Group & International Travel

Group Travel Contacts

Graham Roderick

International Sales Manager

(334) 353-1907

Grey Brennan

Marketing Director
Central Regional Director

(334) 242-4459

Rosemary Judkins

Group Travel Manager

(334) 242-4493

Group Travel Resources

Tourism Tuesdays September 27, 2016

  • Governor announces grant for Jacksonville State’s Little River Canyon Center
  • New bus tour begins through downtown Montgomery
  • Travel South International registration closes Friday
  • Alabama college makes list of most beautiful public universities in America
  • Tuscaloosa plans to celebrate milestone
  • New hotel opens with local flavor in Tuscaloosa
  • 100-year-old building will become Springhill Suites in Montgomery
  • Presenting Alabama as a multi-course meal
  • Alabama Power boilers find new home as fish habitat
  • Openings for Tourism Promotional Representatives
  • Alabama Tourism Workshop Oct. 5
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Governor announces grant for Jacksonville State’s Little River Canyon Center

A $52,500 grant announced by Gov. Robert Bentley could lead to increased tourism and educational opportunities in northeast Alabama.

Funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission will be used for a feasibility study relating to the possible expansion of the Little River Canyon Center and activities. The center is an education facility and conference area that is located on the outskirts of Little River Canyon, a 23-mile-long river gorge atop Lookout Mountain. 

The center was built and is operated by Jacksonville State University while the canyon is managed by the National Park Service. The study will determine if an expanded center and added activities have the potential to bring in more visitors for longer durations.

“The canyon center and the educational programs it offers enhances the splendor of Little River Canyon,” Bentley said. “I am pleased to have a role in this project that will help reveal the area’s potential as an outdoor education and recreation location.”

JSU opened the 23,000-square-foot center in 2008 from which it holds field schools and conducts nature programs relating to northeast Alabama and Little River Canyon. The facility also serves as a visitor’s center, has an exhibit area and gift shop and houses NPS offices. A stage and amphitheater have recently been added.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 people visit the canyon annually providing an economic impact of $16 million to the area Other nearby attractions include DeSoto State Park, Weiss Lake and Cherokee Rock Village all of which are in DeKalb and Cherokee counties. 

The grant is being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

“Tourism and recreation are important sectors of Alabama’s economy,” ADECA Director Jim Byard Jr. said. “I commend JSU for recognizing Little River Canyon as something special and being willing to invest in the area with so many educational and recreational opportunities.”


New bus tour begins through downtown Montgomery

By Bethany Davis, WSFA 12 News, Sept. 20

The “I Am More Than…” bus tour is designed to promote and recruit educational student travel and tourism to Montgomery.  The idea is to get more young people to embrace Montgomery’s rich history.  The bus tours are a spin-off of the annual “I Am More Than” youth summits.

“It takes the knowledge of the history and what has happened, and makes it applicable to where they are today,” said Executive Director Michelle Browder.

Browder says she was encouraged by the influx of visiting students and parents for those summits, and the growing numbers of out-of-towners pushed her to start this company to benefit on-going educational programs.

“We started with these youth conversations downtown,” she said. Conversations “around not only truth but reconciliation and how we can come together as a people and start pressing forward.”

Visitors can expect tours complete with art, music, history, and conversation.  In short, expect to “experience” Montgomery, not just “tour” it.

For more information on private tours and how to book them, visit

To read this article online, go to:


Travel South International registration closes Friday

This is the last call for registering for Travel South International Showcase in Atlanta, Nov 28-Dec 1.  The showcase registration ends Friday, Sept. 30 with the beginning of appointment scheduling the following week on Oct. 3.

Signed up to attend Travel South International Showcase are 115 international buyers and Receptive Tour Operators from 24 countries.

“This is an important marketplace for Alabama destinations and attractions,” said Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department.  “The marketing organizations from each city should double check with Travel South this week that their registrations are in order and the partner information for their booths correctly listed.”

The following Alabama industry partners have signed up to attend Travel South International.  To verify your registration, contact

  1. Alabama Tourism Department
  2. Alabama Road Trips Booth #1 – Adventure Tours
  3. Alabama Road Trips Booth #2 – Private City Tours
  4. Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau
  5. Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau
  6. Visit Mobile
  7. Florence CVB
  8. Colbert County CVB
  9. Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission


Each booth can contain as many as 3 partners.

This year, the Alabama Tourism Department will be sponsoring the lunch presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 30.  

For more information on Travel South, contact:


Alabama college makes list of most beautiful public universities in America

By Leada Gore,, Sept. 27

A recent list of the country’s most beautiful public universities contains some familiar names: University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Mississippi. And it’s no surprise that the University of Hawaii, with its proximity to beautiful beaches, and the University of Colorado, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, were also included in Thrillist’s listing of 20 most beautiful public college campuses in the country.

But among those bigger names was a small Alabama college that stands out for its brick-lined streets and picturesque buildings.

The University of Montevallo was the only Alabama school to make Thrillist‘s list of 20 most beautiful public college campuses. The school – founded in 1896 with a current student body of about 3,100 – was described as the “hidden jewel of Alabama.”

Here’s how it was described by Thrillist:

“The campus is awash in classic Southern architecture like Reynolds and Palmer Halls, antebellum structures one wouldn’t expect in such a remote locale. But the scenic highlight of the campus is actually about six miles away at the university’s Ebenezer Swamp, a 60-acre wetland research center where students study the ecology of the Cahaba River watershed, or just escape into the wilderness for a little peace and quiet.”

Well done, Montevallo.

To read this article online, go to:


Presenting Alabama as a multi-course meal

By Patti Nickell, Lexington Herald-Leader, Sept. 24

This article is a result of a press trip led by Verna Gates for the Alabama Tourism Department.

To the uninformed, a culinary experience in the state of Alabama might be construed as choking down bites of a jumbo dog at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium between chants of “Roll, Tide, Roll.”

However, after a weeklong road trip with my friend Verna, an Alabama native, I know there’s a lot more to the culinary scene here than stadium fare. Armed with an Alabama Tourism Department list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” we traveled from Mobile to Huntsville on a relentless quest to discover the best the state had to offer.

We didn’t make it through all 100 dishes, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Starting in Mobile, we headed to Wintzell’s, where a sign over the bar advertises that you can have your oysters “fried, stewed or nude,” and where the signature Bloody Mary, using Whiskey Willy’s Bloody Mary mix from Orange Beach, contains — I swear — at least four of the seven major food groups.

It’s known as the Weekender, and it might take you that long to finish it, but don’t worry. Willie Brown, who has shucked oysters at Wintzell’s for 40 years, will present you with a platter of Oysters Four Ways (Monterey, Bienville, Rockefeller and char-grilled) to go with it.

Mobile’s contributions to the “100 Dishes” list include shrimp and grits at the Blind Mule and diver scallops at the city’s historic Battle House Hotel. At the famous Spot of Tea, a Mobile institution for 22 years, there are two: bananas Foster French toast and eggs cathedral, which satisfied diners liken to “a religious experience.”

