Louisville Tourism Continues to Boom

Writer / Julie Yates
Photography Provided

Louisville has accomplished an enviable feat; it has become a brand that represents a vibrant and multifaceted city. Its journey to be recognized as more than the site of the Kentucky Derby or the home of the Louisville Slugger Factory is aided by a rich history, unique geographic location and friendly hospitality. In recent years, the city has increasingly become known as a place that offers attractions for multiple types of visitors. As Bourbon City, it appeals to couples and individuals who come for the Urban Bourbon Trail. It also attracts families who visit Museum Row, the Louisville Zoo or Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay.Louisville

The brand logo is its name and the fleur-de-lis centered in the middle is a nod to King Louis XVI of France, Louisville’s namesake. The city, founded by Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark, began in the late 1770s as a settlement on the Ohio River, close to the Falls of the Ohio. Since there were dangerous rapids, it was necessary to unload cargo before boats reached the falls. The result was the development of a major shipping port which continues today. This area was also the meeting place of Clark’s younger brother, William Clark, and Meriwether Lewis. After recruiting local men, they began their famous exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Later, in 1875, the Kentucky Derby was begun by Lewis Clark, who was George Rogers Clark’s great nephew.

The location has the distinction of being within a day’s drive of 60% of the continental United States. Post the Covid-19, Louisville Tourism has reached out to these areas to promote all the city has to offer. Michael Fetter, the organization’s Director of Marketing, has been with the organization for five years.

“It’s been a wild ride. We had a record year for tourism in 2019,” Fetter says. “Then the pandemic hit. We had to push on the breaks and really rethink what we were doing. We had been promoting Louisville as a place to fly into to experience Bourbon Country, much like people fly into San Francisco to visit Napa Valley. Instead of targeting places like Los Angeles, we had to recalculate.”

“The question was- how can we continue safety while respecting peoples safety,” he says.  “We started up again, then stopped and rethought, then started again. Now the focus is on bringing awareness of Louisville as a travel destination to markets such as Indianapolis and other sites within a four to five or even six-hour drive of us. It is the long weekend.”

Louisville’ bourbon connection is undoubtably a huge asset for tourism. Most of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky and the state’s history is woven throughout the industry. Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail consists of establishments dedicated to sharing stories and lore while educating participants on the facts behind bourbon production.

“Bourbon tourism has been a thing for a while. The Evan Williams Distillery Experience began in 2013 but even before that, in 2006, the brand ‘Come to Kentucky for Bourbon Country’ was launched. Now we promote Louisville as Bourbon City. The Urban Bourbon Trail started with about eight to 10 bars and restaurants that focused on bourbon. Now there are 40 on the trail. Ten distillery experiences have re-opened since COVID-19, and each tour ends with an expansive tasting session. Reservations are needed as the facilities definitely get booked out,” Fetter says.

LouisvilleAnother facet to Louisville is that it is a great destination for a fun family weekend. Kids don’t realize they are getting a history lesson when they experience cruising down the Ohio River on a steamboat via the Mary M. Miller or Belle of Louisville riverboats. Sports lovers and boxing enthusiasts will enjoy learning about how determination enabled a local legend to triumph at the Muhammad Ali Center. Across from the downtown center is the expansive Waterfront Park where events, concerts and festivals are scheduled throughout the warm weather months.

“The biggest surprise people have when they come to Louisville is how much the city has to offer. There are lots of tidbits about the area people don’t know,” Fetter says. “We have a walkable downtown with so many things to do and great parks. Museum Row on Main Street has seven attractions within close proximity to each other. The Old Louisville area has the largest collection of both shotgun houses and restored Victorian homes in the country. We also have the second most cast-iron facades outside of Soho in New York.”

Besides Kentucky fried chicken, Louisville is known for unique dishes that a visitors love to sample. The ‘hot brown’ originated at the Brown Hotel and while it might be classified as an open-faced sandwich, it’s a meal. Slices of ham, turkey and bacon atop toast are smothered in gravy and baked, making it a substantial lunch or dinner. Burgoo stew is another tradition, and dates to pre- civil was times. Like the hot brown, it includes several different meats but also vegetables.

No one should leave the city without having a slice of rich chocolate derby pie. There are many versions to be had around town, but the original recipe was developed in 1954 by the Kern family for their restaurant, Kern’s Kitchen. The eatery has trademarked the name and the recipe is kept top secret.

Fetter shares that 90% to 95% of visitors who participate in surveys say they would come back. Louisville Tourism’s job is to get them to initially come to the city, and he is quick to point out that the organization doesn’t do it alone.

The word gets out through connections with both social media digital business and local travel-based entities. Building partnerships with neighborhood associations, restaurants, hotels, venues and attractions is key. Large travel sites such as Expedia, Priceline and Trip Advisor offer information to travelers that can point them in directions that will make the most of their visit. In addition, Louisville Tourism maintains close ties with groups such as Louisville Forward, an economic development organization and Greater Louisville, Inc., GLI, the metro area’s chamber of commerce.

The most visited page of Louisville Tourism’s website is the Calendar of Events. Anyone with an upcoming event or activity can submit to it. It is a great resource in communicating happenings around the city especially during the holiday season.Louisville

“The future is very bright. There are new hotels and restaurants popping up in downtown and neighborhoods such as the east market district of downtown, NuLu (New Louisville), as well as places like St. Matthews,” Fetter says.

“Tourism is important to the city for the business it bring and it’s the people of Louisville that sell it. Louisville has its own southern hospitality. It’s not considered to be part of Midwest but not the true deep South either. Louisville is the front porch of the south,” Fetter says.

You can visit the Louisville Tourism website at GoToLouisville.com or by calling 1.888.568.4784. Louisville Tourism is on Instagram as @gotolouisville and on Facebook as Louisville Tourism.

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