Welcome Centers

As the first points of contact with more than 6 million visitors each year, our eight Alabama Welcome Centers greet travelers with true hospitality. 

The mission of Alabama Welcome Centers is to achieve a positive impression of Alabama by assisting and informing the traveling public in a knowledgeable and courteous manner in order to enhance and extend their visit and increase the economic benefit to Alabama. Here are just a few of the free services our welcome centers provide:

  • Brochure distribution
  • On-site promotional opportunities for your area, attraction, accommodation or event
  • Room reservation service for travelers
  • Team members who will tour your attraction or destination to gain firsthand knowledge to pass on to visitors

For details on any Alabama Welcome Center, mouse over or click a number on the map below. Information includes email addresses as well as physical addresses and phone numbers.

Welcome Center Team Leaders and Contact Information

Ardmore Welcome Center
Trisa Collier, Welcome Center Administrator Ardmore.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Baldwin Welcome Center
Ursel Forbes, Baldwin.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Cleburne Welcome Center
Kathy Freeman, Cleburne.center@tourism.alabama.gov

DeKalb Welcome Center
Sosthenes Sealy, Dekalb.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Grand Bay Welcome Center
Contact: Connie Pearce, Grandbay.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Houston Welcome Center
Deborah Tillis, Houston.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Lanett Welcome Center
Laura Smith, Lanett.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Sumter Welcome Center
Gerlena Hale, Sumter.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Welcome Center Map
  1. Ardmore Welcome Center
    Ardmore Welcome Center

    Limestone County • I-65 S. of TN line
    28232 Upper Elkton Road
    Elkmont, AL 35620
    Phone: (256) 423-3891
    Fax: (256) 423-3890
    Email: Ardmore.Center@Tourism.Alabama.gov

  2. DeKalb Welcome Center
    DeKalb Welcome Center

    DeKalb County • I-59 W. of GA line
    P.O. Box 152
    Valley Head, AL 35989
    Phone: (256) 635-6522
    Fax: (256) 635-6526
    Email: dekalb.center@tourism.alabama.gov

  3. Cleburne Welcome Center
    Cleburne Welcome Center

    Cleburne County • I-20 W. of GA line
    P.O. Box 85
    Heflin, AL 36264
    Phone: (256) 748-4303
    Fax: (256) 748-2031
    Email: cleburne.center@tourism.alabama.gov

  4. Lanett Welcome Center
    Lanett Welcome Center

    Chambers County • I-85 W. of GA line
    P.O. Box 23
    Valley, AL 36854
    Phone: (334) 576-2116
    Fax: (334) 576-8574
    Email: lanett.center@tourism.alabama.gov

  5. Houston Welcome Center
    Houston Welcome Center

    Houston County • U.S. 231 N. of FL line
    15121 S. U.S. Hwy. 231
    Slocomb, AL 36375
    Phone: (334) 677-5042
    Fax: (334) 677-7332
    Email: houston.center@tourism.alabama.gov

  6. Baldwin Welcome Center
    Baldwin Welcome Center

    Baldwin County • I-10 W. of FL line
    P.O. Box 2000
    Robertsdale, AL 36567
    Phone: (251) 946-3375
    Fax: (251) 946-3150
    Email: baldwin.center@tourism.alabama.gov

  7. Grand Bay Welcome Center
    Grand Bay Welcome Center

    Mobile County • I-10 E. of MS line
    P.O. Drawer 626
    Grand Bay, AL 36541
    Phone: (251) 865-4741
    Fax: (251) 865-4499
    Email: grandbay.center@tourism.alabama.gov

  8. Sumter Welcome Center
    Sumter Welcome Center

    Sumter County • I-20/59 E. of MS line
    P.O. Box 216
    Cuba, AL 36907
    Phone: (205) 392-5443
    Fax: (205) 392-9102
    Email: sumter.center@tourism.alabama.gov

Welcome Center Resources

Tourism Tuesdays July 19, 2016

  • AJC features Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! The Mobile Bay you don’t know
  • Southern Living: South’s best college towns
  • Maverick Festival attended by 3,000 UK lovers of Americana music
  • Pokemon Gump: How one game is bringing everyone together
  • Grand Bay Welcome Center welcomes 12,000 travelers in two weeks
  • Sign up for April Walking Tours 2017
  • Summer Clearance Sale at the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop
  • ‘A good day for justice’: Horton memorialized with community reading
  • Montgomery to host 2016 World Horseshoe Pitching Championships July 25 – Aug. 6
  • Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events




AJC features Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! The Mobile Bay you don’t know

By T. Wayne Waters, Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 13

Mobile? Most know it for its beaches, as the port of the USS Alabama, as the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the U.S., and for its newest major attraction, the GulfQuest/National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico.

What isn’t so well known about Mobile is that it’s a great city for history buffs. The area has stops on the Mobile Bay Civil War Trail, is home to a fort that saw one of the most famous Civil War maritime battles in history and home of the site of the last major battle of the Civil War. But it isn’t all Civil War. There are grand historic homes with period finery for those with more…delicate historic tastes. And a wide range of historical artifacts in the History Museum of Mobile.

“Mobile is such a great place to visit for its history because it has so many fascinating stories to tell,” said Melanie Thornton, director and public historian at Historic Oakleigh House.  It is a city of many colorful layers.  Its historic fabric is one that portrays its relationship to the water from colonial times to present day; Mobile is a quintessential port city, a gumbo of merging cultures, which can be experienced by visiting its various attractions and restaurants today.”

I’ve visited most of the Mobile Bay area’s historic sites and enjoyed them immensely. I still get chills thinking about the time I stood on its grounds, resolute, with a proper scowl on my face, fist clenched and let loose a full-throated shout: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

The other visitors thought I was goofy.  I couldn’t have cared less.

History Museum of Mobile

Located in the historic downtown of the city, the History Museum of Mobile offers changing and permanent exhibits about the colorful city’s past. The Old Ways, New Days two-part exhibit takes a good look at Mobile’s first inhabitants, the Native Americans, then moves through a 300-year history with prominent features on the Colonial era right up to the Civil Rights movement in Mobile. Another section has artifacts and interactive exhibits highlighting Mobile’s culture and industry. Another special gallery tells the tale of Confederate naval exploits and has on display an original cannon from the Civil War ship CSS Alabama. Through the end of July, a special collection of seldom-seen artifacts is on display including a flag flown by the USS Oneida, a ship in the fleet under the command of Admiral David Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay and a complete set of Japanese samurai armor.

History Museum of Mobile, 111 South Royal Street, Mobile. 251-208-7508, www.museumofmobile.com

Conde-Charlotte Museum

The “Gateway to Mobile’s History” is an 1850 Federal-style home that was built on the foundation of a building that served as the city’s first jail in the 1820s. Today, it displays French, British, Confederate and American antique furnishings – more specifically a British Commandant’s room, a French sitting room and bedroom, two Confederate parlors, an American Federal dining room and two American bedrooms. A circa-1800s kitchen is entered through jail cell doors. The house is owned, preserved and operated by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Alabama and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Condé-Charlotte Museum, 104 Theatre Street, Mobile. 251-432-4722, condecharlotte.com

Fort Gaines Historic Site

It may be 40 miles south on the eastern tip of Dauphine Island, but no trip to the Mobile Bay area is complete without a visit to Fort Gaines, one of the key sites in the famous Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Does this ring a bell? “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Yep, this is the place. And Admiral David Farragut was the man who uttered those thrilling words in the heat of battle. The fort has original cannons, a blacksmith shop, kitchens, a museum, gift shop and tunnels, not to mention one heck of a view of Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Self-guided and guided tours are available – the latter done in period uniform. There are also regularly scheduled cannon firing demonstrations and blacksmithing demonstrations.

Fort Gaines Historic Site, 51 Bienvile Blvd., Dauphin Island. 251-861-6992, dauphinisland.org/fort-gaines

Historic Oakleigh Complex

Sitting pretty in Oakleigh Garden Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Oakleigh House is one of the few surviving Reconstruction-era buildings in the South. The beautiful home, built in 1833, is filled with over 1,000 artifacts that represent life in Mobile from 1830-1900, including an extraordinary silver collection and an impressive art collection. There is also a building used by Union troops as a barracks during Reconstruction years on the property, built about 1867. Historic Oakleigh House is home to the Historic Mobile Preservation Society. The other homes in the historic garden district were built from the 1820s to the 1940s.