Verna (who’s partial to the moon pie banana pudding), introduced me to Miss Ruby, Spot of Tea’s owner, who joined us for our meal. I couldn’t help but notice that her lipstick and nail polish were the exact shade as her stylish outfit, and when Verna persuaded her to tell me how her husband, a gambler, put three kids through college on his wits alone, I decided she was as unique as the dishes she served.

From Mobile it was on to Birmingham, Verna’s hometown, where celebrity chef Frank Stitt rules the culinary roost. With his James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Highlands Grill; its more casual sister property, Bottega; and his take on a Parisian bistro, Chez Fon-Fon, Stitt’s mastery in the kitchen offers a dining trifecta.

At another legendary Birmingham eatery, Niki’s, is “My Big Fat Greek Lunch” Alabama style. Niki’s steam table has 70 offerings, with a Southern take on traditional Greek favorites — collard greens instead of eggplant, country ham instead of moussaka and sweet potato pie instead of baklava.

We popped in for dinner one evening at SAW’s Soul Kitchen (SAW is an acronym for owner Mike Wilson’s high school nickname, Sorry Ass Wilson). There was nothing sorry about the pork and greens, the restaurant’s delectable entry on the “100 Dishes” list.

Afterward, we stopped in at Avondale Brewery just down the street to sample one of the 16 rotating hand-crafted beers on tap. Avondale is far from your typical brewery. It began as a brothel (try the Brothel Brown Beer) and once had a beer-guzzling elephant as a mascot. It hasn’t shed its quirky roots. It’s now the starting point for the city’s Wacky Tacky Christmas Lights Tour.

On another day, we ran into a traffic jam in the tiny town of Pell City, just outside Birmingham, that turned out to be a waiting line for a Texaco station.

My first thought was they had to be selling gas for a dollar a gallon, but it seems the real draw here is Butts-to-Go, a barbecue pit in the parking lot where grill master Wade Reich smokes beef, ribs and something he calls “Drunken Chicken.” A devoted clientele, whose motto is “Gas up and pig out,” makes it unwise to even think about showing up on weekends without reserving your cut of meat.

It might seem strange to discover a philosopher of French food — Reich spent 14 years in Paris — now grilling in a Pell City parking lot. However, I can attest that his Boston butts and baby back ribs can hold their own with beef Bourguignon.

In Montgomery, the state capital, our first stop was at Chris’ Hot Dogs, a family-run eatery that next year will celebrate its 100th year in business.  Legend has it that Martin Luther King, Bear Bryant and Elvis Presley have all eaten at Chris’, and former Gov. George Wallace once placed an order for 2,000 dogs.

I sat on the stool that was reserved for Chris’ favorite customer: country music legend Hank Williams, who always ordered his hot dog with a shot of whiskey chased by a beer. In fact, Chris’ might be the only hot dog joint in the country with a liquor license.

When I asked current owner Theo Katechis what made Chris’ dogs so special, he claimed it was their secret sauce.

With a sly wink, he said, “Only three people in the world know it.”

Montgomery and its environs are also home base for two young Alabama food and drink entrepreneurs. For those who like it hot, 29-year-old Auburn native Jessi Norwood provides it scorching. Norwood has spiced up traditional pepper jelly with her own version: Hot Damn Jelly.

I sampled her classic cream cheese and pepper jelly with a jalapeño pop during breakfast at a local hot spot, Davis Café. Her jellies are also available at the Montgomery Visitors Center.

Also joining us for breakfast was another millennial, Wes Willis, who just may be the cleverest marketer of his generation. His company, Alabama Sweet Tea, offers the beverage in 16 oz. bottles and gallon jugs, and even though in these parts it’s all about sweet tea — labeled Southern — he hasn’t forgotten those who live “up North.”

He offers them an unsweetened tea called Yankee, and for those who can’t make up their minds, there’s a third brand, Mason-Dixon, which he describes as “half and half.”

On the way to Huntsville, the final stop on our foodie road tour, we made an obligatory detour to Decatur to sample the barbecue at Big Bob Gibson’s. Yes, there really was a Big Bob, and now his great grandson-in-law, Chris Lilly, is the pit master at the restaurant, which has won two World BBQ Championships.

In Alabama, which Verna acknowledges to be a “red sauce state,” Big Bob’s is noted for its white sauce, especially good on chicken.

Huntsville had two of my favorite places, occupying different ends of the dining spectrum. At breakfast at the Blue Plate Café, a typical diner housed in a former auto parts store, I unashamedly gorged on their cocoa biscuits (not room for much else after that).

Dinner was at Cotton Row, a sophisticated restaurant on Courthouse Square, dating to 1821 and once occupied by a cotton merchant. Checking our trusty “100 Dishes” guide, we ordered the braised Meyer Ranch beef short ribs served with creamy grits.

From mid-March to mid-October, there is one dining experience that you can find only in Alabama: sampling authentic German fare in the beer garden under the shadow of a Saturn V Apollo moon rocket at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The Saturn V is a replica of the Saturn rocket that first took man to the moon. I couldn’t swear that my brat and sauerkraut tasted better eating it in the presence of history, but it sure seemed as if it did.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Tuscaloosa plans to celebrate milestone

By Angel Coker, The Tuscaloosa News, Sept. 21

Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial is three years away, but community leaders are getting a head start on the celebration.

Representatives from entities across the county – Tuscaloosa city and county school systems, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, all three colleges, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports and others — met on Tuesday at the Drish House for the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial kickoff luncheon to begin planning bicentennial events and activities.

“Today, we are starting the planning for the celebration of the city of Tuscaloosa’s 200th anniversary, which will be Dec. 13, 2019,” said bicentennial committee co-chair Cathy Randall, a community philanthropist. “We’ll have a three-year celebration full of activities and events to celebrate the past and to plan for an even better future for all of the citizens of Tuscaloosa.”

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox read a proclamation at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night that declared Tuscaloosa a bicentennial town and formed the bicentennial committee so planning can begin.

The committee has no events planned at this time.

“The idea for today was to bring people together and let them decide what areas they would like to serve in … and from here we can form subcommittees and start to plan those events,” said Gina Simpson, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports CEO.

The state will also celebrate its bicentennial in 2019.

Alabama became a territory in 1817, and the territorial legislature incorporated the town of Tuscaloosa on Dec. 13, 1819 — one day before Congress admitted Alabama to the Union as the 22nd state.

Tuscaloosa, which served as the Alabama state capital from 1826 to 1846, was originally home to Native Americans, including Chief Tuskaloosa from whom the county received its name.

Tuscaloosa’s history includes Native American legends, Civil War battles, educational and athletic achievement, and a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.

Over the next three years, Tuscaloosa citizens will celebrate that history.

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it,” Randall said. “To the extent that that is true, celebrations like this are so important so we can learn from the past — the successes that we’ve experienced as well as the failures so the future can be even better than the glorious past of Tuscaloosa.”

To read this article online, go to:


New hotel opens with local flavor in Tuscaloosa

By Jason Morton, The Tuscaloosa News, Sept. 22

The ribbon on Tuscaloosa’s newest hotel was cut recently.

Hotel Indigo, the 91-room hotel on the banks of the Black Warrior River, is now complete and officially open to guests.

