In mid-February, I had the honor of sitting with Lexington-based shoe and cleat artist Marcus Floyd at the prestigious global Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Awards in New York City. In collaboration with VisitLEX, Floyd, who owns Infinite Kustomz LLC, created a sneaker customization service that turns rare, collectors’ item human sneakers into premium “horse sneaks” for the world’s greatest equine athletes. (VisitLEX and Floyd took home a platinum award at the event.)

Through viral marketing, including a pop-up store-front downtown, Horse Kicks caught the attention of media outlets around the globe, including The Washington Post, CNN and the BBC. Floyd has been featured in every major sneaker blog, as well as Vogue magazine. VisitLEX transferred ownership of the Horse Kicks brands to Floyd, who has received orders from around the world, including one from NBA star Luka Dončić in partnership with Jordan Brand.

The Horse Kicks campaign is just one example of how the visitor economy creates opportunity for Lexington residents and businesses beyond what might be obvious.

As our industry celebrates National Travel and Tourism Week May 19-25, it’s worth reflecting on the many ways tourism fuels our economy, improves our quality of life, and helps support our local businesses and attractions. According to a Kentucky Department of Tourism study (by Tourism Economics/2022), Fayette County tourism generated $1.5 billion in economic impact, offering more than 11,000 jobs to folks in our community. Statewide, tourism is the third largest industry, and the state and local taxes generated by tourism equate to a $536 tax savings for every household.

Behind those numbers is a lot of hard work from all of our hospitality employees and business owners, as well as the strategic sales, marketing, services and media efforts of the VisitLEX team.

VisitLEX markets and sells Lexington to meeting planners, travel writers, sporting tournament planners, film scouts and more. We travel regularly to connect with those audiences at conferences, tradeshows and marketplaces to build awareness of our destination and ultimately drive bookings to our meeting, venue and hotel spaces.

It is through these efforts that VisitLEX annually books more than $40 million of economic impact to Lexington from meetings, conventions, sports and equine groups, including the National Beta Club and Citygate Network conventions. Those bookings helped lead to back-to-back years of record-breaking numbers across multiple metrics, including more than $243 million in hotel revenue in Fayette County in 2023.

One of our most effective tourism tools is telling the story of Lexington — the story of all of us. We utilize advertising, social media, and outreach to national and international travel writers to elevate the destination and attract visitors to Lexington.

Our media efforts have resulted in more than 10 billion media impressions with an estimated ad value of more than $350 million. Stories have been published in The Washington Post, CNN, USA Today, New York Post, Forbes, Huff Post, People, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Toronto Sun, the Globe and more.

These campaigns don’t just draw visitors. They also help us market the city for economic development purposes, showcase businesses and attract talent.

Finally, VisitLEX invests in the community. Annually, VisitLEX commits a minimum of 5 percent of its budget to supporting diverse community initiatives and events through partnerships including the upcoming global premiere of “Two Black Churches,” Lexington Philharmonic, PRIDE Festival, Railbird, the African-American Heritage Walking Tour, Feast/FoodChain and others.

VisitLEX doesn’t accomplish anything I’ve listed here were it not for the amazing people in and adjacent to the industry – the hosts, servers, dishwashers and cooks at local restaurants; the staff at our sporting facilities like Keeneland and the Kentucky Horse Park; the Downtown Ambassadors; Central Bank Center employees; the hotel and restaurant owners who often have taken an entrepreneurial chance as first-generation immigrants; and the many people who embody the best of Lexington. I’m proud that VisitLEX supports their passion and livelihoods.

Ramer is president of VisitLEX, a destination sales, marketing, and service organization charged with promoting Lexington’s Bluegrass Region for the purpose of attracting visitors and growing the economy. For more information:

From The Herald Leader

Cover image PC: RYAN C. HERMENS