Count Lawrence’s tourism industry as one that has felt the sting of a down economy.
Total visitor spending fell by nearly 14 percent in 2009, according to new numbers from the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It has been tough on everybody,” said Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence CVB. “It is tough on the hotels, and that trickles down to food and beverage and retailers. It is impacting everybody across the board.”
A total of 739,000 visitors spent $49.5 million in the Lawrence economy in 2009, the CVB estimates. The numbers are derived from a formula that looks at the total amount of transient guest tax dollars — a special sales tax on hotel rooms — collected by the city.
The 2009 numbers were down 13.7 percent from 2008. The decline marked the end of a multi-year period of increases, capped by a 14-percent increase in 2008 when the city saw heavy visitor activity related to Kansas University’s national championship in basketball.
“Our numbers had been steadily climbing over the last four or five years, and now they are taking a big dip,” Billings said. “But I saw that in 2001 and I saw it in the Gulf War. We’ve seen dips before, but we’ve recovered before.”
Tourism leaders said 2010 likely won’t be the year the industry begins to rebound in Lawrence.
“I don’t feel the bounce back yet,” said Constance Wolfe, an owner of the Halcyon House bed and breakfast and a member of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board. “I’m not even optimistic about that to be honest. I’m not pessimistic, but I just don’t feel this will be the year that we bounce back.”
Other numbers from the report included:
• The number of conventions and meetings in Lawrence fell to 179, down from 193 in 2008. Total attendees at local conventions fell to 12,337 from 13,200.
• Approximately 8,000 guests registered at the Lawrence Visitor Information Center in North Lawrence, with 41 percent from out-of-state.
• The newly created Visit Lawrence Facebook page attracted 300 fans, and approximately 200 followers on Twitter.