“We’re proud to add this boutique hotel to our overall portfolio,” said Judd Bobilin, developer and founder of Chance Partners, the company behind the hotel and nearby Riverfront Village mixed-use development. “From the outset, our focus has always been on local.”

Each of the nearly 60 existing Hotel Indigos — at least 37 of which are in the U.S. — has its own “Neighborhood Story,” a unique set of characteristics that are influenced by the area in which it is built.

For Tuscaloosa’s hotel, that theme is “Reconnecting With the River,” and Bobilin said consultants were hired to look into the history of the site and its surrounding five-block radius.

As part of this, the developers and designers turned to the Kentuck Art Center for aid and inspiration. The result is a satellite gallery of the Northport-based art center, in which everything is for sale, with a commissioned reproduction of the Hotel Indigo name and logo by Kentuck artist Steve Davis.

Davis used more than 3,000 hand-polished nails to replicate the logo, all the way down to the circled-R trademark logo.

“To have this done in nails, it’s never been done anywhere in the world,” said Kentuck Art Center Executive Director Amy Echols.

Hotel Indigo has about 1,000 square feet of executive meeting space, a fitness center, a business center and a 2,500-square-foot outdoor terrace with views of the Black Warrior River and the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.

The naming of the restaurant and rooftop lounge also are examples of the company tying its hotels to the local area.

On the roof is a lounge called The Lookout and inside is a restaurant named The Shoals.

There’s also a market called Pure Provisions on the ground floor that is open to all. Even this is a play on Pure Process Ice Cream, the Tuscaloosa-based ice cream manufacturer and shop that operated along the Black Warrior River from 1926 to the mid-1990s.

Rooms can be reserved at the hotel’s website,, or by calling 205-469-1660.

The Hotel Indigo marks the third hotel completed in downtown Tuscaloosa within about 19 months.

The $27 million, 154-room Embassy Suites hotel, approved by the City Council in 2012, opened in February 2015 on the northwest corner of Greensboro Avenue and University Boulevard.

And in August 2015, the $13 million, 113-room Home2 Suites by Hilton opened in the 2600 block of University Boulevard just west of Lurleen Wallace Boulevard South. It was approved for construction in 2013.

The Hotel Indigo is Chance Partners’ fifth construction project in Tuscaloosa within the past six years.

The Atlanta-based development company keeps returning because of the ripeness of the Tuscaloosa market and business-friendly atmosphere of City Hall, Bobilin said.

“The mayor has brought a very positive business-focused attitude to Tuscaloosa,” Bobilin said earlier this month, “and I think it shows in the construction and the business transactions that have happened.

“That economic development has been unsurpassed in most markets that I’ve been in today.”

On Wednesday, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox praised Chance Partners’ investment in Tuscaloosa and thanked the city staff and City Council for working out the details of an incentive package ranging between $1.5 and $1.7 million, depending on the development’s performance, that assisted its development.

Funded with rebates from lodging taxes and non-school related property taxes, the incentives will help finance the proposed Hotel Indigo, which was estimated to cost between $17 million and $20 million to build, according to developers.

“It is really, to me, a fantastic day in our city,” the mayor said. “It’s a Chamber of Commerce day right here in Tuscaloosa.”

To read this article online, go to:


100-year-old building will become Springhill Suites in Montgomery

By Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser, Sept. 21

Developers plan to spend $14 million turning an iconic, 100-year-old downtown Montgomery building into a Springhill Suites hotel.

The Advertiser first reported in May that the wedge-shaped Bishop-Parker building across from Riverwalk Stadium had been sold and would be turned into a hotel. Developer John Tampa said at a Wednesday announcement that the intention is to offer not just a hotel but “an experience.”

“This will not be your typical hotel room,” Tampa said. “It will be more an experience. It will take you back in the past and the golden age of this building, and also take you to the present.”

Renovation work will start around the end of the year and take about 14 months. Tampa said the exterior will remain mostly untouched, and the building’s historic charm will be balanced by a “modern, urban feel” to the interior design.

It will feature a “vibrant lobby” and bar, with room prices ranging from about $139 to $159, Tampa said.

Tampa owns four other Montgomery hotels, including the Hampton Inn and the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown.

The 152 Coosa St. building was built between 1905 and 1907 by Schloss & Kahn Wholesale Grocers, and Bishop-Parker used it as a furniture store and warehouse for two decades. The building has about 80,000 square feet of space and features ceilings that are 16 to 17 feet high.

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said, “Bishop-Parker has vacated the building and is renovating another space near the One Center, formerly Montgomery Mall.” Bishop-Parker was founded in Montgomery in 1923 and said in May that it is “stronger than ever” but decided to relocate its warehouse. Its primary store at 3035 E. South Blvd. was unaffected.

Strange said the announcement is the third of four downtown hotel projects that have been in the works for a while.

The most recent was a $12.5 million hotel project that was announced for the former downtown skate park site in June. He said the fourth hotel will be announced soon.

Montgomery has led the state in hotel occupancy rate for more than three years.

Dawn Hathcock of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce said, “There are more than 900 hotel rooms

currently open downtown and the hotels that are on the way will push the city over a threshold that will allow it to compete for larger conventions.”

Strange pointed to officials from nearby hotels at the Wednesday announcement for the new Springhill Suites. “They know the more hotel rooms we get, the bigger the conventions can be,” Strange said.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Power boilers find new home as fish habitat

By Beth Thomas, Alabama Newscenter, Sept. 21

Alabama Power and the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are working together to provide a new place to fish off the Alabama coast.

The partners have been working together on a new artificial reef that will be located in the Gulf of Mexico about 25 miles south of Dauphin Island. The large reef is made up of two, 200,000-pound boilers recently removed from Alabama Power facilities in Washington County and Theodore, plus a 195-foot barge that will be sunk along with the boilers. The old boilers were recently replaced with new equipment as a part of regularly scheduled maintenance at the facilities. The barge is being provided by Cooper/T. Smith.

“While Alabama Power has a long history of partnering with organizations that promote and enhance the environment, this marks the first time that Alabama Power has been involved in a reef project,” said Alabama Power Vice President of Environmental Affairs Susan Comensky.

“We are very pleased to partner with the Marine Resources Division to create this reef that will provide not only a quality habitat for marine life, but also a first-class fishing area.”

“It has been our pleasure to work with Alabama Power on this reef project,” said Angus R. Cooper III, president of operations for Cooper T./Smith.  “Alabama Power has always been a leader in water quality and wildlife conservation and the company has done many great things for the state in these areas.

“Through my involvement as president of Alabama Wildlife Federation, I have had the privilege of knowing about many of these initiatives, but this is the first time that we have had the opportunity to collaborate on a project like this. I am looking forward to seeing the ecosystem that this reef produces,” Cooper added.

Over the past few months, Alabama Power has been working closely with the Marine Resources Division to clean the boilers, cut additional holes in the structures and prepare them for their new home in the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) helped develop the idea for the project.

“Alabama’s Marine Resources Division has been a leader for decades with inshore and offshore artificial reef systems,” said AWF Executive Director Tim L. Gothard. “The Alabama Wildlife Federation firmly believes that properly engineered artificial reefs provide ecological benefits and unique fishing opportunities for anglers – a true win-win. We were glad to partner with the Marine Resources Division and Alabama Power on this new reef project.”

