The Bad News: Covid Pandemic Devastates 2020 Bourbon Trail Tourism

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To no one’s surprise, the coronavirus pandemic struck a blow to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced that for the first time in its 21 years, total attendance on the Trail fell – sharply – in 2020. Visitors last year to member distilleries totaled 587,307; the total number of tours in 2019 was more than 1.7 million, for a 66% decrease, according to a news release.

From March through June, distillery tours, gift shops and on-site bars and restaurants at distilleries were forced to close due to government orders. Many distilleries remain closed, and those who have reopened have done so under reduced capacities as the Covid pandemic lingers.

“Last year was devastating for tourism and experts are skeptical on consumer confidence until 2022 at the soonest,” Eric Gregory, KDA president, said in the release. “Also, many of the main bourbon tourism drivers – sports, concerts, fairs and festivals, conferences and other events – were canceled last year and probably won’t fully return anytime soon.”

Gregory said the KDA and its 42 members are advocating legislation in the General Assembly that would further modernize Bourbon tourism laws and help distillers and hospitality partners pull through. KDA-supported bills include:

  • HB 415 – This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, updates last year’s historic direct-to-consumer bill that is now a national model for Bourbon and spirits shipping. The bill will allow the use of third-party fulfillment centers to process orders and let Kentucky distilleries collect and remit wholesale and excise taxes on souvenir bottles purchased in their visitor centers. Streamlining these tax collections will provide parity with microbreweries who obtained this option in 2018. HB 415 is awaiting a vote on the House floor.
  • SB 67 – Sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, this bill will make permanent “take home cocktails” that has proven popular during the pandemic as restaurants struggle to stay afloat. Currently, this legislation would only allow restaurants to offer take home cocktails, yet several hospitality and tourism groups are advocating the inclusion of bars, wineries, breweries and distillers. This bill is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
  • SB 108 – This measure would allow restaurants and hotels with a by-the-drink alcohol license to sell increasingly popular private barrel selection bottles to consumers. The KDA and others have asked sponsor Sen. Paul Hornback to also allow distillery visitor centers to sell these unique brand expressions, providing parity with beer, wine and other retail licensees. SB 108 is awaiting action in the Senate Licensing & Occupations Committee.

“These are important measures that will give our distilleries a much-needed boost, which in turn will benefit local communities and their hotel, restaurant and hospitality industries,” Gregory said. “We need to get back on a path to recovery and our Kentucky Bourbon Trail® distilleries will play a big part in that movement.”

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