Southern Indiana
John Boyle | wfpl.org

New Albany’s Market Street is home to several of the cities local restaurants and merchants.

After months of financial difficulties, Southern Indiana’s tourism and entertainment industries saw improvements over the summer.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation or postponement of several of the region’s most popular events in 2020. Those shutdowns and other public health restrictions had a negative impact on tourism and local businesses.

SoIN Tourism is Clark and Floyd counties’ tourism bureau. The board uses funds from local hotel tax revenues to market the area’s attractions.

Assistant director Luanne Mattson said hotel revenues were nearly cut in half between 2019 and 2020, due to the pandemic.

“We were all set up to have a great year,” she said. “Then, of course, COVID hit and everything shut down for a while. And the bottom fell out.

But between January and July of this year, hotel revenues bounced back up by 45% compared to the same time frame last year. That’s still only about 81% of the 2019 numbers, but Mattson said she’s happy to see the recovery.

The drop in COVID-19 cases and return of major events earlier this year, like the Kentucky Derby, propelled that rebound, Mattson said. Numbers continued to show signs of improvement through Labor Day weekend, as events like Abbey Road on the River made their return.

Mattson said in addition to an increase in visits to SoIN tourism’s website, local businesses saw a boost in foot traffic. Nearly 800 people signed up for the tourism bureau’s passport program which offers rewards to people for visiting 50 participating Southern Indiana companies.

“A lot of businesses are really booming, and we’ve seen a lot of people come back,” Mattson said. “As people started to get vaccinated and felt safe in going out, they decided that it was a great time to get back out there and visit things.”

Jeffersonville Main Street is a nonprofit that promotes the city’s downtown by working with local merchants. Executive director Jay Ellis said small businesses were the catalyst for Jeffersonville’s revitalization over the past decade.

Despite this summer’s growth, Ellis said other issues stemming from the pandemic still linger.

“Things are looking positive, but we don’t know where things are going,” he said. “A lot of places are still wrestling with staffing issues, and you still even come across supply issues. Those affect small businesses probably more severely than anyone.”

Southern Indiana groups hope to see continued growth this fall with the return of events like Steamboat Nights in Jeffersonville and Harvest Homecoming in New Albany. Both events begin next week.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.