“This is the type of public/private partnerships that we need more of in our country,” added Chris Blankenship, Director of the Marine Resources Division.  “This will be one of the largest reefs we have constructed. I am very thankful to work with Alabama Power, and I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership to provide environmentally friendly fisheries habitats.”

While it takes a few years for the reefs to become fully established, fish will begin frequenting them after only a few days. The coordinates for the new reef will be:   29 47.544     87 59.104.  The reef is scheduled to be deployed Sept. 26.

On Sept. 13, the reef received a final inspection and approval to be deployed by Marine Resources Division personnel. This week, the boilers are being moved from the company’s facility at Theodore to a nearby ship channel where they will be launched.

You can find out more about the Marine Resources Division by visiting its Facebook page at

To learn more about Alabama Power’s environmental commitment, go to and click on the Environment tab.

To read this article online, go to:


Openings for Tourism Promotional Representatives

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) is seeking applicants for Tourism Promotional Representatives in our Welcome Centers.  ATD Personnel Director Lori Syck urges people from various hospitality segments to apply, “Our goal is to build a qualified applicant pool for vacancies in the eight Alabama Welcome Centers. These positions are front line and we are especially interested in people with experience in hotel, airline, food service, CVB’s, attractions and related tourism fields.”

To apply go to or for more information call Debbie Wilson at the Alabama Tourism Department at 334-353-4516.


Alabama Tourism Workshop on Oct. 5

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) will hold its fall Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wednesday, Oct. 5.  Some of the staff members in attendance will be: Scott Burbank and Leigh Cross of the Finance Division; Dawn Chandler, IT; Jo Jo Terry, Social Media Manager; Pam Smith, Calendar of Events editor; and Debbie Wilson, Welcome Center Manager.

The ATD offers a workshop twice a year for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.  This workshop gives participants an opportunity to talk with staff members from each ATD division. 

For additional information and to register, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or e-mail: Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov.


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Oct. 5                                      Alabama Tourism Workshop                          Montgomery

Oct. 24 – 25                            AL-TN-MS Rural Tourism Conference         Columbus, MS

Nov. 13 – 15                           Welcome Center Retreat                                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:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News,

please contact Peggy Collins at:

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:


Busy holiday weekend boosts surging Alabama tourism numbers

The Associated Press,, 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:


‘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:


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


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


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

By Lawrence Specker,, 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:


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:


Bellingrath Gardens and Home earns Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence

Bellingrath Gardens and Home has received glowing reviews from visitors on, 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                                     

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:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at:

Alabama Tourism Department

Tourism Tuesdays February 16, 2016

  • Alabama musicians win 8 Grammys: Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell and more
  • ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Is Headed to Broadway
  • Initiative to increase International tourism begins
  • Barber Motorsports promoted on Italian Facebook site
  • Montgomery to be in National Spotlight
  • Travel South Showcase reaches 130 registered tour operators
  • Grand Hotel celebrates longtime employees, seeks 119 new ones
  • New Battleship Park director: It’s all about ‘the life of the ship’
  • Stone wall honors ancestor’s journey on Trail of Tears
  • Greene Street Market comes to Huntsville Visitor Center for first time
  • Southeast Tourism Society selects three North Alabama events as “Top 20 Events”
  • Ten years after Katrina, Amtrak to make splashy return to Gulf Coast
  • Alabama Tourism Department presents workshop in April
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Alabama musicians win 8 Grammys: Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell and more

By Mary Colurso,, Feb. 16

Alabama musicians made a big impact at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, with multiple wins, splashy performances and trophies that reached deep into the event’s 83 categories.

The Grammys show — broadcast Monday night from the Staples Center in Los Angeles — was preceded by an afternoon ceremony at the nearby Microsoft Theater. Most awards were handed out early in the day, with about a dozen high-profile categories reserved for the televised event on CBS.

The Alabama Shakes, a soul-rock band from Athens, took home three trophies, winning Best Alternative Music Album for “Sound & Color,” and Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song for “Don’t Wanna Fight.”

“Sound & Color” also won a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, with the award going to engineers Shawn Everett and Bob Ludwig.

The Shakes lost in one major category, ceding Album of the Year to Taylor Swift. They made up for it, however, with a mesmerizing live rendition of “Don’t Wanna Fight.” Lead singer Brittany Howard captured both eyes and ears during the performance, caressing the lyrics and commanding the stage in a flowing white cape and gown.

Jason Isbell
, a singer-songwriter from Green Hill, was nominated in two categories and made a clean sweep, winning Best Americana Album for “Something More Than Free” and Best American Roots Song for “24 Frames.”

Little Big Town
, a country-pop quartet, received a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance, for “Girl Crush.” The band performed the song on camera, with Karen Fairchild handling lead vocals in her bold, smoky alto.

“Girl Crush” also won for Best Country Song, with the award going to songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose.

Little Big Town includes Jimi Westbrook, who grew up in Sumiton. Two other members of the group, Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, met as undergraduates at Samford University in Birmingham.

The SteelDrivers
, linked to North Alabama, won Best Bluegrass Album for “The Muscle Shoals Recordings.” Gary Nichols, a Shoals native, is the band’s guitarist and lead singer. The album was recorded on Nichols’ home turf, with producer Jimmy Nutt at The NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield.

Other Grammy wins with Alabama ties:

“Glory,” Best Song Written for Visual Media. The award went to John Legend and Common, who created and performed the ballad for the 2014 movie “Selma.” Che Smith, known as Rhymefest, also shared the award.

“Selma,” a 2014 drama, filmed in Alabama and Georgia, traces key events in the civil-rights struggle of the 1960s. The lynchpin of the action: the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights led by Martin Luther King Jr.

“Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.

This award goes to various artists on the recording, including The Band Perry, a family trio with roots in Mobile. The Band Perry — siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry — covered “Gentle on My Mind” for the soundtrack.

The Fairfield Four, Best Roots Gospel Album for “Still Rockin’ My Soul.” The venerable gospel group has changed its lineup several times since 1921 and included Alabama performers such as James Hill and Isaac “Dickie” Freeman.

The Grammys broadcast also featured a salute to Lionel Richie, a Tuskegee native, veteran pop star and 2016 MusiCares Person of the Year. Richie joined artists John Legend, Luke Bryan, Demi Lovato and Meaghan Trainor for a medley of his hits, as a solo artist and member of the Commodores.

Sam Hunt
, a country-pop star and former quarterback at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, lost his bids for Best New Artist and Best Country Album. Hunt was showcased, though, in a performance with Carrie Underwood.

The two singers offered a mashup of Underwood’s “Heartbeat” and Hunt’s “Take Your Time,” trading verses and harmonizing.

To read this article online, go to:


‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Is Headed to Broadway

By Alexandra Alter, The New York Times, Feb. 10

Over the past 55 years, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has racked up pretty much every accolade imaginable.

It won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film starring Gregory Peck. The book became a commercial blockbuster that sold more than 40 million copies, a staple on school curriculums, and an enduring moral parable about a young girl’s coming of age in an unjust world.

Now, for the first time, it’s coming to Broadway.

