LEXINGTON, Ky. — A tourism study suggests that eastern Kentucky could be developed like Gatlinburg, Tenn., in an effort to draw visitors from surrounding states.
The study, which was commissioned by a branch of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said that with the right mix of activities, the Appalachian region could become a "modern, well-planned Gatlinburg."
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the study was done as officials look for ways to revitalize the area's economy, which has seen coal jobs decrease by 6,000 over the last two years.
The goal was to assess the potential for increased tourism in eastern Kentucky. A report shows the area is well positioned for growth.
The chamber released the report last week on the heels of an announcement by state and federal leaders that a summit would be held in eastern Kentucky in December to help come up with ideas to diversify the area's economy.
Increasing tourism is likely to be among recommendations discussed during the summit, called SOAR, for Shaping Our Appalachian Region.
"I think everyone knows and sees the urgency of this thing," said Luther Deaton, president and CEO of Central Bank and Trust and a former president of the state chamber.
The study says the area includes many assets to draw tourists, including natural beauty; a rich culture and history; opportunities for outdoor recreation; and a network of state parks with golf courses and campgrounds.
It also found some challenges, including a hotel inventory that isn't diverse, several counties that have either limited or no alcohol sales, limited access to high-speed Internet and a need for better highway access.
"Nobody's going to go anywhere if they can't get there easy and fast," he said.
Although the study found a variety of attractions in Eastern Kentucky, it said the region lacks a "critical mass" of visitor activities.
"To create a tourism destination in Eastern Kentucky, such as a modern, well-planned Gatlinburg, a diverse mix of activities will be required," the study said. "For example, a destination that features gorgeous scenery, bluegrass music, Kentucky bourbon, local arts and crafts and multiple outdoor recreation, shopping and dining options could be very popular among visitors from Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as Kentucky."
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com