Historic Oakleigh House, 300 Oakleigh Place, Mobile. 251-432-1281, www.historicoakleigh.com

Historic Blakeley State Park

About 40 miles across the bay from Mobile, Historic Blakely State Park is situated on 3,800 acres beside the Tensaw River. It’s the largest National Historic Register Site east of the Mississippi River and the site where the last major battle of the Civil War was fought. It has 10 miles of nature trails, bicycle and horse paths, tent camping and an RV campground with full utility hookups. Every year there you can enjoy a Civil War reenactment. This spring’s smaller Living History Day reenactment is complete, but next year there will be a large reenactment on the Civil War battlefield that includes those #*!#! Yankees charging in and capturing Fort Blakely.

Historic Blakeley State Park, 34745 State Highway 225, Spanish Fort. 251-626-0798, www.blakeleypark.com

To read this article online, go to: http://www.ajc.com/news/travel/damn-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead-mobile-bay-you-don/nrxFB/


Southern Living: South’s best college towns

Southern Living, Travel, July 2016

We’ve selected some of our favorite small towns, some true hidden gems of the South. We looked for schools beloved by their fan bases and their alumni, and schools exploring truly exciting academics and research that promise to reach the wider world. We defined “small town” as a city of 350,000 people or less: places in which the college is a driving force in the character of the town.

There’s something magnetic about a college town. Lazy days on the quad followed by homemade ice cream in the town square; the excitement of game day punctuated by school colors draping the city streets; the chance to bump elbows with the leaders of tomorrow over a cappuccino at the local coffee shop. A small town can be a fabulous place to study (there’s plenty to do without big-city distractions) and an idyllic place to live. Small college towns are also among our very favorite places in the South to visit. A weekend trip can bring all the pomp and circumstance of football season in the South, an afternoon spent in charming boutiques and lovely historic theaters, and maybe a picnic on the green. It can be a lovely place to reconnect with family, a spouse, or even with yourself.

Florence, AL: University of North Alabama

The University of North Alabama has one of the most affordable tuition rates in the U.S., making it a great option for students looking for strong academics, small class sizes, and a focus on faculty mentoring. Outside the classroom lies the small town of Florence, where creativity is prized and strong artistic streaks run deep.

The music of the nearby Shoals flows into Florence, and you’ll find live music nearly every weekend, especially at First Fridays, when the town shuts down Main Street for a monthly street fair featuring musicians and artists. Music festivals like the W.C. Handy Music Festival bring hundreds of artists to the streets, and Shoals Theater showcases incredible work. Music lovers can enjoy music and a meal at On the Rocks pub or FloBama Music Hall.

Local clothing designer and textile artist Alabama Chanin runs a fantastic café, The Factory, that adjoins her workshop, and local artists and locally sourced food make Court Street Market a must-visit—be sure to swing by Cafe Woodpecker while you’re there. If nature is more your kind of art, Florence has hiking and swimming opportunities in spades: play in the fountains at River Heritage Park or escape in the beauty of Wildwood Park.

Students get caffeinated at Rivertown Coffee and grab food at Rice Box or Rosie’s Cantina between study sessions. Try a beer pairing at Wildwood Tavern, and don’t miss Odette’s for Alabama-grown ingredients, incredibly Southern cooking, and the best burger in town. To round out the trip, grab ice cream from Trowbridge’s, a Florence institution.

Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama

Some say T Town has all it needs in the Crimson Tide: legendary football games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, some of the best fans a team could ask for, amazing tailgating, and a friendly “Roll Tide” everywhere you turn. But the town, and the school, have a lot more going for it than just sports—even though Alabama’s baseball, gymnastics, and basketball teams consistently bring in fans as well. Alabama students are serious about their studies and downtime, too.

Tuscaloosa lives by football, but there’s more to enjoy in this town full of natural beauty. Embrace the great outdoors at Lake Tuscaloosa or the Black Warrior River; you’ll find hiking trails and opportunities to get in the water all over the city. Visit the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the Paul W. Bryant Museum, and the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art. Or just walk down The Strip to find music, shopping, and great places to eat.

Between classes, students are likely to grab burgers at Rama Jama’s, burritos from Pepito’s, or Chinese food at Swen. You’ll find a good Southern brunch complete with biscuits and gravy at Waysider, or a wonderful sit-down meal at DePalma’s Italian Cafe. Since it would be it would be a shame to visit Tuscaloosa without sampling some great Alabama barbecue, take your pick from Dreamland, Archibald & Woodrow’s, Jim N Nicks, Full Moon, Moe’s BBQ, Dickeys, and more.

Auburn, AL: Auburn University

Life on the Plains has a lot going for it. Great academics, incredible school spirit, active Greek life, and a strong athletics program make Auburn University a hot spot for Southern students looking for the ideal college experience. Want to be an Auburn Tiger for the weekend? Be sure to catch a game—shout “War Eagle” and get a high five from Aubie, then grab a lemonade at Toomer’s Drugstore, right across the street from Samford Hall.

You’re sure to bump into students lining up for breakfast sandwiches at Big Blue Bagel or grabbing a quick lunch at Tacorita. Enjoy top-shelf bourbon and fantastic Southern food at The Hound, started by Auburn alums, and check out Acre for fresh, modern twists on classic Southern food like Seafood Gumbo and Grilled Salmon Salad.

With a little extra time, take the 10-minute trip to Auburn’s sister town of Opelika and search for treasure at Resurrect Antiques, a delightfully quirky and well-stocked antique store. Once you’re off campus, embrace the outdoors: Fish or swim on Lake Martin, or venture onto the hiking trails at Chewacla State Park. Students who want a taste of a bigger city love that Birmingham, Atlanta and Montgomery are all close by.

Huntsville, AL: University of Alabama Huntsville

Going to school in Rocket City has its advantages. With NASA in town and research opportunities galore, Huntsville offers the academic and training advantages of much larger cities with small-town benefits like a low cost of living and tons of charm. Situated in the Tennessee River Valley, Huntsville is a city of natural beauty. From its mountains to the Tennessee River, it’s a great place for swimming, hiking and fishing. University of Alabama Huntsville takes full advantage of these research opportunities; they’re also the home of the only NCAA ice hockey team in the South.

When visiting Huntsville, check out the huge selection of antiques at Railroad Station Antiques Mall, and be sure to tour Lowe Mill, the largest privately owned arts facility in the country. At the mill, grab a big Mason jar full of Piper & Leaf tea, made in-house with locally grown fruits and herbs. Round out your trip with a visit to the fascinating Burritt Museum, where historical interpreters interact as they would on a 19th-century farm, or hike in beautiful Monte Sano State Park.

Enjoy the taste of the town at Chef James Boyce’s fine dining restaurants—Cotton Row, Commerce Kitchen, and Pane e Vino Pizzeria—where inspiration from the past meets modern influence. You’re likely to find students enjoying Tex Mex at Little Rosie’s Taqueria; lined up in front of El Cazador 2 (a.k.a. “Taco Bus”), a permanently parked Blue Bird bus; or enjoying beer and house-made gelato at Sam and Greg’s. 

To read this article online, go to: http://www.southernliving.com/travel/2016-best-college-towns/florence-alabama-from%20sheffield-bluffs-image


Maverick Festival attended by 3,000 UK lovers of Americana music

Della Tully, Alabama Tourism Department’s UK In-Market representative, hosted the state’s exhibition booth at the Maverick Music Festival in Suffolk, England over the July 4th weekend.  Maverick is a festival attended by 3,000 UK lovers of Americana music.  Alabama musicians Debbie Bond of the Alabama Blues Project and Hannah Aldridge from Muscle Shoals both performed at the festival.  Debbie Bond and ‘Radiator Rick’ also held their own harmonica workshop.  The main stage was branded with “Sweet Home Alabama” and all festival staff wore T-Shirts with the Sweet Home Alabama logo.  

Della met with festivalgoers enquiring about Alabama as a tourist destination at the “Sweet Home Alabama” booth that featured maps, brochures and guides. She shared the booth with specialist tour operator Bon Voyage Travel who offer some of the most extensive Alabama self-drive tours.

To find out more about the festival online, go to: http://www.maverickfestival.co.uk/


Pokemon Gump: How one game is bringing everyone together

By Andrew J. Yawn, Montgomery Advertiser, July 17

New Alabama Tourism Department staff member Graham Roderick was interviewed by the Montgomery Advertiser for the article on the growing popularity of Pokemon.

Pokemon Go is a game best played outside so it’s no surprise that downtown Montgomery has a new kind of evening crowd.

After only a week of public play, Pokemon Go already has more users than popular dating app Tinder, more daily active users than Twitter and more engagement time than Facebook.

Pokemon Go is a smashing success but not because it is the greatest game ever invented. Instead it’s a result of Pokemon Go redefining what a social network actually is.

The game uses “augmented reality” to allow users to catch Pokemon (pocket monsters) in the real world using the phone’s camera to show the Pokemon around you. Gyms allow teams to compete for bragging rights and eggs containing more monsters hatch after a certain distance is walked. The goal is simple: Explore areas around you to find new creatures. Humans included.

