Directors of tourism for Pulaski County, Somerset and Burnside spoke during the August membership meeting of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. From left are Michelle Allen, Leslie Ikerd and Frank Crabtree Jr.

Directors of three tourism organizations in Pulaski County spoke Tuesday at the Center for Rural Development to a good but COVID-19 thinned crowd during the August membership meeting of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.

Michelle Allen, executive director, Somerset-Pulaski County Convention & Visitors Bureau, stressed importance of tourism and economic impact tourism provides for the Lake Cumberland Region and Pulaski County.

Allen said economic impact from tourism in Pulaski County in 2018 was $119 million. She discussed how this impacts hotels, cabins, restaurants and retail services.

She also mentioned how important it is to welcome visitors. Not all visitors come from the North. "Anyone who crosses the county line and spends money with us is considered a visitor," Allen noted.

"As we continue to see Lake Cumberland grow we also need to get prepared for the future with the arrival of Horse Soldier Bourbon," Allen said. "The brewery will bring an entire new clientele to our community and we need to be ready," she added.

Leslie Ikerd, director of tourism for the city of Somerset, discussed importance of festivals and events. "Each festival not only helps folks visiting us, but it's an opportunity for our people to enjoy what’s offered right here at home," Ikerd said,

She emphasized how telling the story is so important when we have a wonderful story to tell. "Telling the story is a big part of what tourism is. We have to highlight our people and our products. The city is doing that through several murals," Ikerd explained.

Frank Crabtree, Jr., executive director of Burnside Tourism and Recreation Commission, discussed the COVID-19 impact on Burnside, and how they plan to stay on top the pandemic, but still try to boost the economy with tourism. Burnside has put together a COVID-19 care package showing visitors how to stay safe, how they can enjoy themselves, yet follow guidelines for traveling.

"During this time of unimaginable challenges, as all global industries and communities face a truly unknown and unpredictable future as the result of the COVID-19 virus, and particularly its impact on all businesses and any sizable gathering, I firmly believe it is in the best interest of our community, businesses and events to begin looking forward with a positive reimagining of how to change our operations to protect everyone while returning to sense of normalcy," he remarked, adding: "To drive our thought and creative processes to take us through to recovery, leaning on peers through coordinated calls, conversations, research and brainstorming until we reach a presentation of end-resolve," he remarked.

"I have encouraged city council, the mayor and my tourism board they must embrace the only things known:

That the virus is here,

We don’t have a vaccine or cure,

We must adapt and life must go on.

"Our community’s economy and well-being depend on our determination to adapt during this period," said Crabtree.

"From the time I took office until the onset of COVID-19 (June 2019 until Feb 2020) Burnside growth has been pretty amazing. Our numbers reflect 23.89 percent (2.5 percent-3 percent being average and 5-8 percent being exceptional). The 2019 Independence Day Celebration that drew more than 10,000 attendees was the largest in Burnside’s recorded history. We have worked hard to create an economic development plan and vision for Burnside that will boast lodging and entertainment the community has desired for years," the tourism director said.

"Interest in real estate and development of land in the area are all signs that we are on the right path. The community has pulled together and the teams are working hard to make this vision come to reality," he envisioned.

"With most of the tourism dollars coming from domestic travel within the United States it’s important we monitor how we compare nationally to usual destinations. As long as COVID-19 is a variable we are attracting an audience that would typically go to the beach, theme park or other stereotypical vacation spots. Why? Because our lodging and activities are naturally safer than those areas of mass gatherings with fewer restrictions. Our Lake Cumberland and outdoor recreational activities naturally tie in the ever important social distancing during this time," Crabtree explained.

"I researched many international areas to assess how they recovered from crisis. The one battle that is constant, especially in the US, is addressing the long-term damage done by our media outlets. We are addressing that right now with our own marketing efforts to let people know we are safer alternative. I am working with a prominent physician and putting together a tool kit best practices to stay safe for travelers,' he revealed.

"Recently in the United Kingdom they have redesigned their festivals and are having success. We have completely redesigned Burnside’s Labor Day Festival and our team has more than doubled. The majority of those volunteers have specific tasks to prepare and protect people from COVID-19. This should be an amazing festival and I hope people will come out because we are going to create the safest environment possible," Crabtree promised.

"I recognized the leadership of our community because I don’t feel people actually know how hard they work behind the scenes to protect our citizens. From Mayor Lawson, Mayor Keck, Judge Kelly, key employees within each of those administrations, Emergency Operations Center, Lake Cumberland Health Department, and more have pulled together for the community. And that’s what is going to take for us to recover and take our tourism to the next level, Crabtree concluded.

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