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NKY tourism numbers bounce back sooner than expected

A view of Cincinnati and Covington from Devou Park in the summer of 2022.
Bill Rinehart
Northern Kentucky tourism officials say 2023's visitor numbers exceeded their expectations.

Nationwide, the tourism industry took a hit in 2020 due to the pandemic. The CEO and president of Meet NKY says, locally, things are looking much better.

Julie Kirkpatrick says visitor spending dropped about 80% four years ago when businesses closed to combat the spread of COVID, and recovery has been slow until last year.

"2021 started to open back up. 2022 was a bit of normalization. I really feel like 2023 was the balance year," she says. "We were anticipating to return to 2019 levels by 2025, and I am excited to say we achieved that in 2023."

Kirkpatrick says hotel occupancy returned to pre-pandemic levels, rising 1.3% to 68.5%.

She says increased media attention around nonstop British Airways flights to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the Taylor Swift concert, and the Bourbon Trail all helped bring visitors to the area. Kirkpatrick expects a great year ahead.

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"We've got a packed concert schedule. You've got everyone from Green Day to Luke Bryan. There's so many concerts," she says. "I know the Reds are going to bring fans here. I know FC Cincinnati is going to bring fans here, and of course, we have not seen the best of Joe Burrow yet."

She expects sellouts at Paycor Stadium when the Bengals start their season.

Kirkpatrick says the art and light show BLINK should draw more people, as well as the Kentucky Faith Trail.

Most visitors, she says, drive from within 300 miles, coming from Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, and Detroit, but more and more people are flying to the area, thanks in part to international flights from London and Paris.

MeetNKY reports 675 stories in national and international media that included Northern Kentucky and local attractions, reaching more than an estimated 1 billion readers. The report says advertising to reach that many would have cost $19.6 million.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.