Tourism is booming in LaGrange

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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Visit LaGrange is projecting an even bigger year for tourism in the city in 2024.

On Tuesday, Visit LaGrange President Kathy Tilley gave a budget presentation to the LaGrange City Council during their morning work session with good news on the tourism forefront.

Tilley advised that state and local tourist tax revenues continue to grow, jumping from $25.1 million in 2022 to a projected $27.5 million in 2023.

Along with those tourism taxes come tourism jobs. Tilley said that tourism provides an estimated 2,850 local jobs. Those jobs are typically hospitality employment but notably not gas station jobs, she said.

“Visitors spent $273 million in this county [in 2022], which is a shocking number to a lot of people. We’re expecting that number to grow to $280 million for 2023,” Tilley said, noting LaGrange is ranked 12th in the state in visitor spending excluding metro counties.

The majority of local tourism comes from lodging at $90.7 million and $73.8 million for food and beverage. Transportation also brings in $46.6 million thanks primarily due to the LaGrange-Callaway Airport. Tourism retail also brings in about $40.4 million followed by recreation at $21.7 million.

“Our low man on the totem pole is recreation. That number should be about 40 million. Equal to retail or higher. So there is a lot of room for us to grow in recreation,” Tilley said. “We are losing hotel-motel revenue. We’re losing lodging revenue because recreation is not where it should be.”

Tilley said hotel occupancy actually dropped a percentage point since 2022 when it peaked at 68 percent. She attributed the slight drop to the country coming off the post-pandemic travel high.

LaGrange brought in nearly $5 million in hotel-motel taxes for 2023. Tilley said the $4,988,976 in revenue was around $11,000 shy of their goal but still more than $100,000 above 2022.

Visit LaGrange plans to spend their budget much like they have done in the past with a quarter going to administrative expenses and the remaining 75 percent going to marketing the city.