NEWPORT, Ky. — The state of Kentucky is investing over $5 million into tourism, an industry that was hit as hard as any by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hope is to reignite excitement in travelers to come visit the Bluegrass state.

What You Need To Know

  • Tourism organizations around Kentucky are receiving state funding to help boost tourism following the hit the industry took from the pandemic

  • meetNKY is receiving more than $800,000

  • The organization’s CEO said the money will boost visitor staples in the region

  • Those include bourbon, CEO, and horse racing

Now that Julie Kirkpatrick has a giant check for more than $800,000, it’s time to get to work on how to use it. For Kirkpatrick, the president and CEO of meetNKY, the tourism organization for Boone, Campbell and Kenton Counties, getting to work means drawing more visitors to Northern Kentucky.

“Our goal with this is to leverage it out in the community to bring in new visitors [and] recover some segments that aren’t recovered yet from COVID. Things like conventions, meetings and events,” Kirkpatrick said. “We are a face-to-face industry. We are an in-person industry. And we’re hard impacted.”

meetNKY is a destination marketing and management organization, Kirkpatrick said, with the goal of creating marketing programs to put fresh eyes on Northern Kentucky and its experiences.

After hotel numbers plummeted, and restaurants, bars and attractions closed during the pandemic, Kirkpatrick said the goal now is to get things back up to pre-pandemic speed, and grow from there.

Areas like Newport on the Levee seem to be well on their way with visitors like Courtney Kelly, who along with her family, drove all the way from Louisville to visit the Newport Aquarium on Thursday.

“This is great. It’s built up. It’s got nice restaurants. It’s kind of just a good day trip,” she said.

Creating more of these types of experiences is what meetNKY intends to do with its newly available funds.

The $883,155 meetNKY received is part of the $5.3 million Gov. Andy Beshear announced would be rewarded to tourism and destination marketing organizations around the state.

Beshear announced more than $4.6 million will be directly awarded to tourism and destination marketing organizations. Those include:

  • Louisville Tourism: $1,368,474
  • meetNKY: $883,155
  • VisitLex: $544,959
  • Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: $164,155
  • Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau: $114,446
  • Visit Owensboro: $90,202
  • Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau: $89,364

An additional $678,624 will be allocated directly to the Commonwealth’s nine tourism regions to support regional marketing and promotion. Previously, Beshear dedicated $2.8 million in federal funding to support the creation of regional marketing campaigns.

The total economic investment for tourism and destination marketing organizations combined with the regional distribution is as follows:

  • Bourbon, Horses, and History: $1,727,086
  • Northern Kentucky River: $1,024,686
  • Bluegrass, Horses, Bourbon and Boone: $937,804
  • Western Waterlands: $376,335
  • Caves, Lakes and Corvettes: $347,052
  • Bluegrass, Blues and BBQ: $251,821
  • Kentucky Appalachians: $250,125
  • Daniel Boone Country: $236,787
  • Southern Kentucky Vacations: $194,554

Kirkpatrick said meetNKY will focus on Kentucky pillars: bourbon, food and horses. 

The organization will help foster the growth of what Kirkpatrick said is a “booming bourbon scene” in Northern Kentucky. It will help restaurants that are embracing culinary trends. And it will build excitement for the Turfway Racetrack, which promises to be a world class horse racing facility, set to open later this year.

“We’re open for business. It’s time to come back, and if they haven’t been here, it’s time to come have your first taste of southern hospitality,” Kirkpatrick said.

As for what Kelly would like to see brought to Northern Kentucky for one of her future trips back, she threw out Top Golf as a possibility.

“Something like that is nice. Just something family friendly that you can take kids to, but also adults can have fun too,” Kelly said.