One week after the game released in the United States, a few dozen Poke-masters milled about the steps of the Capitol on Dexter Avenue as dusk began to settle, a common sight since the Capitol boasts three Pokestops and a gym.

On this particular evening, Taylor Smith and Josh Peavey sat on a bench next to the statue of Jefferson Davis while another friend, Graham Roderick, laid at the top of the Capitol steps looking for anything but Zubats.

One of the three put out a Lure, an item used to attract Pokemon to a location. The Pokestops around them give out Pokeballs and other items once every five minutes. For now the three just have to wait.

“Hey guys, there’s a Poliwhirl over here,” Roderick shouts to his friends, eyes still on his phone as he tries to capture it.

“Poliwhirl or Poliwrath?” Smith asks, curious if it was the latter, stronger type of the water Pokemon.

“Poliwhirl,” Roderick answers.

Then Smith said something that would only sound crazy to those not playing the game.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Pokemon Go predates world peace,” Smith said, only half joking. “You meet so many people out here who are so nice and you have really great conversations.”

Smith went on, describing an interaction he and Peavey had with a group of 16-year-olds days earlier. The two groups had met while playing downtown. They had never seen each other before, but talking about the game – what level they were, what their best catch was, what strategies they used – transcended the generational gap dividing them.

“We’re not in any of the same circles and now we’re here side-by-side having this connection. This happens all the time. You’re meshing friend groups, races and ages,” Smith said. “It’s an automatic conversation starter.”

Peavey agreed. Roderick continued his quest to be the best.

“I’m sick and tired of these Zubats,” he said from the flat of his back, looking up at the bat-like monsters that surround the Capitol.

Hours earlier, 22-year-old Andrew Barnett, a level 23 member of Team Valor, had the same problem as Roderick on the Capitol steps.

Barnett is part of a Facebook group, Tri County Pokemon Trainers, that helps players plan hunts and share their catches.

Barnett said he never had a reason to walk around downtown before. Now he has not only walked several miles this week, he is also meeting lots of people connected by the same hobby.

“I’ve conversed with more people than I have in a while. Nice people, too,” Barnett said. “I’ve met people who are 40 or 45. It feels like everybody’s the same age when you’re playing this though.”

Barnett contrasted the game to playing multiplayer games on Xbox Live. Instead of sitting on the couch playing with people you’ll never meet, Pokemon Go players are seen walking for hours at a time and making real human connections.

For Billy Traylor the game is a way to connect with his son, Will. The two were walking around another popular downtown hunting ground, Court Square.

“It’s more community building than anything else out there,” Traylor said. “Here you’re meeting people face-to-face who you had no idea you had so many things in common with.”

Back at the top of the Capitol steps, Peavey, Roderick and Smith were ready to go home for reasons familiar with any Pokemon trainer: Roderick’s Lure was running out and Peavey’s phone battery was at 1 percent.

“Race you home?” Smith asked Roderick as he walked by.

“No way I’ve still got eggs I’ve got to hatch,” Roderick replied.

Augmented reality indeed.

To read this entire article online, go to: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/community/2016/07/16/pokemon-gump-how-one-game-bringing-everyone-together/87130206/


Grand Bay Welcome Center welcomes 12,000 travelers in two weeks

The new Grand Bay Welcome Center on I-10 at the Alabama-Mississippi line welcomed more than 12,000 travelers since its opening two weeks ago.

“Grand Bay has been incredibly busy,” said welcome center administrator Debbie Wilson.  “This is our prime tourism season with people traveling from all over on their way to our Gulf Coast beaches.”

The welcome center provides travelers with a host of information on area attractions and accommodations.  “Travelers love the look of the new center with the replica of a light house in the middle and the Gulf Coast inspired interior designs,” said Wilson.

The increase in visitors has required additional staffing at Grand Bay and other state welcome centers. Job openings for welcome center positions can be found at https://personnel.alabama.gov/Documents/Announcements/101429_A.pdf.


Sign-Up now for April Walking Tours 2017

Towns interested in participating in the 2017 April Walking Tours should respond with an email giving their town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to brian.jones@tourism.alabama.gov.  The deadline to sign-up for the walking tours is Aug. 1.

Towns already signed-up for 2017 include: Athens, Attalla, Bayou La Batre, Cullman, Daleville, Decatur, Elba, Enterprise, Eutaw, Fairhope, Florence, Foley, Huntsville, Madison, Montgomery, Mooresville, Moulton, Selma, Sheffield, Shelby and Tuscumbia.

More than 2,500 people participated in this year’s April Walking Tours. Some 27 towns across the state hosted the tours. Towns with the most participants included Athens with 474, Huntsville with 310, Fairhope with 295, Tuscumbia with 124, Pell City with 110 and Cullman with 101.

The hour long tours start at 10:00 a.m. each Saturday morning in April. Dates for the 2017 April Walking Tours are April 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.

“These tours are an excellent way for towns and communities of any size to be involved in a state-wide tourism campaign,” said Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.  “There is no cost to participate and state tourism provides all the posters, brochures and collateral materials. More than 20,000 people have participated in the tours since the beginning of the program twelve years ago” he said.

Media coverage of the April Walking Tours this year included the Montgomery Advertiser, The Decatur Daily, Times-Daily, Moulton Advertiser, Cullman Times, The Demopolis Times, Dothan Eagle, News Courier, Selma Times Journal, Anniston Star, Courier Journal, Madison County Journal, Alabama News Center, WSFA-12 NBC Montgomery,  WAAY-31 ABC Huntsville, WCFT 33-40 ABC Birmingham and WVTM-13 NBC Birmingham.

Email your town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to brian.jones@tourism.alabama.gov to register for the April 2017 tours.


Summer Clearance Sale at the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop

The Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop is having a summer clearance sale to make way for fall merchandise.  Selected items have been discounted up to 75%.  Featured items include tourism t-shirts for $2, Sweet Home Alabama polo shirts for $5, tote bags for $1, BBQ aprons for $1 and discounted Christmas ornaments and other small gift items. The summer clearance sale continues through July 29.   

“This is a perfect time to pick up some of our Alabama-themed items at some great prices,” said gift shop manager Leigh Cross with the state tourism department. “A lot of these are items you can’t find anywhere else and they make wonderful gifts.”

A video highlighting some of the sale merchandise can be viewed by liking the Alabama Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop page on Facebook.  The gift shop is located in Montgomery at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the Governor’s Mansion.  Store hours are M-F from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone orders are available by calling 334-241-8824.  


‘A good day for justice’: Horton memorialized with community reading
By Rebecca Crooms, Athens News Courier, June 23

An inconspicuous lard bucket served as the backdrop for the Judge Horton Day ceremonies held Wednesday at the Center for Lifelong Learning on Marion Street.

“This is no ordinary lard bucket,” said Limestone County Archivist Rebekah Davis. “It’s kind of like a time machine.”

Inside the bucket were more than 700 postcards, telegrams, newspaper articles and letters James Horton saved during the 1933 Scottsboro Boys case. Eighty-three years after his landmark decision to set aside a guilty verdict against Haywood Patterson, Horton’s legacy was honored in his hometown during a ceremony called Pen Strokes of Justice.

Participants in the ceremony read primary documents from the day. Some of the readers were direct descendants of the authors and others had connections to the source from which the letters came. All the letters shed light on popular — and unpopular — public opinions on how Horton handled the trial of a man, accused along with eight other black men, of raping two white women on a train in 1932.

“We’re so delighted to see the way this community turns out to honor one of its own,” Davis said about the packed crowd in attendance.

The purpose of the reading was also to raise money for a planned Judge Horton statue to be cast in bronze and placed at the Limestone County Courthouse upon completion. Davis announced enough money had already been donated to get the artist started on the sculpture, but another $20,000 would allow the Judge Horton Statue Committee to buy the pedestal and informative plaques to accompany it.

Kathy Garrett, Horton’s granddaughter, said it meant a lot to her family for the Athens-Limestone community to want to honor her grandfather’s service. To her, Horton was a man who wore a tie every day and drove an old Ford pickup, but she later learned of his role in American history. To see how her grandfather is still remembered more than 80 years later was enough to bring tears to her eyes, Garrett said.

“This is so overwhelming,” she said. “It means so much to my family.”

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks dedicated June 22 as Judge Horton Day. Having the judge’s legacy remembered by the public on the anniversary of his historic decision made for a “great day,” he said.

“What a great day for history; what a great day for justice and what a great day for truth,” Marks said.  