The producer Scott Rudin has acquired stage adaptation rights for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and has hired the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to adapt the story. Barlett Sher, who won a Tony Award for his revival of the musical “South Pacific,” will direct the play, which is scheduled for the 2017-18 season.

Mr. Sorkin, who has collaborated with Mr. Rudin on feature films like “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs,” said it was both exhilarating and daunting to tackle such a cherished classic.

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is one of the most revered pieces of 20th century American literature,” Mr. Sorkin said in a telephone interview. “It lives a little bit differently in everybody’s imagination in the way a great novel ought to, and then along I come. I’m not the equal of Harper Lee. No one is.”

To read this entire article online, go to:

Initiative to increase International tourism begins

The Alabama Tourism Department and TourMappers North America started a four-phase plan last week to increase international tourism to the state.

Phase one of the initiative was a Destination and Product Educational & Development trip by the TourMappers’ Managing Director Julie Katz and Contracting Manager Donatella Cedrone.

The pair flew to Nashville where they rented a car and conducted an 8-city tour of Alabama before departing from New Orleans. Their trip would be ideal for an international traveler looking to see a diverse number of sites in a three state visit of the southern USA.

The visit included the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Selma, Montgomery and Mobile.  In each city, the local DMO showcased their destination and held either one-on-one meetings or a workshop with attractions and hoteliers.

Alabama Tourism Department Regional and International Director Grey Brennan said work will soon begin on the second phase of the plan. “TourMappers will begin finalizing new and existing hotel and attraction contracts for the 2016-2018 time period now that their trip to Alabama is complete,”  Brennan said.  “The TourMappers drive from Nashville to New Orleans, by way of Alabama, highlights cites and one possible route that has now been visited by a company in the position to help market Alabama.  We know that with TourMapppers’ expertise, they will discover the best USA destinations that include Alabama and other southern states to increase tourism.”

TourMappers North America is a full-service Receptive Operator. They sell hotel rooms, attractions, fly-drive trips for individual foreign travelers and tailored group tours to tour companies around the world. Their top two markets are the UK and Germany.

For more information on Alabama’s efforts to market destinations worldwide, contact:


Barber Motorsports promoted on Italian Facebook site

One of the top international attractions in Alabama received an extensive posting on Facebook site Travel South Italia.

Through an electronic translation, the posting reads in part; “In the heart of Alabama former dairy owner George Barber built a world-class race track and the largest museum of motorcycles that exists in the world.  Barber Motorsports Park, located in Birmingham, is a vast area equipped to accommodate different motor sports.  

Guinness World Records officially proclaimed the Vintage Barber Motorsports Museum as the largest museum of motorcycles that exists in the world. The five-floor Museum houses the largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles with more than 1,300 models on display. The models come from many countries and represent more than 200 manufacturers. The museum has developed its own department of restoration.”

The Barber Motorsports promotion is part of the marketing effort covered in last week’s edition of Tourism Tuesday in the story “Alabama active in Italy with Travel South digital campaign.”

To see the full article in its native Italian, go to and look for the Feb 12th posting.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing efforts in Italy, contact


Montgomery to be in National Spotlight

C-SPAN to reveal Montgomery history and highlight authors during week-long visit

Mayor Todd Strange and Charter Communications will welcome C-SPAN to Montgomery on Thur., Feb. 18, 10:00 a.m., at the Rufus Lewis Library Branch, as they kick off a visit to record and feature the city’s history and literary life.  The kickoff event, hosted by the city of Montgomery, will coincide with the unveiling of the final mural honoring Civil Rights at the Rufus Lewis Library Branch, located on the route of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March.


“It’s an honor to welcome Charter Communications and C-SPAN, a distinguished cable network to Montgomery – voted America’s Best Historic City, and we cherish the opportunity to have our story shared with its viewers,” Mayor Strange said. “From American innovators like the Wright brothers, Hank Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Civil Rights icons like Rosa Parks, Fred Gray and Martin Luther King, Jr. and leaders of the Confederacy like Jefferson Davis, we feel certain Montgomery’s wealth of history will provide C-SPAN with more than enough stories to produce extraordinary and informative programming for viewers across the country.”


At Thursday’s event, C-SPAN representatives will reveal the stories and segments that will be explored by the national television network during its stay in Montgomery. While in Montgomery, C-SPAN representatives will also conduct community and educational outreach.

Working with its cable partner Charter Communications, the C-SPAN Cities Tour producers will be in Montgomery, February 18-22. Local segments recorded throughout the week will air on Book TV (C-SPAN2, Charter channel 85) and American History TV (C-SPAN3, Charter channel 99) during C-SPAN’s special Montgomery weekend, March 19-20.                

Programming recorded in Montgomery will air on Book TV (C-SPAN2, Charter channel 85) and American History TV (C-SPAN3, Charter channel 99) on Book TV on March 19-20. C-SPAN is available in Montgomery on Charter channel 98.

For more information, visit the C-SPAN Cities Tour website and follow the program on Twitter @CSPANCities.


Travel South Showcase reaches 130 registered tour operators

The Alabama Tourism Department and industry partners from across the state will have a record crowd on hand next month at the Travel South Showcase.  Travel South announced recently they had registered their 130th group tour attendee for the March 6-9th show in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

This year’s show includes many new tour operators who have not attended in past years.

Travel South Showcase is a regional appointment-style marketplace focused on increasing domestic and Canadian group travel to and within the southern states. Showcase offers the most targeted opportunity for tour operators / wholesalers and travel service providers to meet face to face with southern travel suppliers. 

This year’s showcase reached another milestone when the registration for suppliers went to Sold Out status.  Now both the international show and the domestic group tour showcase marketing events organized by Travel South USA are in such demand suppliers must register well in advance of the shows to attend. 

For more information on Travel South Showcase, contact


Grand Hotel celebrates longtime employees, seeks 119 new ones

By Michelle Matthews,, Feb. 11

Debbie Weeks-Badalamenti remembers the day, nearly 31 years ago, when she interviewed for a job at Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear. As she walked up to the celebrated, meticulously tended 169-year-old resort on Mobile Bay, with Spanish moss blowing in the limbs of the old oak trees, she thought to herself, “I could definitely work here.”

After an eight-hour interview – it lasted that long because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and the general manager wasn’t sure where to put her – she landed a job at the Grand, starting out working in the Grand Dining Room. And, except for a two-year stint with Marriott in Atlanta, she has been there ever since, working her way up quickly through several jobs, including catering director, to become director of event management, which is her current title.

“I didn’t make a plan,” she said. “I just did it.”

Weeks-Badalamenti is one of some 40 employees who are members of the Grand’s “Quarter-Century Club.” Tonight, the group and their significant others will be celebrated at an annual dinner held at the hotel.

Another perk of hitting the 25-year mark with Marriott, she said, is a complimentary stay at any Marriott property on the weekends. She spent New Year’s Eve in Monaco a couple of years ago for free, and she has her eye on a Marriott in Venice. “I can’t wait,” she said.

Before her interview, Weeks-Badalamenti, who lived in west Mobile at the time and whose background was in elementary education, had been to the Grand Hotel only a couple of times. She jokes that she sneaked in to pose for photos in one of the oak trees. After about six months, knowing she was in for the long haul, she moved closer to Point Clear.

