Riverboats connect to the city’s past and help fuel its economic future | New

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Riverboats bring tourists to Paducah, just one stop on their way to many different locations on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee rivers.

Two companies use the ports on the Paducah Ohio River for large-scale passenger transportation with American Queen Voyages and American Cruise Line offering many cruises across the country for its many waterways.

“These two companies in particular have been coming since 2012,” said Fowler Black, sales manager at the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau. “There are a record number of visits from both this year.”

Fowler has worked with the Convention and Visitors Bureau since 2004 and has a long history with riverboat travel.

Riverboats and steamships were historically an important part of Paducah’s skyline, having been an important part of the trading relationships that helped make Paducah a city in its early days. The combination of railroads and river access made Paducah a hub for the coal mining industry to load barges to transport their products.

These connections continue to this day, with barges, railroads, and passenger riverboats still using Paducah.

These passenger ships vary in size, with the largest, The American Queen, having 350 rooms and the medium ship having around 120 people per trip. Each trip takes around 5-7 days on average, with some taking up to 10 days.

The boats take tourists to see the shops, non-profit organizations and museums of the Paducah area.

“These boats run a tour of the heart of Paducah,” Black said. “Each of those run by the River Discovery Center, National Quilt Museum, Civil War and Railroad Museums. [Some boats] also organize premium tours with even more.

“So that means a lot in terms of people walking through the door. They don’t necessarily pay the same price they would pay as if you were walking through the door on the freeway. They pay in bulk, basically. But it’s still a boon for Paducah to have passengers from the original highway.

This year includes 63 stopovers scheduled by six different ships during the active cruise period from April to November.

“Cruises embark and disembark at ports of call that have international airports,” Black said. “So many people who are interested in boats usually have this question. Where can you board? It would be places like St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. The lion’s share of cruises are from Memphis to Nashville, Memphis to Louisville or similar.”

Tourists are often a big part of downtown business activity, which helps keep them afloat, with most tourists spending an average of around $100 a day at local businesses, according to Black.

These cruises bring large amounts of business to Paducah, not only with tourism, but also with the support the ships need.

“I would venture to say it’s one of those things that you can only see part of the transactions,” Black said. “The customer-merchant transaction is just as important, but just as important is the huge economic impact on things you don’t necessarily see, like refueling or vendors bringing food back. You don’t see it, but it helps the community just as much.

Black estimates that from 2014 to 2018, direct spending brought about $1.3 million to the Paducah area.

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