To read this article online, go to: http://www.enewscourier.com/news/local_news/a-good-day-for-justice-horton-memorialized-with-community-reading/article_c3d64e8e-38cc-11e6-a8d6-430611fc17f7.html


Montgomery to host 2016 World Horseshoe Pitching Championships July 25 – Aug. 6

Alabama’s capital city set to welcome over one thousand visitors for unique two-week sporting event.

The 2016 World Horseshoe Pitching Championships will be held in the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl, this July 25 – Aug. 6. Around 1,000 competitors are expected to participate over the twelve- day tournament, bringing an estimated economic impact of $1.5 million to the Montgomery area.

Dawn Hathcock, Vice President of the Montgomery Area Convention & Visitor Bureau, expects the world championship to bring the city of Montgomery excellent exposure:

“We are thrilled to host this event for the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, which boasts over 15 million members in both the United States and Canada. Our Multiplex is the perfect spot for a tournament of this size, with room for 60 horseshoe courts and comfortable seating for over 1,000 spectators. With such a wide scope of participants traveling to our city for this event, we hope to attract even more world championships to our facilities in the future.”

As of today, 934 entrants are confirmed to compete in eight different divisions for their share of over $160,000 in cash and scholarships.

Competition will begin by 8 a.m. each morning, starting Monday, July 25, with a break for NHPA convention and Hall of Fame banquet on Sunday, then will resume at 8 a.m. Monday, August 1. Admission is free and spectators are encouraged. Concessions and souvenirs will be available.

The event will be live streamed online at www.horseshoepitching.com

For more information on Montgomery visit www.visitingmontgomery.com or at 334-625-2100.  


Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism deadlines

The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism (AGCT) will be Aug. 20 – 23, at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach. 

This conference provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and to celebrate achievements.

For more information and registration, go to: www.alabamagovernorsconference.com


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Aug. 20 – 23                           Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism           Orange Beach

Sept. 7 – 9                               STS Fall Forum                                                          Birmingham



Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: www.tourism.alabama.gov

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at: peggy.collins@tourism.alabama.gov

Alabama Tourism Department

Tourism Tuesdays July 5, 2016

  • New Grand Bay Welcome Center opens on I-10 at Alabama-Mississippi line
  • Busy holiday weekend boosts surging Alabama tourism numbers
  • ‘Stony the Road We Trod’: Teaching teachers about civil rights movement
  • A record number of appointments at the Alabama booth at IPW
  • Travel South USA releases international research data
  • To support and defend: Hundreds turn out for enlistment ceremony, monument unveiling at Battleship Park
  • There once was a couple from England…
  • Fifty amazing secret places and top tips from the US
  • Time Out New York recommends Escape to Birmingham
  • Bellingrath Gardens and Home earns Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence
  • McConnell retires from Visit Mobile
  • Send in anniversary events for 2017
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


New Grand Bay Welcome Center opens on I-10 at Alabama-Mississippi line

WVTM 13 TV, July 1

Gov. Robert Bentley and other state officials opened a new welcome center on July 1.  The new Grand Bay Welcome Center on Interstate 10 at the Alabama-Mississippi line will create a better experience for visitors to the state, but it will also create a needed safe haven for Alabama residents during hurricanes and other weather events, officials said.

“We can’t control natural disasters, but we can plan ahead to minimalize the effects of these disasters and help protect the people of Alabama,” Bentley said.

“This welcome center is designed to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and to be a staging area for emergency response personnel.”

The building has some of the most modern hurricane-resistant design and features in the country.  It also has a parking lot designed for large trucks and emergency response vehicles with 227 spaces for vehicle parking and almost 100 tractor-trailer parking spaces.

While the welcome center will serve a crucial role in emergency management, tourism director Lee Sentell said the new center will also be a welcome addition to state tourism.

“The old center had been built in the early ‘70s and had suffered damage from multiple hurricanes,” Sentell said.

The new welcome center features improved access for the disabled, Wi-Fi access, a security station, multiple lighting upgrades, outdoor picnic areas and an enhanced Alabama Tourism lobby display that promotes Gulf Coast attractions.

Federal funds paid for about 90 percent of the new facility.  The Grand Bay Welcome Center is one of 26 projects in the country to receive both initial federal grants and additional federal funding as part of the Federal Highway Administration 2012 Interstate Maintenance Discretionary Award.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.wvtm13.com/news/new-grand-bay-welcome-center-opens-on-i10-at-alabamamississippi-line/40314554


Busy holiday weekend boosts surging Alabama tourism numbers

The Associated Press, AL.com, July 2

A long, busy holiday weekend along the Gulf Coast and elsewhere is helping boost a surge in tourism in Alabama, and officials hope visitors will set another record for spending in 2016.

Industry leaders say hotels and condominiums in Baldwin County are reporting high occupancy rates for the July 4 holiday, which coastal tourism promoter Kay Maghan said is considered the “super peak” of the beach season.

Lakes and rivers from the Tennessee Valley to Eufaula will also be clogged with boaters if the weather holds out, and at least two dozen communities are holding celebrations including fireworks shows or concerts.

Alabama’s tourism director, Lee Sentell, said it all adds up to a profitable period for the hospitality and visitor industry, particularly with the strengthening economy.

“A Fourth of July weekend like this, with the holiday being on a Monday, is the best of all possible combinations for free days for families,” said Sentell.

Here is a glance at Alabama’s tourism industry based on 2015 data compiled for the Alabama Tourism Department:

Upward trend

Tourism has grown steadily in Alabama since 2010, the year the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in canceled room reservations, empty restaurants and overstocked stores all along the Gulf Coast.

Tourists spent a record $12.7 billion in the state last year, an increase of about $1 billion from a year earlier.

Beach boon

Baldwin County, home of both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, leads Alabama in tourism and drew about 6.1 million visitors last year. Its nearly 48,000 people working in hotels, condominiums, outdoor attractions and related businesses account for more than 25 percent of the state’s total tourism employment. The county had about $1.3 billion in travel-related earnings last year.

Aside from Baldwin County, the state’s other top counties for tourism included, in order: Jefferson, which includes Birmingham; the rocket and science hub of Madison County, which includes Huntsville; the port county of Mobile along Mobile Bay; and the state capital of Montgomery. The five counties account for 68 percent of the total visitors to the state.

What tourism?

A handful of Alabama’s most rural and hard-to-reach counties have virtually no tourism industry at all, the report shows.

Lodging tax receipts are an indicator of tourist visits because the money translates into people staying in motels or inns, so the statistics can also help identify places with few paying visitors.

Clay County — located in rural eastern Alabama without any interstate highway access — had the lowest lodging tax take in the state, just $719. Two other counties also had less than $5,000 in total lodging tax revenues, Lamar and Washington.

Other counties could be just as low or lower, but the state revenue agency doesn’t release statistics from counties with only one business that collects lodging tax. That means no figures were available for last year for Barbour, Bullock, Hale and Lowndes counties.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2016/07/busy_holiday_weekend_boosts_su.html


‘Stony the Road We Trod’: Teaching teachers about civil rights movement

By Alyse Nelson, Montgomery Advertiser, July 1

Alabama Tourism Department Director Lee Sentell met with this group while they were in Montgomery.

Thirty-six teachers toured Montgomery Thursday in order to learn about the civil rights movement and bring these lessons back to their classrooms nationwide.

The workshop, which is a weeklong tour of the state, was funded through a $179,340 grant given by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to its state affiliate, the Alabama Humanities Foundation (AHF).

How the project grew

“Stony the Road We Trod: Alabama’s Role in the Modern Civil Rights Movement,” was created by project director Martha Bouyer after she attended a similar program led by the lead scholar of the workshop, Glenn Eskew.

“At the end of the project I learned so much and I wanted an outlet,” Bouyer said. “It was like, ‘what do I do with all of this knowledge?’”

At the time, Bouyer was a Jefferson County teacher and she noted problems she saw that inspired her to reach out to other teachers about the civil rights movement.

“At the same time the state of Alabama changed how it taught American history,” she said. “Whereas before we would try to teach all of the history, whether that was the 6th grade or the 11th grade, every year, so teachers never got to modern history and they certainly did not get to the civil rights movement. And I knew that teachers in my particular school district had not been trained in how to teach that history.”

“Stony the Road We Trod” began with a grant through the AHF just for Jefferson County schoolteachers, and then after a couple of years she applied for one through the NEH as it grew in popularity.

“As the project went on, the U.S. State Department began to send teachers from emerging democracies from around the world to participate,” Bouyer said. “So we had teachers from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Columbia, from all over – so the project keeps growing and the more the information gets out, then the more people want to come to Alabama.”

She said that this was an indication to her of the importance of the events that took place in the state during the civil rights movement.

