• The 2014 Alabama Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events available online
  • Attendance figures deadline is Jan. 24
  • Hall of fame banquet will be shown on TV
  • With boost from ‘Muscle Shoals’ film, Alabama Music Hall of Fame has new lease on life
  • 2014 Legislative Tourism Bash, March 11, RSA Activity Center, Montgomery
  • Lyric Theatre reopening, Mardi Gras among Alabama’s Top 10 events for 2014
  • Alabama becoming mountain bike Mecca of the southeast
  • Updated information on the Alabama Bass Trail and Tournament Series
  • Invitation to the International Food & Wine Travel Writers Association’s 6th Annual Meeting & Conference
  • It’s time to plan photography for your upcoming events
  • Georgia Carter Turner joins Florence/Lauderdale Tourism staff
  • Retirement party for Frances Smiley on Feb. 20
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


The 2014 Alabama Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events available online

Access to the 2014 version of the Alabama Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events is available by going to  Featured events on the homepage are updated up to twice monthly with specific events as recommended by Alabama Tourism Department according to a content calendar. Recommended and/or requested events remain posted until the next scheduled update, which is sometimes past the event date. As we move from one calendar year content plan to another, recent homepage featured event updates are regrettably behind schedule. Still, the “View All” link below them immediately connects to current content. All events for 2014 are in the searchable Calendar of Events database accessible from every page in the site.


Attendance figures deadline is Jan. 24
The Alabama Tourism Department is asking representatives from state attractions and events to turn in their attendance figures for 2013. The deadline for turning in attendance figures is Friday.

These attendance figures are used by state tourism in economic impact studies and are the basis for the annual “Top 10” listings of tourism destinations. The figures serve as an invaluable guide for state government, local organizations and the media. They are also distributed in press kits to travel writers and group tour operators.

In order for you to be counted we must have your data by Fri., Jan. 24. The reporting process has been streamlined to allow you to enter your attendance figures directly online. The entire process should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

Please follow this link to enter your attendance figures:

Note: There is only one event or attraction per online form and only one classification can be chosen.  The Alabama Tourism Department reserves the right for final determination of classifications.

Hall of fame banquet will be shown on TV

by Russ Corey,, Jan 12

Organizers of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Induction Banquet expect a sellout, but fans who can’t be there in person will be able to see the event in April on Alabama Public Television.

The induction banquet, which is being held in the Shoals for the first time, is Feb. 28 at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center. APT will air the event April 24.

Acting state Finance Director Bill Newton, who serves as chairman of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Board of Directors, praised APT’s decision to film the induction banquet.

“This will allow a lot of people around the state to share in the entertainment and see the recognition of the inductees,” Newton said.

The 2014 inductees are singer/songwriters Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, who both have strong ties to the Shoals; the late country singer and Grand Ole Opry star Hank Locklin, from Brewton; soul/gospel singer Candi Staton, from Hanceville; and country radio executive Charlie Monk, of Geneva.

The late jazz musician Sun Ra, a native of Birmingham, will receive the John Herbert Orr Pioneer Award.

Grammy Award winning recording artist John Paul White, of Florence, will be the program’s emcee.

Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Executive Director Debbie Wilson said ticket sales are brisk and the office continues to sell tickets and field questions daily.

Event coordinator Judy Hood said the $2,500 tables are sold out and only five $5,000 tables remain. There are also $10,000 tables available. Hood said there are about 100 $50 tickets remaining. Those tickets allow fans to view the event on big screen televisions in adjacent rooms that will feature a cash bar. Those tickets do not include admission to the main ballroom.

Florence’s Big River Broadcasting will record the induction banquet for APT.

Musical entertainment for the banquet is still being finalized.

“The music committee met last week and they are taking a fresh new approach to this show,” event coordinator Judy Hood said. “Expect the unexpected. You will hear some surprising new interpretations of Muscle Shoals tunes.”

On April 21, the music documentary “Muscle Shoals” will debut on Public Broadcasting Systems stations, including APT. The film will also be rebroadcast April 24.

The film focuses on FAME Recording Studios founder Rick Hall’s rise from poverty to becoming a hit maker in Muscle Shoals. It follows FAME studio musicians Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett as they left FAME to form Muscle Shoals Sound Studios where the hits continued. Beckett died June 10, 2009.

