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Op-Ed: Convention Center Expansion Benefits All of Northern Kentucky, Not Just Covington

If you were asked to name the largest drivers of jobs, spending and employment in Boone County and Florence, what would you say? Logistics and trucking? Retail? Manufacturing? Warehousing?

Would you even think to mention tourism?

Many people may not realize it, but tourism is a booming industry in Florence and Boone County, across Northern Kentucky and throughout the state. It attracts visitors and spending, fills hotel rooms, creates hospitality industry jobs, and generates millions of dollars in tax revenue.

This is why I felt compelled to respond after reading the recent comments made by a member of Florence City Council member about the proposed 1 percent increase in Northern Kentucky's transient hotel room tax that is being considered by the fiscal courts of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. The estimated $1.2 million to $1.5 million annually by the proposed increase would initially and primarily be used to expand the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.

As reported by The River City News, the council member suggested that with  a "significant number of hotels in Florence" and since the convention center is located in Covington, the City of Florence is "getting the short end of the stick" with the convention center expansion.

But it is important to understand that the region's hotel tax benefits all of Northern Kentucky by promoting the region as a tourism destination. Florence is a clear beneficiary of the investment in tourism because so many of the region's visitors stay in Florence, shop at the Florence Mall and at other retailers, eat at Florence restaurants, visit Florence attractions and more.

A larger convention center also benefits Florence because many members of the groups and associations that use the center visit Florence while they are here.

As the head of a company that owns and operates more than 750 rooms in the Northern Kentucky region, we are in full support of the hotel tax, which even with the proposed increase will still be lower that the hotel tax charged in Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis and Dayton, Oh. And remember; the hotel is not paid by local residents but rather visitors to our region whose spending not only pays workers' salaries but also provides the tax dollars that help pay for vital public services in our communities. Many of our fellow hotel developers, owners and operators in Northern Kentucky also support this important initiative.

Consider these numbers from The Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet:

  • Travel and tourism is a booming local industry, contributing nearly $366 million to Northern Kentucky’s economy during 2015, as tourism filled more hotel rooms than ever in the region.

  • On a regional and statewide level, Northern Kentucky accounted for 39 percent of the $4.4 billion in travel spending in the Greater Cincinnati region and 20 percent of all travel spending in the Kentucky.

  • In Boone County alone last year, tourist activity generated $942 million in direct tourist spending; nearly $1.5 billion in total tourist spending; $332 million in worker income; nearly $20 million in local tax revenues and $135 million in state tax revenues; and 21,000 jobs.

  • On an average day last year, visitors to Boone County generated $55,000 in local tax revenues, $370,000 in state tax revenues and more than $910,000 in worker paychecks.

Tourism is much like any other business - you must invest to grow, even and especially when business is booming. An expansion of the 204,000-square-foot Convention Center would result in new jobs and spending throughout the region, prevent the Center from losing business due to a lack of space and maintain its competitive edge in the tourism industry.

The Center expansion is an investment that will provide an economic boost to state, the region, Boone County and Florence.

Mike Conway is CEO of Cincinnati-based Winegardner & Hammons Hotel Group, LLC  and a member of the meetNKY/Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors.