The Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau will celebrate its 50th anniversary on July 1, in the midst of what the agency is hoping will be a strong year for tourism again.
Some people in 1972 thought the idea of tourism in Daviess County was laughable.
The only tourist attraction Owensboro had, they said, was “the world’s largest sassafras tree” on Frederica Street.
There were only 12 motels in town then with a total of 613 rooms.
And most of those were small mom-and-pops built back in the 1950s.
But by 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, tourism was bringing in $228 million a year to Daviess County.
Last year, with the pandemic growing and no vaccines available, the occupancy rate of the city’s 10 hotels with 1,400 rooms saw their occupancy rate drop from 50.5% to 36.1% and their revenues drop from $24.5 million to $14.5 million.
Things have turned around this year, with the occupancy rate currently running at 55%, slightly ahead of 2019.
“It’s still a challenge,” Mark Calitri, CVB president, said. “2022 is looking good, but it’s all contingent on people feeling safe to travel.”
January is expected to get off to a strong start with Doug Sheldon, who owns a 50,000-square-foot haunted attraction in Grand Rapids, Michigan, bringing his Fear Expo Live to the Owensboro Convention Center on Jan. 21-23.
He said he’s expecting it to draw 4,000 people from across the country who operate haunted attractions.
That would be the largest convention and trade show the city has ever seen.
Calitri said there are several major events that still haven’t been finalized.
He said the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum and Green River Distilling Co. will be soon be making announcements of events in 2022.
Calitri said the S3DA Indoor National Archery Championship will be at the convention center March 3-6.
“We’re expecting 1,200 to 1,400 archers,” he said. “And they bring an average of 3.1 people per person with them. That will be the biggest sporting event of the year.”
The Hall of Fame will bring its Kentucky State Fiddle Championship back on March 11-12.
And March 25-26 will bring in a soccer tournament with more than 100 teams, Calitri said.
May will see the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association, the Kentucky Water & Waste Water Operators Association and the Independent Insurance Agents of Kentucky state conferences at the convention center.
June will be big
June is packed with the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Kentucky Bar Association, the Kentucky County Clerks’ Association, OMG!con and ROMP all scheduled that month.
And the American Hydroplane Events’ Facebook page shows a hydroplane race scheduled for Owensboro on Aug. 20-21.
Calitri said the new West Kentucky Brewery Hop should be bringing a lot of people to town in 2022.
There are 12 craft breweries in nine cities on the trail, including The Brew Bridge, 800 W. Second St.
Dave Kirk, the CVB’s director of destination management, said, “Once you have your passport, you are encouraged to try a beer at each of the breweries on the trail. After purchasing a local beer, the brewery will stamp your passport.”
He said, “Following the completion of the trail or getting a stamp from at least seven breweries, you can mail your passport to the Henderson Convention and Visitors Bureau to claim your prize.
“Once the Henderson CVB verifies your passport, you’ll be mailed back your passport and a West Kentucky Brewery Hop pint glass for your job well done.”
He said several people have already completed the trail, which opened last month.
“It seems like we’re promoting a lot of alcohol, but you have to promote what you have,” Calitri said.
Kirk said, “Most cities with breweries have a sense of community with them. And we promote other things to do while people on the Brewery Hop are here.
Calitri said outdoor sports are looking good in 2022.
It won’t happen in 2022, but Owensboro is a finalist for GeoWoodstock XX, the world’s largest geocaching festival, which could pump an estimated $800,000 into the local economy in 2023.
There have been estimates that it could at least 3,000 or more geocaching enthusiasts to town from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
Previous events have seen geocachers from Germany, Egypt, New Zealand and Canada.
Calitri said he’s hoping to partner with Evansville on that to create enough hotel rooms.
He said he’s hoping to secure some American Rescue Plan funds to help create and promote even more events.
In the past, Calitri said, the CVB has focused on four pillars — a community-wide branding initiative; expanding and improving the visitor experience; maximizing the Owensboro Convention Center; and creating new economic impact opportunities and an indoor sports development.
In 2022, he said, bourbon will be added as the fifth pillar.