The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival nearly a year ago.

Donna Baker, viewer services representative for Alabama Public Television, said “Muscle Shoals” is screening nationwide on the PBS program “Independent Lens.”

Johnson said interviews with himself, Hall, Hood, Hawkins and Oldham were recorded and will be shown during the airing of the documentary. He said the interviews were shot at Swampers Lounge and the Sam Phillips suite at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence.

“That was a good thing,” Johnson said. “They just wanted to ask us questions.”

He said some of the footage will be shown on a big screen television in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Johnson said he, Hall, Hood and Oldham also provided commentary about the film for a separate track on the DVD “Muscle Shoals”, which will be released on DVD on Feb. 25.

“We sat and watched it and they put mics on us and we were just talking about things on the screen,” Johnson said.

Some of the discussion items were not included in the movie.

“I think it will be a nice addition,” he said.


With boost from ‘Muscle Shoals’ film, Alabama Music Hall of Fame has new lease on life

by Lawrence Specker,, Jan. 7

It’s a heavily overcast winter day when I pull into the parking lot of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and the first impression isn’t promising. The greens and browns of my native region seem to wash together into a muddy gray this time of year. The museum has a lot of emptiness around it, including its own nearly deserted parking lots.

I hesitate, I admit it. But inside, it feels like a homecoming: warm and bright, full of good things and familiar faces. For all the hard times the institution has been through in the last few years, it still stands ready to capitalize on a second chance at life. That’s good news for just about anyone with an interest in the state’s rich music heritage.

A quick recap of the history: In 1987, a statewide referendum approved the construction of the museum to honor “all of Alabama’s music achievers and its music heritage.” The city of Tuscumbia donated a site and the museum opened in 1990. It went through some lean times starting in 2003, when its funding was slashed as part of a state budget crunch, but substantial state funding was restored in 2007-8.

The reprieve was short. In spring 2010, the Hall of Fame board dismissed longtime director David Johnson and took more than a year to fill the position. In spring 2011, Gov. Robert Bentley proposed a state budget that dropped funding for many tourist attractions, including the Hall of Fame. Virtually broke, the institution was forced to close its doors late in 2011. Its future appeared desperately uncertain: At one times, it appeared a deal had been struck to sell its land and buildings. It seemed possible that its collections and programs might find a new home elsewhere in the state, possibly in Birmingham or even among other coastal tourist attractions near the beaches.

Hope came from an unlikely direction: A filmmaker’s desire to tell the story of the unlikely, history-making recording boom in northwest Alabama.

The whole reason the Hall of Fame museum was located in Tuscumbia, a small city far from the nearest interstate, was the particular music history of the Shoals area. That term includes a cluster of four cities: midsized Florence on the north side of the Tennessee River, plus the smaller Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals on the south side. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the area’s home-grown recording industry boomed, drawing in some of the era’s biggest stars.

Director Greg Camalier sought out many of them, delving into the magic the area held for stars such as Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Gregg Allman, Clarence Carter and Percy Sledge. The documentary, titled “Muscle Shoals,” earned instant acclaim from the moment it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013.

Lee Sentell, the director of the Alabama Tourism Department, got a look at the film in early 2013, and was impressed. “I had great confidence in this documentary,” he says.

Looking back, he says that he saw both an opportunity and a problem. On the one hand, the film would give tourists new reasons to come to Alabama. On the other, if they arrived to find that the state itself had fallen flat on honoring the heritage they’d come to explore, it would be a major black eye. Sentell credits Bentley with having the foresight to avert that PR disaster: Informed of the opportunity, Bentley supported new funding for the museum.

The museum reopened in October, as the movie’s limited theatrical release gradually progressed. Among those Sentell called was Dixie Connell, who’d worked at the museum for 18 years, first as director of its education programs and later overseeing its marketing. She now serves as interim director.

“We feel like we’ve got it pretty much straightened back up, and added a few things to it,” she says of the work to reopen the doors. “We really feel good about 2014. We think it’s going to be real good for us.”

“It has really brought a lot of attention to our area,” she says of the film. “Once you see the documentary and then you come out here and see the history of it, it just makes it better. It makes a better understanding of what went on around here.”

She’s quick to note, however that the museum “belongs to the state,” not just the Shoals area. And the exhibits back that up.

The museum is ready for visitors. Sentell thinks they’ll keep coming, because the impact of the movie is only beginning to be felt. And it’s not the only development. In late January, the Recording Academy will give its Trustees Award – roughly the equivalent of a lifetime achievement Grammy — to Rick Hall, owner of FAME Studios and a pivotal figure in the “Muscle Shoals” story. There’s another potential Grammy boost in the form of a nomination for the movie’s soundtrack album. (“Being up against the movie ‘Les Miz’ is a challenge,” says Sentell.)

On Feb. 25, the movie becomes available on home video. On Feb. 28, the Hall of Fame will hold a star-studded induction banquet in Florence. This year’s honorees include country singer Hank Locklin of Brewton, singer Candi Staton of Hanceville, record company executive Charlie Monk of Geneva, singer, songwriter and producer Dan Penn of Vernon, Lauderdale County songwriter and session musician Spooner Oldham, and jazz musician Sun Ra of Birmingham.

Ultimately, the museum needs to protect itself from the ups and downs of state funding. That means finding new sources of revenue, maybe building an endowment. The goal is easy enough to see. It’s getting there that’s the challenge.

But Sentell says that in his mind, at least, this much is clear: it makes no sense to relocate the museum. Located in the Shoals, it’s part of a package of music-related tourism destinations, including various studios and the W.C. Handy home and museum in Florence. Moving it would end that synergy. It belongs to the whole state and serves the whole state, but in his opinion it belongs where it is, not somewhere on the I-65 corridor.

With that decided, the challenge is to get the word out that it’s worth a visit. And it is. You could breeze through it in an hour if so inclined, but you’re likely to find something that stops you in your tracks. For me, this time, it was a mastering lathe that a Florence native, the legendary Sam Phillips, used to capture the sounds of Howlin’ Wolf and Elvis Presley. I think I could have pulled up a chair and soaked in that history for hours.

It’s not the biggest museum in the world, but it fills a big need.

Back outside, the landscape was still dormant and the parking lot was still empty. But if Sentell is right, a vibrant spring is on the way. Hopefully it won’t just be music-lovers from out of state, either: Alabama residents too have been given a second chance to get in touch with a great source of home-state pride.

“It’s such a good place,” said Connell, explaining why she came out of retirement to help shepherd it through its latest transition. “And it tells so many great stories. The state of Alabama has so, so much to be proud of, about our music heritage, and so many people don’t even know how strong it is. To me there was so much unfinished business there.”


2014 Legislative Tourism Bash, March 11, RSA Activity Center, Montgomery

Please make plans to join hospitality and tourism professionals from around the state to host our lawmakers at one of the best attended receptions during the legislative year.  The Tourism Bash helps inform our elected officials about the economic impact of the Alabama Tourism Industry.  The Tourism Bash is a project of the Alabama Tourism Partnership.

For sponsorship and ticket information please contact: Patti Culp, Alabama Travel Council, 334-271-0050


Lyric Theatre reopening, Mardi Gras among Alabama’s Top 10 events for 2014

by Bob Carlton,, Jan. 7

The reopening of Birmingham’s Lyric Theatre, the grand opening of Montgomery’s Museum of Alabama and Mobile’s annual Mardi Gras celebration are among the Alabama Tourism Department’s Top 10 events of 2014, the state tourism agency has announced.

Each year, the tourism department spotlights 10 events around the state that it feels will be significant and unique attractions for tourists.

Those events, along with more than 1,400 others around the state, will be featured in the department’s 2014 Alabama Vacation Guide and Calendar of Events, which will be available beginning this month at eight welcome centers around Alabama, as well as online at

To see the top 10 list, go to:


Alabama becoming mountain bike Mecca of the southeast

In 2013, the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) designated the Forever Wild Land Trust’s Coldwater Mountain tract near Anniston as a Bronze Level Ride Center, a large-scale mountain bike facility that offers a wide variety of ride options for riders of all skill levels. The IMBA has also inducted Oak Mountain State Park’s mountain bike trails into its Epic Ride Hall of Fame.

That makes Greg Lein very happy. Lein, former administrator with Forever Wild, is currently the director of the Alabama State Parks Division.

“Alabama is one of the fastest growing states in terms of mountain bike trail construction and ridership,” Lein said. “With dramatically varied terrain throughout the state and weather suitable for riding year-round, Alabama as a biking destination makes perfect sense both economically and geographically.”

While Coldwater Mountain might be a focal point for mountain bike trail construction, it isn’t the only part of the state courting mountain bikers. Nine of Alabama’s 22 State Parks and a handful of other Forever Wild properties offer mountain bike trails as well. For example, trail restoration and construction is currently a priority at Chewacla State Park in Auburn. The park now has many new miles of trail thanks in part to the Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP).

CAMP President Philip Darden says that mountain biking and Alabama State Parks perfectly complement each other and create a benefit for all park visitors.

“Mountain biking and state parks go hand in hand because we both need each other,” said Darden. “So many parks around the state are searching for visitors just to stay afloat and many mountain bikers are looking for new, interesting places to ride. We can help each other out by volunteers coming into the parks and building multi-use trails. Not only do mountain bikers ride the trails that many organizations such as CAMP build, but hikers and walkers utilize the trails as well. It’s truly a win-win for all Alabamians.”

In addition to mountain bike and hiking trail construction, Alabama State Parks have branched out into new territory with biking attractions such as pump tracks and BMX tracks. While Oak Mountain State Park’s BMX and pump tracks are well-established, CAMP and other volunteers are helping construct a new BMX and pump track at Chewacla.

“As we enter the 75th year of Alabama State Parks, we will be expanding what is available to park visitors,” Lein said. “In 2013, we saw the introduction of a zip line at Gulf State Park, a new gem mining facility at Cheaha, and other new park facilities across the state. We will continue to improve and expand the Alabama State Park experience in 2014 and encourage everyone to visit a park to see what’s new this year.”

Last year the Forever Wild Land Trust and Alabama State Parks received widespread media attention for their expansion of mountain biking opportunities across the state and Richard Edwards, IMBA Trail Solutions Manager, has named Coldwater Mountain the IMBA’s Southeastern trail laboratory.

More information about the Alabama State Parks 75th Anniversary Celebration will be posted at during the coming months. Visit the website often for new trail openings, lodging, camping and dining specials and event announcements.


Updated information on the Alabama Bass Trail and Tournament Series

Good afternoon!  I wanted to pass along some preliminary number on the growth of the Alabama Bass Trail from 2012 to 2013.  None of this is possible without the support from Governor Bentley.

The website experienced huge growth in visitation in 2013.  Enclosed are the growth percentages that each lake experienced:

Lake Guntersville 199.7%
Wheeler Lake 139.3%
Pickwick Lake 110%
Smith Lake 148%
Neely Henry 55%
Lay Lake 79%
Logan Martin Lake 121%
Lake Jordan 94%
Alabama River/Millers Ferry 66%
Lake Eufaula 260% (That isn’t a typo)
Mobile Tensaw Delta 66%

The website overall grew in traffic by 142%

Also, the Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series North Division(All 5 tournaments in the division) sold out at 200 boats 400 anglers in 72 days.  We are over half way to selling out in the South with just under two months left to go before the first tournament.

The Alabama Bass Trail continues to work with Alabama Power and TVA to coordinate conservation programs for high school anglers.  We have five dates set in 2014 where anglers will participate in trash collections. These project will allow the anglers to earn service hours to go toward a $500 grant.

January 18 – Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake
February 8 – Tom Jackson Ramp Lake Guntersville
March 8 – Ingalls Harbor Wheeler Lake
June 28 – Safety Harbor Wilson Lake
September 26 McFarland Park Pickwick Lake

Thank you for your continued support of the Alabama Bass Trail and Tournament Series.


Invitation to the International Food & Wine Travel Writers Association’s 6th Annual Meeting & Conference

The International Food & Wine Travel Writers Association is extending an invitation to attend their conference to network and secure a Marketplace table so you can visit face-to-face.  Host a conference breakfast or meal to speak to the attendees (if a slot still available).  Host a post conference Press Trip for writers. The best part about this is that you select the qualified writers from the applicants, this way they fit your marketing plan or strategy.  Further, the policy is a strict “No clips, no future trips” and it is enforced. Your ROI is our utmost concern.

For more information and registration:


It’s time to plan the photography for your upcoming events

In order to make events and festivals look really good in promotional materials, it is extremely important to have top quality photography.  This requires some pre-planning.

Designated photographers need to be lined up ahead of time and given specific directions as to what needs to be shot.  Ideally, the photographer(s) should be professional, however if the budget doesn’t allow for that, try to find locals who enjoy photography as a hobby.  Check with local camera shops to find out who fits that bill.

Frequently the best shots are staged, with good looking people who are obviously having a great time.  It is also possible to get some wonderful candid images, but it’s not a good idea to depend on those completely.  If the picture could have been taken anywhere and doesn’t say at a glance exactly what the event or festival is, and where it is, it loses its effectiveness in promotional materials.

As always, the Alabama Tourism Department would like for you to share the excellent images with us.  Our criteria, as always, is 300 dpi, at least 4” X 6” or larger in jpeg format.  Bright, solid colors are best and no blue jeans, if at all possible.

For questions, call or e-mail:  Peggy Collins, (334) 242-4545,


Georgia Carter Turner joins Florence/Lauderdale Tourism staff

Longtime tourism public relations professional Georgia Carter Turner has joined the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism staff as Communications Manager. She will work with local, state, regional and international media to promote Florence and the entire Shoals area’s tourism product.

“We’re thrilled to have Georgia back in Florence,” said Debbie Wilson, Executive Director of Florence/Lauderdale Tourism. “Her experience in tourism public relations, marketing and administration will be a huge asset to our office.”

Turner has worked in the tourism industry since 1985. She started her tourism career as the marketing representative for the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, the regional tourism organization for the 16 northernmost counties in the state.

She moved to Daytona Beach, Florida in 1988 where she worked with four busy oceanfront hotels and at the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau as their public relations director, promoting events such as Bike Week, Biketoberfest and the Daytona 500.

Alabama called her back to be the Executive Director of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association from 1994-2000. From 2000-2010 she owned her own tourism public relations agency, Georgia Turner Group. The company’s specialty was media tours throughout the Southeast, including the Shoals Area.  In late 2010 she rejoined the Daytona Beach Area CVB – this time as their Director of Specialized Markets, where her focus was tourism events, the Film Office and the arts, culture and heritage segment of the industry.

For the past two years she has served as the Vice President of Tourism Development for the Flagler County (Florida) Chamber of Commerce. In that role, she worked closely with the tourism community to reposition the county’s tourism efforts under the new brand of Palm Coast & the Flagler Beaches.

A native of Sheffield, Turner received her degree in journalism from Auburn University and spent her early career as a newspaper reporter at the TimesDaily in Florence as well as an assistant editor for an airline magazine in Atlanta.

Named Tourism Professional of the Year in Alabama in 2000, she is an Associate member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and has served as both Secretary and Chair of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS). She was also an instructor at the STS Marketing College for many years.


Retirement party for Frances Smiley on Feb. 20

Frances Smiley announced that she will retire from the Alabama Tourism Department on March 1, after 35 years of service with the agency first known as the Alabama Bureau of Publicity and Information and later as the Bureau of Tourism and Travel.

She worked with numerous state directors over the years and served as acting director of the agency during the Siegelman Administration. She was widely known for her pioneer work marketing African-American heritage and civil rights. Under director Ed Hall during the last term of Gov. George Wallace, she produced the nation’s first black heritage guide, which was updated for 20 years. In more recent years, she has supervised the department’s eight Welcome Centers and 40 staff members.  She is the longest serving member of the agency’s current staff.

Director Lee Sentell said the department will host a retirement party for Ms. Smiley on Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. in the lobby of the Alabama Center for Commerce. Friends of Ms. Smiley are invited to attend.


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Jan 17-21                    American Bus Association (ABA) – Nashville, TN

Jan. 22-26                   Louisville Boat, RV & Sport Show, Louisville, KY

Jan. 23-27                   Cincinnati Travel, Sports & Boat Show, Cincinnati, OH

Feb. 14-23                   Indianapolis Boat, Sports & Travel Show, Indianapolis, IN

Feb 16-20                   National Tour Association (NTA) – Los Angeles, CA

Feb. 23-26                   Travel South Domestic Showcase, Charleston, WV



The Alabama Tourism Department News 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:

Alabama Tourism Department