KILGORE — Kilgore’s tourism industry continues to recover from the damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the most recent report from Visit Kilgore Tourism Manager Ryan Polk.

Polk addressed the City Council at a recent meeting and explained how the city attracted visitors over the past year. Tourism and travel have been affected nationwide by the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020, but Polk said 2021’s tourism numbers, in some cases, returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“2021 was a very fast, strange year,” Polk said. “The mood right now is that things are looking a little bit similar to 2019, to a certain degree. People are more confident to travel, and we saw that in Kilgore. We had an increase in (hotel) occupancy of 17.9% over 2020, so we’re moving on up, and this year it continues to go up higher.”

He explained Visit Kilgore had pursued digital and print marketing campaigns throughout 2021 and had continued a trend of focusing print travel guides to the interests of potential visitors.

“At the end of 2021, we were up to 4,874 Facebook followers,” Polk said. “We tailored our print guides to whoever is coming in, whether it was a baseball tournament, the Texas Shakespeare Festival, Texas Radio Hall of Fame or Reel East Texas Film Festival. Instagram followers were up as well, to 2,209.”

According to Polk, Visit Kilgore’s advertising efforts in 2021 paid off by attracting more people to the city and spreading the word about Kilgore in print and in social media.

He also said Kilgore had been the focus of two travel shows in 2021, as well as hosting nine tour operators from around the U.S. as part of the American Bus Association’s marketplace event in Grapevine.

“They loved Kilgore. It was an interesting group because they were from all over the country,” Polk said. “They weren’t just from Texas. They were from one coast to the other coast, and they loved everything from the Country Tavern barbecue we served them to the stories that Mayor (Ronnie) Spradlin and Bill Woodall told them on the bus.”

One of the highlights of 2021, Polk said, was a visit paid to Kilgore by writer and producer Chet Garner and the crew of “The Daytripper,” a PBS travel show that features Texas sights, tourist destinations and attractions.

Garner and crew visited Brigitta’s Hungarian Restaurant, the East Texas Oil Museum, Kilgore College’s Rangerette Museum, Country Tavern, Bighead Creek Mountain Bike Trail and more. The episode premiered in February and can be viewed at

Garner also wrote an article about the visit for Texas Highways, the official travel magazine of Texas.

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