“I think it gives you an idea – people want to know. They come here for answers to questions that maybe they really haven’t formulated in their minds and they’re trying to find answers.” – Martha Bouyer

Selecting teachers to participate

Bouyer said there were over 250 final applications for 72 slots this year. The selection process is rigorous as subject and grade level taught is considered to bring the widest variety of teachers to Alabama.

“I don’t want them to think that we just teach history in a vacuum,” Bouyer said. “So I wanted art teachers, teachers who teach media courses, technology, history, math teachers even. If we can get teachers to connect across curricular borders, just imagine what we can do with teaching and learning.”

Daniel Gattuso, a school librarian from Maryland that teaches at Washington Grove Elementary School, was one in attendance for the workshop this week.

“I was always interested in learning more about the civil rights movement in the 60s and then this opportunity presented itself to go to Alabama and learn about all of the civil rights struggles that had taken place,” Gattuso said. “I hope to take back the memories of the people and the places I’ve met and seen; I can share with my students all the great information we’ve learned here at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the different sites we’ve visited.”

To read this article online, go to: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2016/07/01/stony-road-we-trod-teaching-teachers-civil-rights-movement/86597288/


A record number of appointments at the Alabama booth at IPW

An exhausted team of Alabama tourism officials are now back in Alabama after a meeting with a record number of tour operators, journalists and officials with Visit USA and Brand USA at the U.S. Travel Association’s IPW tourism marketplace in New Orleans.  In all, 114 appointments were held over a three-day period ending on June 22.   

“This is the most meetings the Alabama delegation has had at IPW,” said Grey Brennan, the person in charge of international efforts for the Alabama Tourism Department. “Tour operators from around the world were talking with tourism representatives from across Alabama on ways to include Alabama cities in their southern USA itineraries that sell to tourist.”

For the first time ever, the Alabama booth was a full 30 linear feet, the largest allowed for a single organization.  The booth included a full backdrop showcasing the state’s top attractions.

Taking appointments in the Alabama booth were Grey Brennan and Rosemary Judkins of the Alabama Tourism Department, Sara Hamlin of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jennifer Moore of the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center, Susan Adams of the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, Ron McConnell of the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, Tami Reist of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, and Tina Jones of the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission.  Tom White of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center was set to attend, but was not able to do so.

Janin Nachtweh, Alabama Tourism Partnership for Germany, and Della Tully, UK In-Market Representative for Alabama Tourism, were also taking appointments in the booth.

In addition to the IPW show, Alabama tourism officials escorted several tour operators on research trips to destinations in the state.  Cities visited were Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Muscle Shoals/Florence, Huntsville and Fort Payne.

The IPW marketplace was also the location of a Travel South USA International and Board meeting.  Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell is a board member of Travel South USA and was present for the board meetings and international update.

For more information on Alabama’s international efforts, contact grey.brennan@tourism.alabama.gov


Travel South USA releases international research data

Alabama Ranks in the top half in terms of international visitors to the region

International visits growing faster than domestic

In a special meeting at the IPW marketplace, the Travel South USA organization presented research on international tourism to State Tourism International Committee members and representatives.  The research shows global tourism to the USA is growing faster than domestic tourism.

Information released by Tourism Economics at the Travel South USA meeting shows global long-haul travel growing dramatically.  In 1995, the global market was only 13% the size of the U.S. domestic overnight travel market.  It now stands at 21% and is expected to reach 24% by 2020, according to the report.

Overseas visits to the United States increased at a compound annual growth rate of 3.2% from 2007 to 2014 in the Travel South region while hotel room demand grew at only 1.3%.  In Alabama, the difference in growth rates was even more dramatic during the time period. In Alabama, the report shows overseas visits were up 6% while the hotel room demand was up less than 2% overall.

According to the report, Alabama is one of nine Travel South member states that host more than 100,000 overseas visitors.  Overall, Alabama is No. 6 of the 12 Travel South member states in overseas visitors.  In order, the ranking are; Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia. This puts Alabama in the top half of Travel South states in ranking of international visitors.

The report shows that in 2014, Canada was the top international market to the Travel South member states, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany and France.  In Alabama, the top markets in 2014 were Canada, United Kingdom and Japan.  Germany and China are tied for fourth place in Alabama’s rankings.

Travel South USA is a marketing organization for the southern USA.  The board members are the state tourism director for each of the 12 member states which are; Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

For more information on Alabama’s international efforts, contact grey.brennan@tourism.alabama.gov


To support and defend: Hundreds turn out for enlistment ceremony, monument unveiling at Battleship Park

By Lawrence Specker, AL.com, July 2

“What a great day this was for all of us to honor all of those,” said Dr. Barry Booth late Saturday morning, as he unveiled the newest monument at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

The newly installed eight-foot bronze statue by area sculptor Casey Downing made it perfectly clear who Booth meant by “all of those:” Titled “The Recruit,” it depicts a man raising his hand as he takes the Oath of Enlistment into military service for the United States. It is a distinctive addition to the park’s catalog of monuments, and one that will not easily be overlooked, standing just to the right of the gangway climbed by visitors as they board the Alabama. On Saturday morning, dozens of park visitors watched from the gangway, joining the hundreds who stood watching on the ground, as Booth pulled away the plastic shrouding the statue.

Saturday morning brought a remarkable start to the July 4 weekend at Battleship Park: In addition to unveiling the statue, the park hosted an actual enlistment ceremony that was open to public viewing. The appeal of the event was so strong that by 9:30 a.m., traffic trying to enter the park was backed up in both directions along the Causeway.

Park officials eventually cleared the bottleneck by waiving the $2 park entry fee. By this point, the main parking lot was full and visitors were turning to the grassy lots already roped off for parking at Monday night’s fireworks show. A capacity crowd filled the park’s aircraft pavilion to observe the enlistment ceremony; Rhonda Davis, the park’s director of sales and marketing, said park officials believed more than 800 people were on hand.

Casey Downing, the sculptor, said he drew on a variety of influences as he designed his statue. One was his own enlistment in 1967, when he traveled to Montgomery on his way to take the oath. He served as a helicopter instrument flight instructor for the Navy. Another was the desire to honor all branches of the service in all eras. Enlistment is a common point, he said, because people are still civilians up until the moment they take the oath.

“It’s really a wonderful thing to be able to do this kind of thing for the community you grew up in,” the sculptor said.

As he spoke to the crowd at the enlistment ceremony, Col. Patrick Downing (Ret.), the chair of the USS Alabama Battleship Commission, said that “the statue of a young man taking the oath is timeless.” The fact that he is in civilian clothing “signifies that he is of the people” he is vowing to protect.

And while a recruit might be expected to be nervous, Col. Downing also described the moment of enlistment as a moment of great clarity: “It is a moment when one makes a commitment to support and defend the Constitution,” he said.

Aubrey Fuller, immediate past chair of the USS Alabama Battleship Commission, made sure to give credit not only to the recruits taking the oath on Saturday, but to their parents as well. “Moms, dads, this day is a tribute to you as well … Thank you for your example, thank you for your patriotism.”

More than 100 recruits, representing various branches of the service, took the oath at Saturday’s ceremony. Downing invited the veterans in the crowd to stand with them and recite it again as well, and many did, including a group of 20 or more World War II veterans wearing gold Honor Flight shirts and 105-year-old WWII veteran Maj. John Jacobson, who received a special ovation when recognized by Booth.

“They saved our world, they saved our nation and they’re the greatest heroes of our time,” said Booth of the WWII veterans. (Several park officials, including its executive director, Maj. Gen. Janet Cobb, described Booth as the driving force behind the monument and Saturday’s enlistment ceremony.)

At the other end of the age spectrum, the children in the crowd were given small flags and asked to write the name of a veteran and their branch of service on them. During the program, the children were invited to come to the front and read out the names they’d written. Several dozen took part.

Afterward, World War II veteran Bob Spielmann, one of those wearing his Honor Flight shirt, described the statue as “a great thing.” He was in training as a Navy pilot when the war ended, and he recalled taking the oath in Brooklyn.

“It’s something you never forget,” he said.

He said the park’s new monument is unique because so many honor fighting men, generals and the fallen. “This is a civilian,” he said.

“We’re just blown away at the turnout,” said park director Cobb. “We’re really thrilled that this many people came out. We’re thinking about making it an annual event.”

To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2016/07/to_support_and_defend_hundreds.html


There once was a couple from England…

Couple who chose “wrong” Birmingham now coming to the American South


Richella Heekin’s story of booking a dream trip to Las Vegas through the wrong airport went viral earlier this year. 


Heekin had saved for months to surprise her boyfriend, Ben Marlowe, with the birthday present of a trip to the Nevada gambling paradise.  She was heartbroken when she learned that, instead of the BHX airport in Birmingham, England, she had booked the flight through the BHM airport in Birmingham, Alabama. 


