to Kentucky by National Geographic.”

The Bourbon Trail leads visitors to 14 distilleries located in several neighboring counties.

“That’s one thing we’re trying to take advantage of with our new brochures,” Fussenegger said. “We’ve gone to an itinerary format instead of a list, because it kind of sets things up for visitors. They can include and take out what they want, but it gives them something to pull from to set up a day or a whole trip.”

The largest individual event for Shelby County remains the annual Shelbyville Horse Show.

“When the state last did those figures for us a few years ago, the horse show was about twenty million,” Fussenegger said. “So with that one event, it shows how quickly that dollar amount can build.”

Fussenegger said she’s seeing the county’s tourism trade continue to grow through the early part of 2013, as well.

“We’re seeing a much higher number of motorcoach tours recently,” she said. “And that’s something that is coming back in popularity.

“We’re also seeing our horse farm tours take off. It’s kind of funny because we’re actually doing fewer tours but with a lot more people on each tour.”

The horse farm tour increases, Fussenegger said, can be attributed to a change in advertising philosophy.

“We’ve started doing a lot more promotion online, and it’s really paying off,” she said. “And it’s not just around the [Kentucky] Derby, either.”

The Shelby County tourism office is in full swing this week to celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week.

“We’re out at the rest stop [on Interstate 64 just west of Shelbyville] all week with the dulcimer group, and Fish and Wildlife will be out there, and we’ll even have Squire Boone out there one day,” Fussenegger said.