And when she went to Atlanta to help JW Marriott kick off its wedding market there, she desperately missed the Grand. She was thrilled when she was asked to come back.

She manages eight event planners and two administrative assistants in her office in the resort’s conference center. She and her assistant have been together for 30 years, she said, and her other employees have 20, 15 and 10 years with the hotel.

“I’m in charge of group business,” she said. “We take care of the rooms, catering, golf, tennis, sailing” – whatever the group needs to make their stay relaxing and/or productive. “We have some groups that have been coming here for 57 years. That says a lot.”

She personally coordinates events for several larger groups whose trust she’s cultivated over the years. “I have to think outside the box for my groups,” she said. She also plans the hotel’s Grand Summer Ball, a benefit for Thomas Hospital held annually since 1986, which is attended by some 600 people.

She has planned 791 weddings (but who’s counting?) and has arranged for Cirque du Soleil to perform an aerial act in the Grand’s ballroom and even once hosted an actual circus, of animals, on the Grand’s driving range.

“It puts excitement in your life,” she said of the job that often requires her to book celebrities to entertain for various groups. “Sometimes I go home and think, ‘I don’t know how I pulled that off!'”

Though she works in what many would consider Paradise, it is work, after all, and sometimes it can be stressful. When her detail-oriented days get to be too much, Weeks-Badalamenti said all she has to do to is “go out, smell the bay and come back in.”

She never tires of watching guests marvel at the amazing sunsets at the hotel’s Julep Point, and she likes to tell them that she’s charging them extra for it. She knows when the dolphins are about to make their daily appearance and will say, “Cue the dolphins,” just before they jump, only to laugh when the guests ask how she did that.

As lovely as the setting is, what she likes best about her job is the people she meets every day – and those she sees again and again, year after year. The repeat guests – like one woman from Texas who’s been coming to the Grand every year since her honeymoon, now bringing along her children and grandchildren – become like family.

Though she doesn’t have plans to retire yet, she admits she’s started thinking about it. “What a great place to have been for 30 years,” she said.

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New Battleship Park director: It’s all about ‘the life of the ship’

By Lawrence Specker,, Feb. 11

Before you even start with the Army-Navy jokes, you should know that the USS Alabama is hardly the first ship to come under the direction of Maj. Gen. Janet Cobb.

The new director of USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park will retire later this year from the U.S. Army Reserve.

Her career, since being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1978, has included seven years of active duty, which in turn included two tours in the Mideast. In one of those, she served as battalion commander of the Mobile-based 1184th Transportation Battalion, which operated the Port of Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait, in 2002-2003 before and during the Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion. According to an official biography, “The battalion discharged 105 vessels and 90,152 pieces of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps cargo throughout the period of combat operations.”

“Oddly enough, most of my active duty service was the type involving vessel loading and unloading,” said Cobb, who has become only the eighth person to serve as executive director of the park, and the first woman to do so.

“I’m honored. I’m humbled by it,” she said of her membership in that very small club. “To work here, to work with the community, is kind of a dream job.”

It’s also a big job: The park is a major tourist attraction, and in addition to the battleship itself, it features dozens more memorials, vessels, aircraft and other exhibits, all of which require upkeep. While it gets periodic cultural uplifts – for example, being featured in movies such as “Under Siege” and the upcoming “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage” – it also is subject to setbacks such as the hammering delivered by Hurricane Katrina.

But Cobb knew what she was getting into. A longtime resident of the area, she was well aware of the park’s prominence. Having served on the Battleship Commission, she had a good idea of the behind-the-scenes effort to keep the park healthy. And having worked for 10 years with Kaiser Realty in Orange Beach, primarily in property management, she had perspective on how the park fit into the overall regional tourism picture.

“When you look at Janet’s overall skill set … she’s got everything you can look for, in someone for the leadership of the park,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism and himself a member of the Battleship Commission.

Bill Tunnell, the outgoing park director, has said that the Battleship Commission considered 150 applications for the job before narrowing it down to five finalists. “I’ve known her for 20 years,” he said of Cobb. “I couldn’t be happier that she’s the choice.”

Cobb who reported for duty in mid-December, recently sat down for an interview about her ambitions for her tenure as park leader. She said that while property management and tourism are huge parts of the job, the heart of it is “to let the public know what goes on in the life of the ship.”

What that means, basically, is that the USS Alabama is not just something neat to walk around on: It’s a tribute to the sacrifices and effort that won World War II, illustrating the lives of the men who crewed her. By extension, it’s a reminder of the national spirit that motivate the WWII effort – and that’s part of the reason why the park contains prominent memorials to other branches of the service, and to those who served in more recent campaigns.

Cobb said staff work hard not just to preserve the ship, but to present its various features – such as the living quarters where the Alabama’s warrant officers went about their business – in period-correct detail, so that visitors can get an accurate sense of their lives. “It’s kind of a labor of love,” she said.

“The Commission and Bill Tunnell have put this park in great shape after Katrina,” she said, praising the resilience of the staff.

“My focus is going to be more on a statewide outreach,” she said. “We want the people in north Alabama to know this is not ‘a Mobile thing.’ It does belong to the state, to the people of the state.”

In particular, she said, she wants young visitors to realize the critical role that Alabama schoolchildren played in creating the park. Kids were encouraged to donate pocket change to help save the Alabama, and their pennies and nickels added up to a significant portion of the drive that brought the ship to Mobile Bay.

Malone said that the park has regularly surveyed its visitors over the years, and for “a very large percentage, their destination is Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.”

Cobb said she thinks the park also has a beneficial relationship with Mobile institutions, including a new one. “I’m very excited about GulfQuest and what that will bring to the area,” she said of the new National Maritime Museum.

Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, has noted that with Cobb in charge of the battleship and Deborah Barnhart running the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville for five years, Alabama has women leading two of its biggest landmarks.

Cobb said Barnhart had been “gracious” about welcoming her, and that the two are eager to promote each other’s institutions. But she said that over the course of her military career, seeing women in leadership roles had become commonplace.

“You don’t even think about women serving,” Cobb said. “It’s not even an issue to the young generation anymore. I kind of think that’s where we are.”

The self-supporting park is debt-free, following major renovations and the post-Katrina recovery during Tunnell’s term. Challenges ahead include the eventual need to replace the Alabama’s patched-up teak decking, a big-ticket item. Park leaders are also thinking about building new facilities to expand its capabilities for education, Tunnell and Cobb said.

“It’s a good transitional time,” Malone said of the park, now in its 51st year of operation.

As she makes the transition into her new office space aboard the historic vessel, Cobb said, she’s already enjoying the benefits.

“It’s always good exercise, climbing around this place every day,” she said. And the visitors provide a constant dose of variety: “You can meet someone from Japan one day, someone from France the next, someone from Chambers County the next,” she said.

“I think Janet has recognized, there’s no such thing as a regular day,” said Tunnell, who is sticking around through March. “You can walk out and talk to just about anybody in the world.”

“Sailors will tell you, a ship has a spirit in her,” said Cobb. “I like to think about that when I’m on the ship.”

