Alabama Tourism Department Newsletter February 12, 2014

  • Alabama tourism booming while Mississippi struggles
  • Tourism booming in Montgomery
  • Location, Location, Location
  • Great American Bites: BBQ heaven at Alabama’s Dreamland
  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville to receive nearly $1 million grant from NASA
  • From driving school to upcoming new vehicle releases, Porsche and Barber Motorsports Park have strong ties
  • Gadsden destination app selected to Editor’s Choice listing
  • Runner’s World suggests you run on Oak Mountain’s Peavine Falls Road
  • John Dersham, DeKalb Tourism’s executive director has photo exhibit
  • Alabama’s underwater forest one step closer to gaining sanctuary from exploitation
  • UK journalists encourage readers to visit Alabama
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) staff at work
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Alabama tourism booming while Mississippi struggles

WLOX, Feb. 4

Nearly four years after the massive BP oil spill, tourism is booming in one Gulf Coast state, and it’s not Mississippi. New numbers out this week show visitors to Alabama’s beaches in 2013 broke records. Hotel and condo revenue is up, along with retail sales.

It’s the second year in a row of record growth for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. But, what about Mississippi’s numbers?

In 2013, South Mississippi hotels had their worst occupancy totals in at least five years. And the revenue generated from the rooms sold last year was down by nearly eight percentage points. Another indicator related to coastal tourism struggles is that the airport passenger count is down – at the lowest level since 1999.

So what’s the problem? Why is Alabama reporting record tourism, and the coast– even with the added draw of casinos– struggling to get people here?

We asked John McFarland about all of this. He’s the chair of the tourism partnership board, created before the tri-county tourism commission was formed. He said it’s important to remember Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Florida Gulf Coast and New Orleans have long been nationally- and internationally-known destination brands.

“They’ve been spending millions of dollars a year to establish that brand, while our Coast advertising has been limited in dollars and primarily focused on ‘drive markets’ from New Orleans, Mobile and Hattiesburg,” McFarland wrote. “That produces a lot of bodies on the beach, but they don’t stay overnight, so they don’t pay a hotel tax and therefore don’t add to the available marketing funds.”

McFarland said Mississippi received two BP grants of $15 and $16 million (the first $15 went to MDA), while Louisiana, Florida and Alabama each received two grants of $30 million. He said the grants were based on the existing size of the tourism industry.

“They spent theirs primarily on big new events to boost numbers on key weekends. It was a smart move on their parts, but not something that would have worked as well for us.”

Meanwhile, the search continues for an executive director for the Gulf Coast Convention Visitors Bureau.

To read the entire article, go to:

Tourism booming in Montgomery

By Scott Johnson, The Montgomery Advertiser, Feb. 7

Montgomery is taking the lead in tourism growth in Alabama, packing hotels and driving up revenue, according to 2013 statistics released by the Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitor Bureau.

The city’s hotel occupancy grew by 4.9 percent in 2013 compared with the previous year. Along with that, the demand for hotel rooms grew by 8.1 percent, and the supply grew by 3.1 percent, according to Convention & Visitor Bureau numbers. There also was a 6 percent increase in lodging tax collections.

And Montgomery remains in a solid position to continue attracting people, CVB Vice President Dawn Hathcock said.

Results for the entire state will be released in April.

The city is not dependent on conventions alone to attract visitors, Hathcock said. It also has an increasing number of sporting events and the continuing attraction of historical tourism.

Room nights actually contracted by the bureau increased by 33 percent in 2013, with an economic impact of more than $15 million, Hathcock said.

The bureau’s servicing department served 201 groups in 2013, which is a 26 percent increase, and saw a 92 percent increase in inquiries for information, according to CVB numbers.

To read the entire article, go to:

Location, Location, Location
Alabama’s incentives for moviemakers have been so successful the $15 million cap on them will probably be reached in the first quarter, gobbled up by two big productions.

By Ben Raines, Business Alabama, February 2014

Of all of Alabama’s business-luring incentive programs, one of its newest, the film incentive, is perhaps the most successful in terms of providing an economic bang for the buck.
The state Film Office estimates the incentives brought in $33 million in new business in 2012 and provided 3,000 jobs. While the figures for 2013 haven’t been reported yet, the budgets for productions based out of Mobile alone totaled more than $30 million for the year, according to Eva Golson, with the Mobile Film Office. Productions shot in Mobile since 2010 had a combined budget of $72 million, most of which funneled into the state’s economy.

Golson lobbied state legislators to enact an incentive program to help Alabama compete with other states trying to attract Hollywood money. Golson saw what a production could do for a local economy as early as the 1970s, when Steven Spielberg shot much of the sci-fi classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in the city.

But for more than 20 years, her pleas fell on deaf ears.

“Every state around us had their incentive legislation passed by 2001 and we didn’t have it. So we didn’t have a lot of production. I would try to attract productions and while they loved the locations we had to offer, they’d say, ‘Don’t call us until you have incentives,’” Golson says.
“We didn’t get ours passed until 2009 and I tell everyone the reason they finally passed it was they wanted to shut that old woman in Mobile up. I just kept saying to them, ‘What is it you don’t understand?’ You don’t give them the incentive money until after they’ve spent their money here, then you give them a percentage of it back. We can’t lose.”

The Alabama film incentive, passed by the state Legislature in 2009, provides tax credits and other rebates of up to $15 million a year to qualifying productions. The credit is available to any production with a budget in excess of $500,000, including television series, music videos, documentaries and major Hollywood movies. In addition to exemptions for various sales, use and lodging taxes, productions also are entitled to a rebate on 25 percent of production costs, plus 35 percent of payroll paid to Alabama residents.

