FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s tourism industry bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic to post its best year on record in 2022, generating an economic impact of nearly $13 billion, the state said Tuesday.

The number of travelers visiting the Bluegrass State last year — and the amounts they spent — surpassed pre-pandemic levels as guests flocked to attractions, Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration said.

“Tourism is essential to Kentucky and that is why I have made it a priority to support this industry,” the governor said in a news release. “It’s thrilling to see our hard work pay off in such a historic way.”

Attractions include renowned horse farms and bourbon distilleries as well as outdoor adventure, history, arts and cultural draws, Beshear said. Kentucky is home to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Bourbon tourism also reached new heights last year in Kentucky.

Attendance at distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail surpassed 2 million in 2022 for the first time ever, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association said earlier this year. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, which showcases smaller distilleries, had its best year, with total attendance last year reaching 738,287, the association said. Attendance is continuing to surge this year, the industry said Tuesday.

“We’re on track to break last year’s record,” Eric Gregory, the association’s president, said in a statement.

Distilleries are drawing crowds that tend to stay longer and have more disposable income to spend in those communities, he said. Spirit makers have invested big sums into new or expanded visitor centers to play up the industry’s heritage and allow guests to soak in the sights and smells of bourbon-making.


Overall tourism in Kentucky generated $12.9 billion in economic impact last year along with 91,668 jobs, state officials said. The state’s previous high was $11.8 billion in economic impact in 2019.

Communities across Kentucky registered historic tourism numbers last year. That includes Fayette County, which reached $1.5 billion in total economic impact, generating 11,209 jobs, the officials said. Beshear unveiled the latest tourism numbers in the Distillery District in Lexington, the state’s second-largest city. Lexington is in Fayette County.

“We are thrilled to see such a strong return to travel in 2022,” said Mike Mangeot, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Tourism.

Last year, travelers spent $8.9 billion while visiting Kentucky, the state said, citing a study by Tourism Economics. That activity generated more than $937 million in state and local taxes, they said.

“These numbers underscore the economic benefits of tourism and the importance of investing in our local communities,” said Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Lindy Casebier.

Support for tourism has drawn bipartisan support from the Democratic governor and the state’s Republican-dominated legislature.

The legislature provided $75 million in federal pandemic relief funding for tourism recovery in 2022, according to House and Senate leadership offices. The funding was committed to statewide tourism marketing, a grant program for local tourism commissions to help pay for marketing and to help attract meetings and conventions. Lawmakers allocated another $150 million for improvements at state parks, contingent on the parks department providing a plan for those investments, the House speaker’s office said.