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Bourbon tourism booming in Kentucky as COVID-19 restrictions ease

"We are on track to exceed pre-pandemic numbers in terms of the people coming so that's a huge deal. We're in June and nobody knew what to expect when we reopen."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After a year of COVID-19 restrictions, Kentucky's bourbon industry is overflowing with visitors, so much so that most of the bourbon tours are booked for the next month and a half.

"I think everybody is just so excited to get out of the house," marketing manager at Heaven Hill Distillery's Kentucky visiting experiences Anna Hibbs said. "We are on track to exceed pre-pandemic numbers in terms of the people coming so that's a huge deal. We're in June and nobody knew what to expect when we reopen."

Heaven Hills Distillery recently opened a $19-million tourist center where visitors can learn about whiskey while taking sips. 

"We are booked about four to six weeks out right now," Hibbs said admitting the demand comes as a bit of a surprise. "How comfortable they would feel, what they would see and do how long they would take to rebound, but I think it's safe to say that Kentuckians and people around us are ready to get back out there"

Adam Johnson is the senior director of Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experience and a part of the Kentucky Distillers Association. 

"We anticipated things would be busy. I don't know if anybody expected things to be just out of the gate running full steam ahead," Johnson said. "Here at the KDA, we're just hearing about a lot of traffic across our membership, across our partners that we work with including transportation partners, our restaurants."

Vice President of Marketing Communications at Louisville Tourism Stacey Yates says most of the traffic is on weekends with hotels reaching up to 80% occupancy. The primary driver of travel is bourbonism. 

"We're such an easy drive for people too. So we're seeing from the six hour radius people coming in," Johnson said. 

The pent-up demand is what experts call a good challenge becomes it signals a brighter future for the bourbon industry after a year of unknown

"Every day our guys are trying to add more tours, stay open a little later, bring on more tour guides," Johnson said. "That's something they're constantly working on so hopefully by the fall it will feel more like normal along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail."

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