The couple’s story, though, now promises to have a happy ending…along with a surprise detour through the Birmingham of the American South.


When the story went viral, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson stepped up with free roundtrip airfare from Manchester to Las Vegas, along with a complimentary hotel stay.  He was quoted as making the disparaging remark, “Manchester is a lot better than Birmingham, Alabama.”


Not a city to take maligning lightly, Birmingham reacted quickly with a band of city boosters inviting the British/Irish couple—Heekin is Irish—to visit Birmingham, Alabama.  They happily accepted and a generous donor stepped up to fly them from Las Vegas to their Southern destination for a two-day whirlwind tour August 16 and 17.


The couple will be squired around the city to sample Birmingham’s award-winning culinary destinations and thriving craft beer breweries.  They also are scheduled to explore the Ziplines and other adventures at Red Mountain Park and to sightsee in the city center on new Zip Bikeshare bikes.  Another highlight will be a VIP visit to Birmingham’s internationally renowned Porsche Driving Experience at Barber Motorsports Park.


At a quick stop by downtown Regions Field baseball park, the couple will throw out the first pitch for the Birmingham Barons game.  Then it’s on to a concert by American singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis at Iron City, one of Birmingham’s most popular music venues.  Their visit coincides with Lewis’s local performance on her nationally-acclaimed “Voyager Tour.”


“Birmingham, Alabama, is in the midst of an astonishing rebirth, so this is a great time for Richella and Ben to visit us,” Tom Cosby, a local city booster and instigator of the couple’s trip said.  “We could not have put this trip together without the generosity of our local attractions and restaurants, along with an outpouring of help from stalwart donors.”


Cosby has worked closely with the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, Big Communications, REV Birmingham, the Alabama Tourism Department and Stewart Perry Construction Company to arrange the trip.


Fifty amazing secret places and top tips from the US

By Jordan Payson, Escape, July 3

If you’re planning a holiday to the U.S., you also probably have a bucket-list of big-ticket attractions to see.

But for every Disneyland, Statue of Liberty or Yosemite National Park there’s a host of lesser known treasures – historic sites, areas of natural beauty or just fun places to eat – that locals love and love to recommend.

Every state has its secrets … here are 50 of them.


Tom’s Wall

Tom’s Wall is a tribute that Tom Hendrix created to his Native American great-great-grandmother. She is the only person known to have walked back home to Alabama after escaping the Trail of Tears forced removal.

Bonus tip: With more than 1450 vintage motorcycles and race cars that date back to 1904, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham remains the largest motorcycle museum in the world.

To read this entire article online, go to: http://www.escape.com.au/top-lists/50-amazing-secret-places-and-top-tips-from-the-us/news-story/bf323208bd6b17edd02b804ae5b846cf


Bellingrath Gardens and Home earns Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence

Bellingrath Gardens and Home has received glowing reviews from visitors on TripAdvisor.com, resulting in the website’s top tourism award for 2016, the Certificate of Excellence.

TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website, gives a Certificate of Excellence to accommodations, attractions and restaurants that consistently earn great reviews from travelers. Bellingrath Gardens and Home also received the award in 2015.

To qualify for the Certificate of Excellence, a business has to maintain an overall TripAdvisor rating of at least four stars out of five, as well as have a minimum number of reviews and have been listed on the site for at least 12 months.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home, located in south Mobile County, is the legacy of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, who purchased the property on Fowl River in 1918 and developed it during the 1920s and 1930s.  The Gardens opened to the public in 1932.  The Home, completed in 1936, is marking its 80th anniversary in July 2016.

To select the attractions for the Certificate of Excellence, TripAdvisor uses a proprietary algorithm that takes into account the quality, quantity and “regency” of reviews submitted by visitors on the travel website over a 12-month period, according to information from TripAdvisor.  The business’s tenure and ranking on the site’s Popularity Index is also taken into account.


McConnell retires from Visit Mobile

Ron McConnell has announced that he will be retiring from his position as Vice-President of Convention Sales for Visit Mobile.  McConnell has served the Hospitality and Tourism industry for more than 20 years and has been a valued and knowledgeable partner for the Visit Mobile Community.

McConnell began his CVB career in Mobile as Tourism Sales Director, with a focus on growing the Group Tour Travel market.  He quickly became recognized as the go-to person in Mobile for the Group Tour market with his regular attendance at American Bus Association, National Tour Association, International Pow Wow, Alabama Motorcoach Association, Travel South and many partnerships with the State of Alabama Tourism team.  Several years ago, he was promoted to Vice President of Convention Sales where he led a team of seven dedicated people committed to achieving their individual goals each year.

Visit Mobile is very appreciative of McConnell’s work ethic, dedication, team work and his commitment to marketing Mobile around the country.  McConnell stated that the time spent with Visit Mobile “has been an honor” and one that he will always remember.  

A national search for a new Vice-President of Convention Sales will begin as early as next week.  McConnell will remain with Visit Mobile until December 31 to assist with the transition. 


Send in anniversary events for 2017

The Alabama Tourism Department would like to highlight any state events/festivals having major anniversaries next year (10th, 25th, 50th, etc.) in our 2017 Vacation Guide.  If any of your local events are celebrating one of these major anniversaries next year please send the name of the event, its anniversary, the dates for 2017 and a short description to Pam Smith at pam.smith@tourism.alabama.gov.                                     

Please send these in by July 15. 


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Aug. 20 – 23                           Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism            Orange Beach

Sept. 7 – 9                               STS Fall Forum                                                          Birmingham


Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: www.tourism.alabama.gov

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at: peggy.collins@tourism.alabama.gov

Alabama Tourism Department

Tourism Tuesdays March 15, 2016

  • 2016 Welcome Center Retreat RFP
  • ATD’s UK rep attends show in Southampton
  • ITB show success for Alabama Tourism Partnership
  • New tour from Switzerland travel firm includes Alabama 
  • Birmingham could get its own National Park
  • Bentley announces grant to boost tourism at Jesse Owens museum
  • New music festival coming to Moulton
  • Family Fun in Birmingham
  • How alleys, boardwalks and ranches are fueling Alabama’s alligator fascination
  • Alabama Tourism Workshop April 27
  • Cullman Tourism director needed
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


2016 Welcome Center Retreat RFP

The annual Welcome Center Retreat is for Welcome Center employees to meet with tourism partners from around the state.  Also, it is an opportunity for the host city to showcase their area to the front line Welcome Center employees from the 8 Welcome Centers operated by the Alabama Tourism Department. 

Welcome Center employees from all over the state attend the annual Welcome Center retreat.  Additional attendees are tourism partners from hotels, attractions, chambers and CVBs.

In order to host this event, which netted Tuscaloosa more than $80,000, access the RFP form here.  It provides information that will enable qualified, interested parties to respond with a detailed proposal to provide hotel and meeting facilities for the 2016 Welcome Center Retreat.


ATD’s UK rep attends show in Southampton

Della Tully, Alabama Tourism Department’s (ATD) UK representative, worked the Bon Voyage USA Consumer show at West Quay in Southampton on a recent weekend. West Quay is one of the premier shopping malls on the south coast of England with a 100,000 people per day on the weekend.  The exhibition space was located at one of the entrances leading to UK retailer ‘John Lewis’.


The event was the USA & Canada Spring Road Show held by leading UK tour operator ‘Bon Voyage’.  Alabama exhibited as part of Deep South USA alongside 10 other US destinations. Bon Voyage hired an Airstream Caravan, a band playing American music and a classic cherry red American Chevy to draw consumers to the stands.  The exhibition area could be seen from all three levels on the shopping centre.


ITB show success for Alabama Tourism Partnership

ITB 2016 in Berlin from March 8 – 13, was a big success for Alabama. For the first time, the new German Alabama Tourism Promotions Partnership office was present at the world’s largest tourism show.

German In-Market Representative Account Manager Janin Nachtweh and Alabama Tourism Regional Director Grey Brennan met with 15 tour operators from Germany, Austria and Switzerland selling European travel to the US. All of them confirmed increasing interest and rising sales numbers for the South.

Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell held strategic meetings with Nachtweh and Brennan during ITB as well as meeting with key tour operators.

The German In-Market Representative firm also talked to 28 media representatives specializing in travel to the US, discussing story ideas and possible media FAMs. Out of those, 18 journalists and producers attended an invitation only Southern Media Breakfast shared with Mississippi and Tennessee.  German producer and newspaper reporter Tom Noga spoke to fellow writers at the breakfast about his 2015 visit of the Muscle Shoals region. Thirteen sit-down media meetings took place during ITB.

