PULASKI COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ/SPEDA) – Despite a two-month economic shutdown, numerous canceled events and reduced capacity at many establishments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Somerset and Pulaski County experienced another banner year in tourism revenue, according to the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Agency.

Visitors spent a total of $115 million in the county in 2020, many of them choosing the Lake Cumberland area to engage in safe outdoor activities.

“While we always like to promote the things you can do on and off the water in Pulaski County, being able to provide a safe haven for visitors on the water was a huge advantage for us in 2020 when so much of the world was shut down,” said Michelle Allen, executive director of Lake Cumberland Tourism. “Being a mecca for outdoor recreation sets Pulaski County apart and our local economy greatly benefitted from that during this challenging time.”

The economy benefited so much, in fact, that it only experienced a 20 percent decline in tourism spending where other communities with fewer outdoor recreation opportunities declined as much as 60 percent, Allen said.

According to travel impact data released by the Kentucky Department of Tourism, total trips to the Southern Kentucky Vacations region, which includes 10 counties in the Lake Cumberland area, topped 5.5 million in 2020 — a 10 percent increase over the previous year.

For people who stayed overnight in the region, 59 percent participated in outdoor activities, including fishing, swimming, hiking and backpacking, camping and visiting waterparks.

two men fishing on lake
For people who stayed overnight in the Lake Cumberland area in 2020, 59 percent participated in outdoor activities, including fishing, swimming, hiking and backpacking, camping and visiting waterparks.

Impact data show visitors are also interested in having authentic experiences, which makes Somerset-Pulaski County an attractive option because of its focus on quality of life and place, Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) President and CEO Chris Girdler said.

Forty-four percent of visitors to the Southern Kentucky Vacations region chose unique and local food options, 54 percent participated in entertainment activities and 34 percent participated in cultural activities — all of these above the national average. Girdler said these figures are even more impressive given the large-scale events, like the Master Musicians Festival and three months of Somernites Cruise, that were canceled in 2020.

Tourism is Pulaski County’s No. 1 industry, generating more than $8 million in state and local taxes and supporting thousands of jobs. SPEDA’s efforts to invest in the community’s top industry are paying off, Girdler said.

“We have not only collaborated with our tourism agencies to beautify our waterways and trails and enhance recreational opportunities, but we have significantly invested in arts and entertainment and supported our hospitality industry through free training,” Girdler said. “We want the experience visitors have here to be second-to-none. These numbers are proof that all of the great things we’ve been working toward are coming together.”