A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

meetNKY celebrated its 50th anniversary in fine style, reporting a record year and naming CVG ‘The Proof’

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

meetNKY’s annual meeting and celebration has a well-earned reputation for hosting “the best party in the region” and it backed that up Thursday with numbers that wowed its packed crowd at Drees Pavilion.

Bottom line: Another successful year for the organization charged with bringing visitors into Northern Kentucky, driving the tourist economy, filling hotel rooms, promoting local attractions, and putting out the welcome sign.

They did it “louder and prouder,” as CEO Julie Kirkpatrick said in her report.

This year’s theme was “50 Years of Storytelling.”

“We were laser-focused in 2023 around telling the stories pf the Northern Kentucky region to attract visitors,” Kirkpatrick said. “We did this in a very strategic way as we celebrated the new non-stop British Airways flights to London launching out of CVG, added additional stops along the B-Line, brought a giant green alien to Covington, hosted national sporting events, and of course, welcomed Taylor and the Swifties to our region.”

It was a year of building a deeper community connection all around, forming important partnerships, alliances, and connections — and getting NKY’s message out to an international audience.

Its annual “The Proof” award — the new name for its “Star of Industry Award” to the region’s tourism super star — went to CVG and was accepted by CEO Candace McGraw on behalf of her team.

Kirkpatrick cited CVG’s steady stream of announcements of new flights, including British Airways’ direct flight to London and Frontier’s eight new nonstop flights in 2024 — with more on the way — and the airport’s $9.3 billion economic impact on the region. And both she and McGraw noted the terrific synergy between their two organizations.

“We are grateful for this recognitions and appreciate the collaborative, strategic work in tourism and destination management that helps the airport deliver a $9.3 billion annual economic impact to the Cincy region,” said McGraw. “over the past several years, our region has experienced many air service successes, including the launch of British Airways at CVG, because of the strong collaboration we have with meetNKY and other tourism partners.”

meetNKY has indeed come a long way from its modest beginnings in the 1970s when Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties formed the Northern Kentucky Tourist, Recreation & Convention Commission. Along its storyline came Tall Stakes, a Delta Hub at CVG, Covington Landing, Newport Aquarium, Embassy Suites at RiverCenter, Newport on the Levee, New Riff Distilling, Ark Encounter, Braxton Brewing, Hotel Covington, and Turfway Park Racing & Gaming — just to name a few highlights.

meetNKY’s Julie Kirkpatrick shares the organization’s good news. (NKyTribune photo)

Consider these numbers, cited by Kirkpatrick, as part of the success story today:

• 3 million visitors sought information and resources from the various websites managed by meetNKY;

• 37,000 future convention room nights books, an increase of 36% over the last year;

• 40,000 group tour hotel room nights booked;

• 28 kiosks placed at partner hotels and attractions assisting 50,000 visitors;

• 675 stories included NKY in 2023, generated $19.6 million in advertorial spend to reach more than a billion readers;

• Meeting planner satisfaction: 99.3%.

Other notable achievements:

• The Taylor Swift weekend accounted for a 19% increase in total visitor spend to restaurants in the region, 45% contributed by visitors.

• The Kona Ice Annual Konvention attracted 1,500 attendees and led to almost $1million impact on the region.

• The 2023 LWS Open at Idlewild in Burling and Jack Harlow’s performance at Truist were top visitor draws.

• The 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit made its way to Florence.

Bourbon was also part of the story: The Kentucky Distillers’ Association noted that the bourbon industry has more than doubled since 2008, making it a $9 billion industry. No other industry has higher shares of national employment (27%), labor compensation (26%) and output than distilling.

“Northern Kentucky’s seven distillers played a big role in contributing to these numbers,” said Kirkpatrick. “Between Augusta Distillery, Boone County Distilling, Neeely Family Distillery, New Riff Distilling, The Old Pogues Distillery, and Second Sight Spirits, we saw a 25% increase from annual visitation numbers in 2022.”

Seven new stops were added to the B-Line, Northern Kentucky’s self-guided bourbon experience, in 2023 alone. These included Pensive Distilling Co. and August Distillery, which were also added to the Bourbon Trail, along with Pompilio’s, Revival Vintage Spirits and Bottle Shop, Lissa Steakhuis, Knowledge Bar & Social Room, and Caproni’s on the River.

The best part of the story, however, is what is yet to be told — and therein lies the 2024 event calendar that includes BLINK, top music acts like Kenny Chesney, Luke Combs, Foo Fighters, Green Day and more, a decision on the development of an amateur sports facility to capture a fair share of the travel sports market, continued development of the B-Line as a gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, maximizing outdoor opportunities, continued expansion of placemaking and wayfinding opportunities throughout the region.

Julie Kirkpatrick presents ‘The Proof’ award to Candace McGraw of CVG. (meetNKY photo)

Looking ahead, Guy van Rooyan of the Salyers Group, meetNKY’s board chair, cited the value of setting clear goals and objectives and investing in data for future planning.

“This year we took a similar approach, conducting two studies with CSL International regarding enhancements of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center and the benefits of investing in a sports complex,” he said. “The data on economic impact is hard to ignore.”

Kirkpatrick said, “Our biggest challenge is that the Northern Kentucky Convention Center is an outdated facility in appearance and features. This it noted by meeting partners when they come to look at this region. That building needs money put into it. While the facility itself is sufficient and even profitable because of the proximity to CVG and the walkability of our riverfront communities, we need updates to help us compete with other cities.”

MeetNKY also announced a new partnership with ArtsWave to increase cultural vibrancy in Northern Kentucky through art and creative placemaking. With support from meetNKY and a generous gift from Corporex, ArtsWave will hire a Creative Placemaking Director to work primarily in Covington, Newport and other surrounding NKY towns.

Other things to look forward to in 2024: arrival of the massive “Moving Chains” kinetic art installation from New York City to the banks of the Ohio; statewide launch of Bourbon & Belonging: Kentucky’s Queer Bourbon Week in October; impact of the new Kentucky Faith Trail which features NKY’s Mother of God Church, Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter; celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Newport Aquarium, 100th Anniversary of Kentucky State Parks, and the 10th Anniversary of New Riff Distilling which has just completed a $3million renovation.

In a light-hearted moment, Kirkpatrick asked Covington Mayor Joe Meyer to stay on stage after his welcoming remarks to open the event, made a show of blowing dust off a box she said had been found in meetNKY’s offices, and presented him with the award that was inside. It was the Star of the Industry Award that was meant for the Mayor the year COVID forced the cancellation of the annual meeting.

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One Comment

  1. Mark Calitri says:

    Northern Kentucky has a lot of momentum and continues to drive economic growth.

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