A look back at 40 years of tourism in Richmond
The year 2020 proved a challenging one for tourism worldwide as restrictions halted travel and recreation. However, Richmond Kentucky Tourism’s story is one of survival and growth. In 2021, the commission celebrates its 40th anniversary.
“I am so proud of the progress Richmond Tourism has made in the past 40 years,” said executive director Lori Murphy. “We consider ourselves the front porch of the city and we welcome thousands of visitors each year. Over the past 40 years, Richmond has become an economic engine for Kentucky tourism, with Madison County ranking in the top 10 for tourism expenditures. Each hotel, attraction, restaurant, retail store, and more play a role in providing the tourism product we provide.”
Richmond Tourism was established in September 1981 by state ordinance, led by first executive director Daniel Bennett. The original Richmond Tourism Information Center opened soon after on N Second St, moving to S. Keeneland Dr. five years later to serve tourists exiting I-75. In 1990, the Tourism Commission merged with the Downtown Revitalization Department and moved offices to City Hall. During that era of tourism, bus tours dominated the vacation market, and print advertising brought major foot traffic. However, Tourism’s focus remains the same: people.
“Tourism ‘back in the day’ was a different world,” said Terri Johnson, who worked with Bennett in Richmond Tourism from 1985-1987. “There was no internet, Facebook or Twitter. But it was great. People from everywhere would happen into our office and be excited to go exploring. At the end of the day, tourism, like most businesses, is about relationship building and making people feel glad to be there.”
When the commission outgrew their offices again, the group looked to harness Richmond’s rich history in their workspace. The city received a grant to renovate the historic Irvinton House on Lancaster Avenue, converting the home into a museum and visitors’ center. Once renovations were complete in 1997, Tourism moved in and stayed there for 20 years. Then in 2018, Tourism purchased the Main Street former home of Brutus J Clay II— businessman, politician, and fifth son of famous abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay— to use as a permanent office.
To commemorate Tourism’s “ruby” anniversary, a Ruby Celebration is scheduled for Fall 2021, Murphy said, with dates and locations to be announced later.
The challenges of 2020 proved that nothing is set in stone, but those involved with Richmond Tourism, both past and present, remain optimistic.
“I think the Richmond Tourism team is pretty amazing and the future is very bright,” said Johnson. “Often, tourism doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a real economic engine, but it is vital to the overall brand of our city.”