Kentucky steps up efforts to attract groups

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FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The Bluegrass State is stepping up efforts to court the group travel market, which represents about 10% of the state's visitors.

The Kentucky Department of Travel had set up initiatives that include greater participation in trade shows and development of themed itineraries tied to the state. The newest itinerary is Country Music and Crafts in Appalachia, designed to promote eastern Kentucky as a group destination, according to Doris Meador, manager of group travel marketing for the department.

With the aim of attracting group tour operators, the department ran a four-night familiarization tour in June and plans call for a second tour in June 1999. The recent fam tour attracted 30 tour operators and travel planners. So far, a handful of tour operators have started programs in Kentucky's eastern region, Meador said, and more firms are expected to begin featuring the area.

The itinerary focuses on country music history and entertainment as well as Appalachian heritage. Eastern Kentucky is home to a stretch of U.S. Highway 23 that has been designated Country Music Highway because it runs through towns in which country music stars were born and raised.

"It is a unique tour because of the entertainers that have come from this region," Meador said.

One of the musicians spotlighted on the program is Loretta Lynn. The house where Lynn grew up is located in the coal miners town of Van Lear, and the Country Music and Crafts in Appalachia itinerary features a tour of the house, given by Lynn's brother, Herman Webb. Among the other musicians from eastern Kentucky are Crystal Gayle, who is Loretta Lynn's sister, plus the Judds, Patty Loveless and Dwight Yoakum.

The region also features attractions that are ideal stops for motorcoach itineraries, according to Meador. "There are new attractions in that region to make it more appealing to the group tour market than it has been in the past, and the highways have been improved for easy access," she said.

Among the recent offerings to come on line are:

  • The Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, which showcases performances by the Kentucky Opry and other music groups.
  • The Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, an Art Deco venue spotlighting country music entertainment and rock and roll groups.
  • The Mountain Homeplace in Paintsville, a recreation of a village at the time Appalachia was settled. Mountain Homeplace is a working village that features a blacksmith, oxen to plow fields and a theater that presents a film on the Appalachian history of the region.
  • Other highlights of the itinerary include visits to the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in Renfro Valley, spotlighting country music-themed performances; the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead and historical homes.

    Two other areas of the state being promoted to the group travel market through fam tours are western Kentucky and the Bluegrass region. The latter has two new major attractions -- the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort, opening in April, and the Labrot and Graham historic distillery near Lexington.

    Kentucky Department of Travel Development, Phone: (800) 225-TRIP or (502) 564-4930. Web: www.state.ky.us/tour/tour.htm

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