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'It takes working as a community': Louisville tourism officials say large conference shows rebound

The Travel South International Showcase wrapped up Tuesday night with a grand event at the Kentucky Derby Museum. There were about 400 tourists in attendance.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A convention in Louisville has brought out hundreds of people from across the country, and tourism leaders said it shows just how powerful the city's tourism rebound is becoming.

The Travel South International Showcase wrapped up Tuesday night with a grand event at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

The annual conference encourages tourists to learn more about a southern state; this was Louisville’s first year as host.

Tourists came from places including Canada, Europe, Latin America and Oceania. They dressed up in their Derby finest, heard live music, drank bourbon cocktails and were shown Derby history. 

It was the culmination of a three-day conference where more than 400 tourism professionals discussed ways to garner more business from international travelers.

Katrina Helmer with the Kentucky Derby Museum said it’s the group Louisville wants to attract because they tend to stay in town longer.

“This is an economic boost that we're looking at not just for the museum, we're talking about an economic boost hopefully in the long run for Kentucky,” Helmer said.

Nicole Twigg, vice president of tourism development for Louisville Tourism, said the conference is a clear sign of the rebound Louisville has long needed.

“It takes working as a community, working as a village,” she said. “It takes all of us together to produce an event just like this and to do what hospitality does every single day.”

Downtown Louisville, once a major tourism draw, has been riddled with violence and some businesses have moved out. Thus, while an event like this raises hope for a rebound, it begs the question of what is attracting people to the city.

Twigg and Helmer said it's simple - genuine Louisville hospitality and showing off all that the city has to offer, including downtown.

“It is really important for the museum that all of this city is doing well because when we're all doing well, then we're all succeeding,” Helmer said.

Liz Bittner, president and CEO of Travel South USA, which sponsors the event, said international travel is important to the economy. She said the pandemic hindered progress.

“In order for us to recover, we need to be inviting everyone to the south, and I think Kentucky, particularly the city of Louisville, has done just an amazing job,” Bittner said.

Hunter Gardner was visiting from Mississippi. He hopes his state will be the next host.

“You guys really did an incredible job of making sure those of us who have never visited truly had a memorable experience,” he said.

Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg’s administration sent the following statement to WHAS 11:

It’s no surprise that Travel South USA chose to host its International Showcase event in Louisville this week. Louisville has so much to offer and as we approach Inauguration Day, my team and I are excited to keep building on the momentum and bringing more visitors from around the world to our unique city.

Helmer said the museum is up 16% in attendance this year so far compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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