The Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) is calling for a modernisation of tourism rules after visitor numbers to the state’s Bourbon distilleries plummeted 66% in 2020.

The KDA said visitor numbers to distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail declined in 2020 for the first time in 21 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were 587,307 tours at Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour distilleries last year, a 66% decline on 2019 levels when a record 1,719,821 million stops were made. Since 2016, visitor numbers have consistently topped one million.

Between March and June 2020, Kentucky’s distillery tours, gift shops, bars and restaurants were closed in line with government orders. A number of sites are still shut for tours, while other distilleries are operating under ‘significantly reduced’ capacities, the KDA said.

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

Gregory, along with the KDA’s 42 members, is calling for the state’s General Assembly to implement new ‘modernised’ legislation for the Bourbon tourism industry to help it recover from the pandemic.

The KDA said it supports a number of bills, including the HB 415 legislation, which streamlines direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping by alcohol producers. The bill is awaiting a vote on the House of Representatives floor.

In addition, the KDA is calling for the takeaway cocktails bill (SB 67) to be extended to include bars, distilleries, wineries and breweries. Currently, the legislation only permits restaurants to offer to-go cocktails and is expecting a vote from the Senate.

Furthermore, the SB 108 bill provides restaurants and hotels with an alcohol licence to sell private barrel selection bottles to consumers. The KDA has asked Kentucky senator Paul Hornback to extend this bill to allow distillery visitor centres to sell their own bottles, which would provide parity with beer, wine and other retailers. The bill is pending action in the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee.

‘Much-needed boost’

“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,” said Gregory. “We need to get back on a path to recovery and our Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries will play a big part in that movement.”

A number of events were planned last year to celebrate the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s 21st birthday, however these were all cancelled due to the pandemic. Distilleries have also turned their efforts to making hand sanitiser in the past year.

Gregory added: “Even with the closures and challenges we faced in 2020, our members stepped up and made a difference in their communities by producing hand sanitiser and keeping workers employed to produce Kentucky’s signature spirit.

“To carefully and responsibly welcome nearly 600,000 visitors at the same time is an achievement in itself. We look forward to working with the Kentucky General Assembly on legislation to safely attract visitors back to our commonwealth and strengthen our place as the one, true and authentic home for Bourbon.”

A number of distilleries have implemented virtual tours in the past year, including Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. Buffalo Trace and Kentucky-based Barton 1792 reopened to the public in July with a number of safety measures in place and larger visitor centres.
Via The Spirits Business
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