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Stone wall honors ancestor’s journey on Trail of Tears

By Jackie Sheckler Finch,The Daily Journal, Kankakee, IL, Feb. 9

As a youngster, Tom Hendrix would listen to his grandmother talk about her grandmother, a Native American who was forced as a teen to walk from her Alabama home to an Oklahoma Indian reservation. The young girl had her name taken away and was identified as No. 59 on a tag that she wore around her neck.

Thousands of men, women and children during the 1830s died on that 1,000-mile Trail of Tears. Hendrix’s great-greatgrandmother survived. But that is only part of her miraculous tale.

As a grown man, Hendrix decided he wanted to do something to honor his ancestor whose real name was Te-lah-nay, which in the Yuchi language means “Woman with Dancing Eyes.”

Around 1985, Hendrix says, he began having a recurring dream about an Indian woman who repeatedly touched her hand to her mouth. Hendrix’s wife, Doreen, suggested that it was Te-lah-nay, asking him to tell her story. That year at a Native American gathering in Lebanon, Tenn., Hendrix met an old Yuchi woman.

When Hendrix told the woman about his great-great-grandmother and expressed his desire to commemorate her, the Yuchi woman responded, “We shall all pass this earth, Tom, but only the stones will remain.”

That’s when Hendrix realized what he had to do. In 1988, Hendrix began constructing a commemorative stone wall on the property of his home outside Florence.  Although Hendrix had worked with his hands at the Ford Motor

Company as a die caster for decades, he had never built a stone wall. He didn’t draw up any blueprints. He didn’t have any final plan in mind. He just started collecting rocks discarded along roadsides by farmers and pulling rocks from creek beds.

Then he piled the rocks and improvised as he went along.  Today, Hendrix estimates that the wall he built consists of nine million pounds of stone. “This wall has worn out three trucks, 22 wheelbarrows, 2,700 pairs of gloves, three dogs and one old man,” the 87-year-old Hendrix said.

Built without mortar or cement, the 3-to-5-foot-high wall is the largest such rock wall in the United States and the largest monument to an American woman. “I lifted each of those rocks at least three times,” Hendrix said, gesturing to the mile-long curving walls. “I picked each rock up to put in the truck. I picked it up to take it out of the truck. And I picked it up to put it on the wall.”

For his ancestor, Hendrix said, living on the Indian reservation meant sure death. “When she got to Oklahoma, she said she searched for a river that sang to her.  We call this the Tennessee River but all tribes called it the Singing River.  They believed a young woman lived in this river, sang to them and protected them.”

When the displaced teen could find no singing river in Oklahoma, she determined to return home. “If she stayed in that dark place, she knew she would die.”

So his great-great-grandmother ran away from the reservation and started the long trek home.  It took her five years.

From 1839 to 1844, the young woman struggled through the wilderness and finally made it home. His great-great-grandmother eventually married Jonathan Levi Hipp, had three children before dying at a young age.  “My grandmother said she walked herself to death,” Hendrix said.

The two walls symbolize his great-great-grandmother’s trip to Oklahoma and her journey back.

A section of the wall is dedicated to all those on the Trail of Tears. It is 4 feet tall and starts out at about 25 feet wide. But, as you walk, the wall gets thinner and thinner until it is about 4 feet across at the end. “They’re dying, all the way to Oklahoma,” Hendrix said.

Nestled by the wall is a prayer circle where Hendrix prays in the morning. It features four tiers that represent birth, life, death and rebirth. Through word of mouth, people from all over began coming to see the wall that Hendrix was building. They walked through the circles, they sat in silence, some knelt in prayer.

“This is a special place,” said Hendrix, who tries to be at the wall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week to greet visitors. “It’s a holy place.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jeff Johnson, visiting the site with a motorcycle group.

“A friend told me about it and it is everything he said it was. You have to see it to believe it.”

Over the years, people also began bringing and sending rocks to add to the wall. “I have the heaviest mail in all of Lauderdale County,” Hendrix joked. “I have stones from all 50 states and rocks and fossils from 127 nations, territories and islands. Many of them have special stories to tell.”

There’s the heart-shaped rock left by a 94-year-old widow. “During the Great Depression, a man didn’t have money to buy a ring for the woman he wanted to marry so he found a heart-shaped rock,” Hendrix said.  “He told her, ‘I can’t afford a ring but I can give you my heart.'”

In 2000, Hendrix published a book, “If the Legends Fade,” about his ancestor’s journey. “If the legends fade,” he said, “who will teach the children?”

Knowing that his time on earth is coming to an end, Hendrix said he recently got a letter in the mail. “This is what it said: ‘We are eagerly anticipating your arrival up here. You will immediately be set to work building us a stone wall.'”

Pausing for a moment, Hendrix concluded, “The letter was signed by St. Peter.”

To read this entire article online, go to:


Greene Street Market comes to Huntsville Visitor Center for first time

If you’re in a cold weather or Super Bowl slump, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has some news that just might brighten your day.

The popular Greene Street Market, known for selling locally made goods and produce every

April through October on its namesake street in downtown Huntsville, is setting up shop at the Visitor Center on Fri., Feb. 12, from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The first time event is a partnership between the Huntsville/Madison County CVB and Greene Street Market organizers to celebrate the 3rd annual #iHeartHsv campaign. 

“Not only does Huntsville continue to surprise and delight visitors and residents alike with new and unique offerings, but so does the #iHeartHsv campaign,” said Huntsville/Madison County

CVB President/CEO Judy Ryals. “We’re thrilled to host the #iHeartHsv Greene Street Pop Up

Market at the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is a wonderful resource to find information about events, attractions, hotels, restaurants and more throughout Madison County. We look forward to more events like this one that show off our diverse, hospitable and charming community at the Visitor Center.”

For more information, contact the Visitor Center by phone at 256-551-2370 or via e-mail at


Southeast Tourism Society selects three North Alabama events as “Top 20 Events”

Three events held in North Alabama have been selected a Southeast Tourism Society (STS) Top 20 Event in the Southeast for March 2016. First Friday Gadsden, First Friday Florence and the Jerry Brown Arts Festival located in Hamilton, Ala. were nominated by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association for the prestigious program coordinated by STS.

The STS Top 20 Events program has highlighted events and festivals around the Southeast since 1985. Travel industry experts select 20 events per month, and STS publicizes them throughout the United States. The complete list is published on two websites: and

Hosted by the Northwest Alabama Arts Council, the highly acclaimed Jerry Brown Arts Festival (JBAF) is set for March 5-6, 2016, in Hamilton, Ala. Artists from across the Southeast demonstrate and offer one-of-a-kind creations and masterpieces during the two-day event. The festival has earned the title of Top 20 Event seven times in the last eight years. The festival honors Hamilton’s Jerry Brown, a ninth generation potter whose work can be found in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. He is the only known potter in the United States still using a mule, Blue the Mule, to help him mill clay for his pottery. For more information, visit

First Friday Gadsden is organized and produced by Downtown Gadsden, Inc., a non-governmental entity, and is held to support and promote downtown merchants. On the first Friday of every month, Broad Street is closed to traffic and the parking spaces are filled with antique cars, motorcycles, food vendors, arts and crafts, and more. Each month features a different theme and the merchants stay open later and offer special events and sales as live music fills the air. For more information, visit

On the first Friday of each month March through December, historic downtown Florence comes alive with art, music, shopping and entertainment for the entire family. First Fridays Florence is a festive arts and entertainment event organized by Downtown Florence Unlimited in cooperation with the City of Florence, Florence Main Street and Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Department. Each month features a different theme and admission is free. For more information, visit

“The Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Festival Event list is an excellent guide for the Southeast’s visitors and residents. Events selected represent the best, and often most unique, activities in our region,” said Bill Hardman, president and CEO of the Southeast Tourism Society.

