Like some others, Berea tourism showing signs of recovery

BEREA, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – It’s a small but important industry. And it often is a barometer of how and when an economy is recovering.

And when it shows positive signs, it’s good news for communities.

So news out of Berea is encouraging from its tourism traffic.

There are some very positive signs that Berea’s tourism economy is recovering from the pandemic, according to recent reports from Berea City Administrator David Gregory and Business Development and Tourism Director Donna Angel.

A few of those developments were discussed at last week’s Berea Tourism Commission meeting, including:

Restaurant tax numbers are better than expected: Revenues for transit room taxes are down in the first quarter due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the city has collected $8,062 so far this year, compared to approximately $12,000 at this time last year. On the restaurant tax, however, the numbers are actually better than expected, as the city has collected approximately $93,000 during the current fiscal year (July, August, September), compared to $102,000 at this same time last year, according to David Gregory. That number may go up in the coming months as the city has seen the opening of some new restaurants, including Burger King and Happy Jacks World Sandwich Bar.

Tourism workers are all back: Gregory revealed that employees who wanted to return to tourism after the pandemic furloughs last spring are now back at work. Additionally, Gregory said the city is proposing a 1.7 percent cost of living increase for tourism employees. All city wages were frozen during last spring’s budget process due to the uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due in part to an improving budget picture, the commission voted unanimously to accept Gregory’s recommendation to implement the 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase.

Buses are coming back to town: After several months of COVID-19 related uncertainty, Berea is once again drawing motor coaches back to the city, something that had been a growing facet of the city’s tourism economy before the pandemic hit. Donna Angel reported that since Connie Mondine was called back into service, bus tours have been coming back to the city in recent weeks. Angel noted that Mondine arranges the tours, as well as demonstrators and musicians who perform for visitors when they come to Old Town or College Square.

“She loves what she does and it shows in her work,” Angel said of Mondine. “I think she needs to be patted on the back a lot because she does work well with the tour guides. She just makes everyone on the trip feel very, very comfortable.” Angel went on to note that Mondine is very diligent to insure that the visits comply with CDC guidelines for preventing COVID-19 infection.

On Sunday, a bus tour group was scheduled to visit the city, and then lunch at Boone Tavern. Next week a tour group is slated to visit from Kingsport, Tenn., and then dine at Apollo Pizza in Old Town. Another bus group was tentatively scheduled to visit the last week of October, stopping at the Kentucky Artisan Center, then the Log House Gallery.

Tourists are searching for Berea on the Internet: Donna Angel reported that the Berea’s tourism online promotion efforts have generated an increase in social media engagements for the month of September. That includes 120,000 engagements on Facebook, 6,289 hits on Twitter, and 33,204 hits on YouTube. Angel noted the city is paying special attention to getting the word out about local businesses, especially newly launched ventures. “That credit goes to Megan [Campbell]. She does a great job of keeping us alert and attentive to all the things going on. I don’t know how she does it, but she does a great job,” Angel said of Business Development and Tourism’s communications director.

On a related note, Angel reported the city has drawn some positive attention from travel writer J.C. Phelps, of the website Unabashedly Southern, who named Berea as one of the Top Kentucky Small Towns to Visit in 2020. https://jacobcphelps.com/2020/09/28/topsmalltownsky2020 In his write-up, Phelps had special praise for Boone Tavern Inn, the Kentucky Artisan Center, Papa Leno’s, Native Bagel, Berea College Farm Store, and for Noodle Nirvana, which Phelps noted is “…home of the most delicious yellow curry bowl.”

“‘Yay’ to Mae [Suramek] for recognition there,” said Angel.

Angel noted next Saturday will see the grand opening of Becky Brown Jewelry, one of three new businesses opening in Old Town. That district will soon include a new photo artist’s gallery and a bakery located in what was the Old Town Fudge Shoppe.

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