LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After a year of hardships, March 2021 has been Louisville’s most lucrative tourism month since the onset of the pandemic. 

What You Need To Know

  • March 2021 was Louisville’s largest increase in tourism since the start of the pandemic

  • The busiest weekend was March 19-21, with 80% hotel occupancy

  • Louisville Tourism booked 13 events in March alone, with partners such as the Kentucky Expo Center and Kentucky International Convention Center

  • In comparison, from July to December 2020 Louisville Tourism booked more than 30 events

The Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) in downtown Louisville hosted its first expo since the beginning of the pandemic.

“This is the first step in the right direction for our recovery,” said KICC General Manager Blake Henry. “We’ve been dormant for awhile since the pandemic.”

The Build, Renovate and Landscape Expo was estimated to have 2,100 people in attendance, according to the show’s organizer, which helps the local economy.

In March 2021, KICC and the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) hosted nine events total with an estimated 30,090 guests in attendance. The estimated economic impact of that is $17.2 million, according to calculations by Louisville Tourism.

KICC itself hosted four of those events, the most since the pandemic started, Henry said.

“We’ve been busy here with a lot of sporting events, and I’ve heard from the hotels and all of our hospitality partners that they just really enjoy seeing us booked and seeing the results at their establishments because of what we drive here,” Henry said.

However, it’s not just KICC that has seen an uptick in events hosted. This weekend, the KFC Yum! Center hosted its first touring event since the pandemic began, a national professional bull riders competition. KEC also hosted a cheer and dance championship. All of that seems like a packed weekend for events in Louisville, but it wasn’t the busiest weekend for Louisville’s tourism industry in March.

“The weekend of March 6 and 7 was a large weekend of occupancy. We had several sporting events in town, and then this last weekend was the largest since [onset of pandemic] with 80% occupancy,” said Louisville Tourism Spokesperson Stacey Yates. 

Yates said a large volleyball tournament helped drive last weekend's surge, the highest peak hotel occupancy in the city since early 2020. Yates said leisure tourism also helped.

“So this is just individuals coming in, one’s, two’s, groups of people, coming in for a leisure reason, and that is really what is helping fill the hotel rooms over the weekends, too,” Yates explained. “It’s a mixed business. You’re stacking it with groups like sports, and trade shows, and small conferences right now, and then that leisure is coming over the top of it, creating, like I said, last week we had 80% occupancy. A lot of that was event driven, but a lot of it was the leisure component, too.”

Yates said the Louisville Tourism office booked 13 events in March 2021 with partners, such as KICC and KEC, compared to over 30 events booked from July to December last year.

“Just gives you an indication that business is starting to slowly creep back,” she said.

More events mean more people coming to the city, which means hospitality jobs are coming back. 

“We think that at one point during the height of the pandemic, when I mentioned 10 downtown hotels were closed, the restaurants were closed, we think up to 60% of those people were out of work during that time. So we are not back to full recovery, but we are starting to see some of those jobs return,” Yates told Spectrum News 1.

Yates added that one thing Louisville Tourism is hearing from hoteliers, especially downtown, is that as their occupancy ramps up transportation for guests has been an issue. 

“You’re flying in without a car or they are going out to dinner, and they need that taxi or that Uber or Lyft; there’s a shortage of drivers,” Yates said, adding that there is an opportunity there, especially in the months ahead. 

According to Kentucky Venues, which manages and operates KEC and KICC, in 2019, both venues hosted a total of 288 events, with an estimated economic impact of more than $361.6 million. In 2020, that total number of events went down to 109, with an estimated economic impact of more than $80.3 million. In 2021, there is an estimated total of 144 events planned, which is expected to generate an estimated economic impact of more than $182.4 million. In 2022, the estimated economic impact is expected to increase to more than $217.4 million.

Henry said KICC’S third and fourth quarters this year already look strong.

“Obviously, the pandemic hurt us and stalled our business, but we’re seeing things ramp up. There’s a new tide, and we’ll get through this pandemic and get to the other side even brighter and better than we were before,” Henry said.