On the last two days the German office distributed large quantities of Alabama brochures to the general public and spoke to many potential travelers about Alabama.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts in the German market, contact: grey.brennan@tourism.alabama.gov


New tour from Switzerland travel firm includes Alabama 

The first package resulting from the work of the new German Alabama office went on sale March 14.  Switzerland’s major tour operator Hotelplan now features a fly-drive covering the South that includes North Alabama.

The tour is titled Southern Blues and is offered under Hotelplan’s TravelHouse brand. The tour in Alabama includes the Muscle Shoals area and Huntsville (2 nights), and Birmingham (1 night).

The tour will be promoted on social media, newsletters and at an upcoming Swiss blues festival.

Janin Nachtweh heads up the German office for Alabama Tourism Partnership and is responsible for the German, Austrian and Switzerland markets.

The package has been initialized by the new German office at its first Alabama sales call in Zurich on Jan. 2, and is developed with Hotelplan. Funding for the Alabama share of its promotions comes from marketing contributions from members of the new German Alabama Tourism Promotions Partnership.

To view the tour, go to http://www.travelhouse.ch/usa/southern-blues-more-o1902974-de.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts in the Switzerland market, contact: grey.brennan@tourism.alabama.gov.


Birmingham could get its own National Park

By John Archibald, AL.com, March 13

I’m always mystified by those in the Birmingham area who want to forget the Civil Rights Movement took mighty and formative steps here.

Move beyond the dogs and fire hoses, they say. We will never heal if you keep bringing this up.

They’d never say the same about Pearl Harbor. Or Nuremberg. Or the Twin Towers.

Never forget.

There is an effort afoot, in Birmingham and in Washington, to have much of Birmingham’s Civil Rights District declared a National Historic Park. It would, conceivably, become the first civil rights-related park in the country to gain such a designation.

It’s about time. For these are the blocks, in downtown Birmingham, where Martin Luther King Jr. demanded that those who would march with him understand the power of non-violence.

These are the streets where children walked stolidly toward the inevitability of Bull Connor, where King penned words that changed the way the world looked at protest – and the city itself.

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here,” he began.

Rep. Terri Sewell is expected to sponsor a bill creating the Birmingham Civil Rights National Historic Park as part of the National Park System.

“Incorporating Birmingham’s historic civil rights site into the National Park Service system will enhance historic preservation efforts, promote economic revitalization, and facilitate the interpretation of Birmingham’s pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement,” Sewell said in a statement earlier this month.

The bottom line is that city officials – along with Sewell — believe National Park status could open the doors to federal grants and matching money. San Antonio, for instance, grabbed big cash after a historical park designation.

These places need to be preserved, and honored, and used to teach people both the victories and mistakes of the past.

They need to be funded and managed to showcase the history to visitors and residents alike.

If it becomes a national park it will be staffed by park rangers and maintained by the park service. And that, frankly, makes the place more attractive to national groups that want to open up their wallets for a good cause.

Specifics of exactly what will be included in the park are still in the works or under wraps, but it is sure to include the A.G. Gaston Hotel, where King stayed on many visits to Birmingham, along with Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park and the Civil Rights Institute itself.

Birmingham, you see, is different.

And this is what so many Birmingham residents never realize. Not only did important history happen here, right on our downtown streets, but so many of the buildings and places have been saved and, to some degree, preserved. But the city can and will never preserve them for future generations the way a National Park could. Just as they have done in Philadelphia at the Independence National Historic Park, which includes multiples sites. Or at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia.

So much history. So many lessons.

There is so much that is worthy of remembrance, and preservation, and respect.

There’s Fred Shuttlesworth’s old church, Bethel Baptist, that was bombed three times by those who tried – and failed – to shut him up. The Ensley home of King’s brother, the Rev. A.D.W. King, was bombed twice. Ministers’ homes across Birmingham were targeted by bombers.

There’s the site of the old Trailways station, where freedom riders were beaten in 1961 as they came to Alabama to help black people register to vote.

There are footsteps all across this city where people listened to the non-violent message of Martin Luther King, and stepped out to change the world. Whether those places achieve national park status or not, Birmingham needs to remember.

And the world needs to see.

And never forget.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/0 /birmingham_could_get_its_own_n.html


Bentley announces grant to boost tourism at Jesse Owens museum

QuadCitiesDaily.com, March 10                                                                      

Now that “Race,” a biographical movie about Jesse Owens has been released, Gov. Robert Bentley has announced a $9,136 grant to help guide the anticipated increase in tourism to the north Alabama boyhood home of the Olympic sprinter and gold medalist.

Funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission will be used to install new directional highway signs to a museum and reconstructed childhood home of Owens in Oakville. The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association which was awarded the grant expects the movie will attract 10,000 additional visitors annually on top of the 25,000 to 40,000 yearly average to the Jesse Owens Memorial Park and Museum and will generate more than $350,000 to the region’s economy in tourism dollars. 

“The Jesse Owens story is truly fascinating, and it started right here in Alabama,” Bentley said. “I am pleased to announce this funding. I believe visitors will be amazed by what they see and learn.”

The grant, administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, will help fund six signs.

The Alabama Department of Transportation will erect a sign on both the north- and south-bound lanes of Interstate 65 near the Jesse Owens Parkway (Alabama Highway 36) and signs in each direction marking the section of the Alabama Highway 36 named in his honor. Two signs will also be replaced on Alabama Highway 157.

In addition to increased visitation as a result of the movie, museum officials say they always expect a spike in tourism, including international visitors, in summer Olympic years. This year’s Summer Olympics will begin Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Bentley notified Tami L. Reist, president and CEO of Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, that the grant had been approved. Local matching funds of $9,136 have been pledged for the signage. 

To read this article online, go to: http://quadcitiesdaily.com/?p=307118


New music festival coming to Moulton

After months of preparation and anticipation, the city of Moulton in Lawrence County is about to experience the excitement of the new Southern Fried Music Festival. 

The event will be Fri. – Sun, April 8 – 10, at the Lion’s Club Fairgrounds in Moulton, adjacent to the Lawrence County High campus.  The festival will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight Fri.; noon to midnight Sat. and noon to 10 p.m. on Sun.  Admission is $5 and includes that day’s concerts.

“I am excited about the opportunity to bring this event to Moulton,” organizer Phil Colwell said. “We have some great musicians lined up, we’ll have vendors selling all kinds of items, great food, and most of all it will be a lot of fun.” 

The festival will feature entertainment for all ages, with food vendors, arts and crafts, carnival rides, games, inflatables for the kids, and great country music.  The arts and crafts booths will feature one-of-a-kind, hand-made items shoppers won’t want to miss.  Food vendors will have festival favorites such as pizza, lemonade, funnel cakes and much more. 

The first show will begin Fri. at 4 p.m. and will feature Jeff Whitlow, followed at 8 p.m. by the world-famous “Bama Band,” the group that backed up legendary country star Hank Williams, Jr., for more than 20 years.

On Saturday night, country music legend and Grammy nominated artist, Doug Stone will be the headliner at 8 p.m. on the main stage.  And on Sunday, Kevin Moon will open the show for up-and-coming music star Ashton Shepherd at 8 p.m.

The festival is being sponsored by the Moulton Lion’s Club, KIX 96.1 country radio and the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. 

“We are pleased anytime such a fun-filled event is held in Lawrence County,” said Chamber director Jason Houston.

“This festival will feature fun for all ages, and you can’t beat the price for concerts done by this caliber of artists.  We are anticipating a great weekend.” 

For any questions, call the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce at (256) 974-1658, or Phil Colwell at 731-434-9832


Family Fun in Birmingham

By Becky J. Beall, BirminghamParent.com, Dec. 29

This article is the result of a meeting with Georgia Turner, Manager, Media Relations/Group Sales, Florence/Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, at Travel Media Showcase last year.

Birmingham residents looking for family adventure can experience everything from beautiful beaches to scenic mountains without ever leaving the borders of this southern state. In addition, keeping vacation dollars within the state supports economic development across Alabama, promotes tourism and offers employment opportunities to many. Consider all the diversity of sweet home Alabama when planning your next getaway.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center

Huntsville’s tech-savvy climate is the perfect home for the U. S. Space & Rocket Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, offering exhibits and attractions with an educational premise. Since its opening in 1970, more than 16 million visitors have toured the Center that beckons all to become an astronaut for a day.

Point Mallard Park

Just south of Huntsville in the city of Decatur, Point Mallard Park sits on 750 acres of wooded pines. Carved out among this massive area is an 18-hole golf course, a 25-acre campground, America’s first wave pool (operating seasonally in the Waterpark), an ice skating rink (operating in winter seasonally), tennis courts, batting cages, a driving range and trails for hiking/biking/jogging.

