Tourism has increased by 9.2 percent since 2003, generating the county a little more than $2 million since that time, according to the department's report, which was compiled by the Travel Industry Association (TIA). A total of $24,812,174 is documented in the report for last year's expenditures.
Though tourism growth stalled slightly at 2.2 percent between 2004 and 2005, improvements in local attractions, such as Black Mountain Recreational Park, could drastically improve figures this time next year, said Harlan County Chamber of Commerce President Roger Fannin.
Fannin, chair of the chamber's economic development committee, said while it will take some time to see the results of local tourism efforts - from promoting the off-road park and revamping local festivals - the county is “headed in the right direction.” The county's steady growth in tourism, he said, shows that those efforts are working. On Thursday, Fannin said he was holding a copy of the globally recognized magazine, ATV Illustrated, in which Black Mountain Recreational Park was the featured story.
“I think we're just really scratching the surface. America is discovering Harlan County, and it's starting to show,” Fannin said. “I would expect 2006 to be another big-growth year.”
Fannin said that what most impresses him about the county's continued growth is its location.
“We don't have a major interstate that will bring people here by accident. Harlan County is a destination,” he said, adding that publicity surrounding the county's attractions has already produced direct results in a short amount of time. The off-road park, he said, just opened in June of last year. And continuing to aggressively promote the county's natural beauty and rich history will produce further growth, he said.
“It wouldn't surprise me to see those numbers grow dramatically in the next few years,” Fannin said.
Neighboring counties Perry and Bell came in third and fourth for tourism growth in the 20-county Eastern Highlands South Region, securing $40,695,356 and $34,072,062, respectively, for 2005. Laurel and Whitley counties placed first and second, with $107,793,153 reported for Laurel and $76,053,102 documented for Whitley, according to the report.
Those numbers are part of an overall 8.2 percent statewide increase in tourism in 2005 that produced $9.4 billion for the state's economy, according to the Department of Tourism.
Randy Fiveash, commissioner of the department, said the county's numbers clearly show “in dollars and cents how valuable tourism is to Harlan County and all other counties in Kentucky.”
“Not only do these visitors take in the beauty of our commonwealth, they also spend money in our restaurants, hotels and motels, gas stations and retail stores. The value of tourism extends throughout the entire state,” Fiveash said.
Fiveash said the Department of Tourism will be working with local officials to determine how to further increase tourism numbers.
According to TIA's findings, 176,200 people statewide are employed as a result of tourism, and approximately 30 jobs are created for every $1 million spent by tourists. TIA's information comes from a set of data collected from federal, state and local governments and private organizations, which are gathered at a ZIP code level.