Events considered for the STS Top 20 recognition must be at least three years old and have attendance of at least 1,000. Nomination forms and deadlines are available at or by calling 770-542-1523.

STS, founded in 1983 and headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting tourism to and within 12 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

For more information on things to see and do in North Alabama, visit

Ten years after Katrina, Amtrak to make splashy return to Gulf Coast

By John Sharp,, Feb. 13

Marching bands will lead pep rallies in Gulfport, Bay St. Louis and Biloxi while a jazz band will serenade a gathering in Pascagoula.

In Mobile
, the Excelsior Band will be on hand in what could be a Mardi Gras-themed welcoming.

And all along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida Gulf coasts, people will be encouraged to show up, bring signs and wave banners in support of Amtrak’s first trip from New Orleans east toward Jacksonville, Fla., since before Hurricane Katrina blasted through a decade ago.

“There is a lot of excitement about the possibilities,” said Billy Hewes, mayor of Gulfport, Miss.

Coastal cities where the Amtrak “inspection train” will stop for 10-minute intervals on Thursday and Friday are planning for as much hoopla as they can cram into a short time frame. The purpose, according to city officials, is to make a good impression as a study moves forward on returning passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast.

“I’m certain this will be fun to see,” said Marc Magliari, spokesman with Amtrak.

At the same time, those on board the train – from Amtrak officials, including CEO Joe Boardman, to Southern Rail Commission members – will be at work.

Officials say this isn’t a public relations jaunt, but rather a trip with a purpose.

“This is very much a working track inspection,” said John Robert Smith, chairman of the board for Transportation for America, a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of progressive transportation policy in the U.S.

Some of the cities – including Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis – will be prepared to showcase renovated train stations. Over the years, since Amtrak ceased operations, some stations have been repurposed for offices and tourism, while others have been redesigned for retail.

Biloxi plans to illustrate its renovated station that serves as a “multi-modal” operation from which buses depart for Greyhound trips and public transit.

Biloxi city officials are touting its facility as the “only stop that has a multi-modal transit center right on the tracks” and in close proximity to nearby casinos and MGM Park, where the Double A-affiliated Shuckers play minor league baseball.

“It was built there because we wanted Amtrak to come back some day,” said Vincent Creel, the city’s spokesman. “We just think this will be a huge economic development tool for all four states. Hopefully, the four states can come to an arrangement where they will see viability to this.”

In Mobile, the station that once served Amtrak’s Sunset Limited line is long gone, a casualty following Katrina’s devastation.

And there are questions about where a new train station could be built. Mayor Sandy Stimpson has said that the station’s former site, at the foot of Government Street, could be better suited for other uses. Right now, it’s a parking lot for nearby Cooper Riverside Park.

But the Stimpson administration is placing an emphasis on reducing the amount of traffic on Water Street, a busy six-lane thoroughfare that separates the city’s waterfront – which features a convention center, a new maritime museum and the Alabama Cruise Terminal – from the rest of downtown.

An Amtrak train stop would presumably be located east of Water Street.

The Mobile City Council is expected, on Tuesday, to approve a $238,459 engineering contract with Thompson Engineering Inc. for a redesign of Water Street from Beauregard south to Government Street. The idea is to shrink the number of lanes, through striping and landscaping, from six to four.

The city anticipates the overall project to cost around $2 million.

Colby Cooper, chief of staff to Stimpson, said that an Amtrak train station could be a component of the overall project.

“What we’re facing is all opportunities whether it’s Amtrak coming back or accessibility or biking to the waterfront,” said Cooper, who will be on the inspection train trip. “The last thing we want to do is, if a station comes back, should Amtrak (return), to not have it reap the effect we want it to.”

Mobile could be poised to be a rail hub with its position along the east-west Gulf Coast corridor as well as a north-south route that is being analyzed by the city of Montgomery’s planning department. The former Gulf Breeze route, active from 1989-1995, ran from Mobile through Bay Minette and Atmore on the way to Montgomery before connecting into Birmingham.

Talks of Mobile as an Amtrak ‘hub’ surface

Several routes could be explored for the restoration of passenger rail through Mobile during a Southern Rail Commission meeting Friday morning at the Battlehouse Hotel.

Wily Blankenship, CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, said he’s not interested in looking back – when Amtrak ran through Mobile and was underutilized because of poor performance. Blankenship said the key purpose of Thursday’s trip is to look “at what could be.”

“I think the world is a lot different place than it was 10 years ago when the passenger rail came through Mobile,” he said. “Everything is about timing. It’s time the Alabama Gulf Coast has alternatives for transportation.”

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Alabama Tourism Department presents workshop in April

The Alabama Tourism Department will host the semi-annual Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wed., April 20.  This workshop is for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. 

Watch upcoming editions of this newsletter for more information on the workshop.

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

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

April 20                       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.

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Alabama Tourism Department

Alabama Hotels with Receptive Agreements

Click below to open a spreadsheet (in a new window) of Alabama hotels across several major cities. Select a city in the upper tabs and then view the hotels in that area which have signed with receptive companies.

Open the Hotel Listing >

Alabama’s Best Rooms with a View

If you like looking out  from your balcony and seeing a scenic view while spending the night, then check out the series of stories that published on their website in August of 2013.

Alabama’s Best Rooms With a View: Nautical and nice in Point Clear

Alabama’s Best Rooms With a View: Lake Martin and leopard spots

Alabama’s Best Rooms With a View: Go jump in a lake, Guntersville that is

Alabama’s best Rooms With a View; Top o’ the mountain in Mentone

Group Travel News

Tourism Tuesdays March 28, 2017

Statewide walking tours begin in April Southern Living: Birmingham among Best Cities in the South Birmingham attraction named among the 100 Greatest American Music Venues Zagat praises Alabama Barbecue Try the ‘tiny house’ lifestyle at Roland Cooper State Park NASA announces teams from across the world to compete in rover challenge at U.S. Space & Rocket […]

Tourism Tuesdays March 21, 2017

Travel South Showcase Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument dedication set Statewide walking tours begin in April State Parks perfect place to spend spring break Gulf State Park Lodge on track for 2018 opening Alabama hotels dominate Marriott and Renaissance national rankings Alabama restaurant earns record ninth straight James Beard Award nomination David Clark named President/CEO […]

Tourism Tuesdays March 14, 2017

Family spring break destinations across Alabama The Washington Post gives rave reviews to Birmingham in travel feature Spring into adventure- exploring North Alabama nature ‘The Daily Show’ will put huge spotlight on Alabama in upcoming multi-part series Alabama Bass Trail launches website for family fishing trips Alabama Tourism Workshop- April 12 “Partner Pointer” for the tourism […]