The Shoals Area

The northwestern area of the state is collectively known as The Shoals and is home to some fun family attractions that you might overlook unknowingly. Plan a long weekend touring Helen Keller’s birthplace in Tuscumbia and then hop on over to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield. Enjoy time wandering in Florence, a beautiful river city with a rich history and consider tons of outdoor recreation available on Pickwick Lake, Wheeler Lake, Wilson Lake and Coldwater Falls. (For web sites to assist with The Shoals travel, visit http://alabama.travel/places-to-go/the-shoals#what-to-do.)

If you are a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, then don’t miss America’s architectural gem, the Rosenbaum House Museum built in Florence in 1939 for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum. The only Wright-designed structure in the state of Alabama, the Rosenbaum House offered fulfillment of the American dream to middle-income families through low-cost home ownership. This treasure has been carefully preserved and operates today as a museum open to the public. When in Florence, take some time to appreciate this entity.

Montgomery Zoo & Mann Wildlife Learning Museum

Take a tour of the continents by way of the animals at the Montgomery Zoo & Mann Wildlife Learning Museum! From the cheetahs of Africa to the red kangaroos of Australia, the Montgomery Zoo offers tons of animals in their natural setting with opportunities for zookeeper chats, learning about endangered species and the conservation of wildlife. Major animal exhibits, picnic facilities, and special events all make this a family attraction you’ll come back to over and over. A complete calendar of events is available at http://www.montgomeryzoo.com/families.html and is very helpful in planning a visit.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home

Thirty minutes southeast of Mobile in Theodore, Walter and Bessie Bellingrath share their grand estate home on 65 acres complete with stunning floral gardens and seasonal events (Magic Christmas in Lights and Winter Wednesdays). The expansive nature of this estate is a beauty to behold with not only the museum home tour, but with the wonder of nature itself.

Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Folks come from all over the country to enjoy the sugar-white sandy beaches and gorgeous blue-green waters that make up Alabama’s coastal community. Alabama families spend countless summer vacations on the sands of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan, but many forget that shoulder seasons (spring and fall) offer amazing weather, reduced lodging rates and shorter lines for attractions and restaurants.

If you’re a camping-style family, there are very inexpensive campsites available at the state park, as well as RV hookups. Condos and hotels abound in addition to beach houses and bed & breakfasts. The Gulf Shores website offers a plethora of information from lodging to recreation to dining. Check it out at www.gulfshores.com.

To read the entire article, go to: http://birminghamparent.com/article/family-fun-in-birmingham-alabama.html


How alleys, boardwalks and ranches are fueling Alabama’s alligator fascination

By John Sharp, AL.com, March 13

Cheryl McDaniel and Jeremy Clem of Bay Minette weren’t on the hunt for an alligator in Daphne, but they were certainly keeping a watchful eye for “Big Papa.”

“Most of the time, on a quiet day, you’ll see him,” McDaniel said recently as she walked along a wooden boardwalk nestled underneath one of the Eastern Shore’s busiest roadways, U.S. 98 near Interstate 10.

“He’s real, real big. We like to come down here and just look for him,” she added.

The non-descript wooden trail is a popular spot for the couple whenever they visit the Eastern Shore. And it’s a hot spot for alligator watching, especially during warmer months when the scaly reptiles appear out of the murky waters of D’Olive Creek.

Daphne city officials took note and in 2014, began the process of moving forward with a renovation and expansion plan for the boardwalk into a park-like setting surrounded by hotels and restaurants.

“We don’t have too many attractions people will just stop off to go see from the interstate,” Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood said. “This gives them a chance to take a break and maybe see a gator.”

Daphne’s $768,984 Gator Boardwalk project, set to be completed in June, illustrates the growing popularity of

ecological trails and wildlife encounters.  It shows, too, that Alabama’s alligators are joining birds and dolphins as a sight-seeing draw.

Alabama boasts the largest American alligator ever hauled up from the water.  It’s the “Stokes alligator” caught in the Alabama River, about 100 miles north of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta in 2014 by Mandy Stokes of Thomaston and four others.

The 15-foot, half-ton monster broke a record set in 2007 in Texas.

Alabama doesn’t have an alligator state-record program, but I knew off the top of my head the gator killed by Mandy Stokes with the help of her husband John Stokes, brother-in-law Kevin and his children Savannah, 16, and Parker, 14, was much bigger than the largest hunter-killed alligator up to that time.

Stokes said it’s time for the state to recognize the new public curiosity about alligators and ‘gator lore. “We have the world-record alligator caught here in our state and … the alligator hunting season is relatively new to Alabama. You have Florida and Mississippi and Louisiana … they’ve been hunting alligators for many years.”

The alligator hunting season was restarted about 10 years ago through limited hunting permits issued in Mobile and Baldwin counties for late August. Only 50 permits were issued in 2006, a number which grew to 260 last year.

Florida and Louisiana award far more hunting permits each year. Last year in Florida, more than 5,000 permits were issued, each good for up to two alligators. In Alabama, hunters are randomly selected and their permits are good for only one hunted alligator.

Stokes’ kill put Alabama’s relationship with the alligator on the map. The New York Times, last summer, chronicled a story about an alligator hunt in the Tensaw River.

The reason for the popularity, Tim Parker, a tour guide at Gator Ranch since early 2006, said, is rooted in pop culture: Alligators are cool. Andy Riffle from the Animal Planet network show “Gator Boys” can often be spotted at the ranch, signing autographs.

“Before these shows came out, you didn’t hear a lot of people coming through talking about alligators,” Parker said.

“But now almost everyone coming up through there is talking about the shows.”

The Gator Ranch, which began as an alligator farm 38 years ago, has hundreds of alligators in captivity, some much larger than others.  Airboat rides, which can hold up to 30 people at a time, cost $30 per person for adults and $15 for youths ages 4-9.

“During the summer tourism season, we get slammed,” said Parker. “Sometimes, we get on a boat and hardly get off of it.  We open the doors at 8 and stick around till 5.  We run these boats every 30 minutes.”

He added, “There were times in the summer months, you’d be lucky to have one or two cars pulling into the lots. But it’s changed a lot in the last decade, that’s for sure.”

More than 1.1 million people come to Alabama to view wildlife each year, according to a 2013 report commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Walton Family Foundation. That’s more than those who visit to fish (683,000) or hunt (535,000), according to the study which was done by the research firm Datu Research LLC.

The study found that Alabama attracts more people who are interested in observing wildlife than Louisiana and Mississippi. Only Florida and Texas are luring more travelers for wildlife watching.

Wildlife watching is also bringing big dollars.  Of the $19.4 billion spent on wildlife tourism in the Gulf Coast region in 2011, $6.5 billion went to wildlife watching, the study concluded.

Kay Maghan, spokeswoman with Gulf Shores-Orange Beach Tourism, said over the past three months, her office has seen a “significant increase” in requests for its brochure on nature-related activities.  Among the features are Alligator Alley, the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary at Dauphin Island and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

“The one thing we’re trying to educate our visitors and potential visitors more with is that you have a beach here, but there are other things to do,” Maghan said. “They spend a couple of days on the beach and you find people like to do things outdoors.”

Research also shows that wildlife tourism, in general, is generating significant tax money for local governments. For Alabama, that means about $199.5 million in state and local tax revenues from wildlife activities.

Baldwin County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said that southwest Alabama is in a prime location to benefit. He said with the presence of the Delta and the release of the documentary “America’s Amazon,” more people are interested in “seeing the great Delta area we have here.”

“It’s kind of grown organically,” he said. “There is certainly a lot of different things to show off on the Delta such as wild hog hunting, alligator hunting and people wanting to come down here to see the alligators.”

Haygood said, “It’s a unique park. When you have a boardwalk system that is so low to the water, it really feels like you’re interacting. It’s convenient to access. You have I-10 and Route 98 bustling around you, yet this is a calm and quiet setting.”

To read this entire article online, go to: http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2016/03/post_45.html


Alabama Tourism Workshop April 27

The Alabama Tourism Department will host the semi-annual Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wed., April 27.  This workshop is for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov


Cullman Tourism director needed

The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce is now taking applications for Director of Tourism. A degree is preferred but not mandatory. Tourism experience is preferred. Some travel is required and salary is commensurate with experience.

No resumes accepted after March 26.

Please remit to: Attention Tourism, PO Box 1104, Cullman, AL  35056-1104

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

April 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30            April Walking Tours

April 27                                   Alabama Tourism Department Workshop                  Montgomery



Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: www.tourism.alabama.gov

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at: peggy.collins@tourism.alabama.gov

Alabama Tourism Department

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