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Anderson Co. needs a bona fide tourism bureau, like, immediately

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By Chris Hamilton

Even if you don’t drink Wild Turkey or hunt wild turkey, you have to admit that the work the Wild Turkey distillery has done to increase visitor traffic to Anderson County is pretty remarkable.

This community is truly blessed with a corporate citizen that not only provides positive notoriety but also jobs and taxes. And just a few miles away is Four Roses, another great bourbon job/tax producer and tourist attraction.

As a newcomer to the area and a former tourism CEO, my first call was to the local tourism director for comments about the projected impact of the visitor center Wild Turkey officially unveiled yesterday. After all, much fanfare was planned, a visit by the governor, a reminder that Anderson County can lay claim to bourbon legend Jimmy Russell and smiles were expected all around for this illustrious moment.

What I got was a journey into the ambiguity of tourism promotion for Anderson County, particularly Lawrenceburg.

To find the local tourism director, I Googled what I suspect is a very common search for Anderson County tourism – “Anderson County Kentucky tourism.” The first site that shows up is for the Anderson County Tourism Commission. Oy. The phone number didn’t work, the email address bounced, practically every link went to nothing or the wrong sites. It’s a disaster. One of the best examples of bad first impressions I’ve ever seen.

Shortly into the list of results is VisitLawrenceburgKy.com, an attractive little site but still a very bare bones effort.

It took a few phone calls to other organizations and I was finally led to David “Davie” Montgomery, a member of the local tourism commission. He’s a very good-natured fellow, indeed, but has had his share of frustrations since being appointed to the commission last summer. He’s a believer in the benefits but not quite sure how to get the fire lit.

It turns out there really is a commission but getting a meeting with its seven members has been a lesson in futility. There’s even funding - a transient room tax collected monthly – and a budget.

Magen Hoskins, general manager of Best Western Lawrenceburg Inn, told me she’s been the chair and acted on behalf of commission in regards to advertising for the past couple of years on a volunteer basis. She has indicated that she is stepping down from that position, though.
Hoskins said there hasn’t been a paid director for a few years and that most commissioner terms have expired.

What seems to be lacking is a plan for moving forward. Hard to plot the course if you can’t get a quorum of those who get to case votes. The last commission meeting, which was held in September 2013, had an agenda with genuine tourism-related topics but, well, that was 7 months ago.
We’ll leave it at that for the moment. However, this isn’t a topic we’ll let snooze under a tree with no place important to go.

Anderson County is next door to the state capitol, minutes from Keeneland, Rupp Arena and Lexington, home of Wild Turkey and Four Roses, has a major thoroughfare running right through it, cool shops, great restaurants, a convention center… holy smoke, folks! Do you know how much money visitors spend in communities such as this?

Something tells me there’s more to the story. Tourism in Anderson County should be a very high priority. Local businesses need it, it’s good for the quality of life and overall morale of the community and, frankly, if you don’t have a strong tourism and travel promotion plan these days, your neighbors will gladly slurp up your visitors with their tourism efforts.

I can assure you, it’s already happening.