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Tourism Tuesdays March 7, 2017

Details of 3-year bicentennial celebration announced The New York Times features Mobile Mardi Gras Los Angeles Times highlights St. Paul & the Broken Bones Travel + Leisure:  U.S. tourists could soon need visas to visit Europe Skift: Political threats force U.S. tourism boards to examine their roles The Greenville News profiles Birmingham’s Food Media South AMLA launches Alabama’s […]

Tourism Tuesdays February 28, 2017

Major addition to state’s bicentennial celebration to be announced “Alabama: The Making of an American State” book talk by Ed Bridges at EarlyWorks Museum- Tuesday at 4 p.m. Statewide walking tours begin in April Musical heritage rooted in north Alabama Destination barbecue restaurants send smoke signals to the rest of the country Huntsville featured on […]

International Tour Intineraries

Adventure in the South

The rivers, waterfalls and coast have always been a big part of southern history. It is also an ideal way to experience an exciting holiday in the Deep South, USA.  Day 1 & 2 Arrive in Atlanta and overnight. While in the south’s gateway city, visit the home of the world’s largest aquarium, the Georgia […]

Civil Rights Circle

6-day Tour Beginning and Ending in Atlanta The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the American Civil Rights struggles that shaped the world are highlighted in this road trip.  Day 1 Fly into Atlanta, pick up your car and drive to Alabama’s capital city, Montgomery (2:20 hours, 150 miles). On your way you should stop […]

Music and Mountains

12-Day Tour Featuring Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama Visit Music City USA, Graceland, Elvis Presley’s boyhood home, Muscle Shoals-the Hit Capital of the World. Along the way learn about southern jazz and see the largest space museum in the world, America’s largest motorcycle museum and where Civil Rights history was made. Day 1 & 2 […]

Group Travel Resources

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.

To read this entire article, go to:


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.”

To read this article online, go to:


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.”

To read this article online, go to:


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.

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

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