BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WDRB) -- Visitors spent more $14 billion in Kentucky last year, according to numbers released Monday by the Department of Tourism.  

Tourism is Kentucky's third largest industry, behind automobiles and healthcare, and it is growing. Officials say the 2015 growth rate was the strongest since 2005.

The Department of Tourism chose a distillery in downtown Bowling Green to unveil the latest numbers Monday, which is appropriate because bourbon is helping fuel the increase in visitors to the state.

“Bourbon is a fantastic hook for us," said Tourism Commissioner Karen Branscum. "There are a lot of states that are not really known for anything. You may mention them, and people are like, ‘Oh what's there?’ But when you mention Kentucky, people say horses, and they say bourbon."

The $14.5 billion tourism poured in into Kentucky last year is an increase of more than 5 percent over 2015. It translates into $1.5 billion in tax revenue and 193,000 jobs.

“That's up about 6,000 from 2015,” Branscum said.

The thousands of tourists who come for the Kentucky Derby help make Louisville the most popular tourist destination in the state.

“Louisville's a wonderful town," film star Jeff Bridges told WDRB News on Saturday. "I haven't had too much time to explore, but a lot of art, lot of creativity."

“It's probably one of the best events I've ever been to, hands down, better than the Super Bowl, better than the World Series,” singer Joey Fatone added.

Visitors spent $3.4 billion in Louisville last year. That is up more than $100 million.

State officials say they plan to build on Louisville's success, and part of the strategy is to take advantage of Louisville's reputation for food.

“We're going to push everything Louisville's got going but also talk about what they eat in eastern Kentucky, what's prevalent in southern Kentucky,” Branscum said.

You can take a closer look at the tourism numbers for Louisville and the rest of Kentucky here.

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