The manager of Alabama’s Welcome Centers says tourism is up 5 percent over the past year, at a time when the economy is challenging all states throughout the region.
Frances Smiley, with the Alabama Tourism Department, said one of the reasons Alabama has been able to thrive is because of cooperation between government and private entities in spotlighting the state’s resources. One of the best years for the state’s Gulf Coast region was following the 2010 BP spill, she said.
“Not everyone in the Southeast can say that,” she said of this year’s increase. “It’s because we’re all working together throughout the state and people can see that.”
Smiley was speaking at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Celebration. She has overseen the state’s eight welcome centers since 1999. She said the centers get 6 million visitors in an average year. For example, the Cleburne Welcome Center off Interstate 20 has between 650,000 to 850,000 visitors in a year’s time.
Another reason the state is welcoming more people is a series of yearly campaigns to spotlight different reasons to visit, such as food, outdoor activities or the arts. Those campaigns are aimed at the number one group taking to the roads – the family, she said.
“And we’re not just talking about moms and dads,” Smiley said. “We’re talking about grandparents, aunts and uncles. After 9/11, we were saying that people were more apt to travel within a 200 mile radius of their homes. Now we’re finding it’s up to a 350 mile radius.”