“Several hundred people converge on a community. They are renting things, they are going out to eat, they go buy clothes, they go to the drugstores. They spend a lot of money when they are in town, and Mobile has definitely felt that,” says Faulk. “We just don’t have any numbers yet.”
To read the entire article, go to:

Great American Bites: BBQ heaven at Alabama’s Dreamland

By Larry Olmsted, USA Today, Feb. 6

There are a lot of great barbecue restaurants in America, more now than ever, but only a handful qualify as legends. Dreamland is one of those in the upper pantheon of any barbecue fan’s bucket list. Having recently visited, I now know why.

While the original Dreamland sits close to a major highway exit in Tuscaloosa, a college town and home to the University of Alabama that has grown up around the once-rural spot, it still resides on a tiny back road you would never pass by chance. As you pull up to the sprawling red building – plus a large outdoor tent if it’s a weekend in college football season – it is obviously a destination unto itself. That so many people find this unlikely spot is the first good sign. The interior is pure dive bar, a small main dining room with concrete floors, the brick cooking pit in back, a bar with stools down one side and well-worn booths down the other, with wooden tables and vinyl seats. The walls and ceiling are covered in NFL and college flags, old license plates from all over, t-shirts and beer ads. There is a large enclosed porch off this room with additional seating, and an air of humility about the place. It is arguably the most famous rib joint in the east, yet unlike many others has not parlayed this fame into a theme-park atmosphere: Souvenir t-shirts are five dollars, beers three, and food prices similarly outdated. Virtually every review written – and there have been lots – uses the word “unchanged.”

As to the name Dreamland, the story goes that one night in a dream God told the original founder, the late brick mason John “Big Daddy” Bishop, that he should open a barbecue place. He started cooking in his front yard in 1958 – the same auspicious year legendary coach Bear Bryant began at Alabama – and built the original Dreamland Café in front of his home. His ribs have driven organic growth ever since: the patio was added about 25 years ago, there are satellite locations, and his daughter still lives in the house next to the restaurant.

Reason to visit: Ribs, banana pudding

The food: The slogan at Dreamland is “Ain’t nothing like ’em nowhere,” and that’s pretty accurate. The ribs are unique, and to say they are the main event is a huge understatement – for half a century they were the only event. Until about five years ago, the Tuscaloosa original served nothing but ribs and white bread – period. Because everyone is here to eat the same thing, a very hands-on affair, waitresses put bibs on the customers just as they might at a Maine lobster shack, another unique tradition. Ribs are big and meaty, even by full-sized spare rib standards, no St. Louis cut or baby backs here, and they are not smoked in the traditional style of Southern barbecue, but rather “hickory fire grilled,” cooked in just about an hour (versus three-plus for slow smoking) in a brick pit.

The result is not nearly as tender as most barbecue ribs, but then again most barbecue ribs are too tender (in competition they deduct points for “falling off the bone,” a myth of quality that actually means overcooked). Nor are they tough – they are meaty and firm, but still very juicy, heavily seasoned with a dry rub that you can taste beneath the light coating of red barbecue sauce, a secret recipe that is spicy in a robust, flavorful way, not a heat way. Once you dig in, the “napkins” of white bread and bibs make sense, because this is a sloppy, juicy, saucy affair, utterly delicious. The servings are way too big, since they recommend six ribs per person, and for three of us the waitress said “you need a rack and a half” which should have been overwhelming but every time I gave up and stopped, I dove back in because they are that addictive.

As a rule, any barbecue joint started by someone called “Big Daddy” should be good, and Dreamland is proof of this theory. I’ve had a lot of great ribs at a lot of barbecue places from Kansas City to Memphis to Texas, and these are among the very best. If the notion of “Do one thing and do it right” has a home in the restaurant industry, it’s at Dreamland – aptly named because these ribs haunt my dreams.

What regulars say: “”Ain’t nothing like ’em nowhere.” They really say that – ask any ‘Bama fan.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes. Any rib-lover worth his or her dry rub should head to Tuscaloosa.
Rating: OMG! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: Original, 5535 15th Avenue East, Tuscaloosa; 205-758-8135;
To read the entire article, go to:

U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville to receive nearly $1 million grant from NASA

By Lucy Berry,, Feb. 7

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville announced today it will receive a nearly $1 million grant from NASA to inspire students to enter careers in the field of science.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Engage and Equip to Empower: Building an S-Stem Generation proposal was selected to receive $998,000 over a four-year grant period. The funding was offered through NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums and NASA Visitor Centers Plus Other Opportunities.

Deborah Barnhart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, said the money will be used to develop an International Space Station exhibit called Space Station: Science in Orbit.

“This exhibit will allow us to showcase the scientific work being done on the International Space Station,” she said. “It will give visitors to the Rocket Center an opportunity to experience what it is like to live and work in space.”

The state agency also plans to use some of the funding to host STEMcon, a four-day professional development conference for teachers in Huntsville. The annual event, which will offer workshops, hands-on activities and lesson plans, will bring together approximately 70 educators from Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa and Missouri.

The space museum said at least 40 percent of the educators will be from schools in underserved or underrepresented communities. Participants will also have the opportunity to earn up to 32 hours of continuing education credits.
The Huntsville space museum is among 10 informal learning institutions to receive a total $7.7 million in grants from NASA.
To read the entire article, go to:


From driving school to upcoming new vehicle releases, Porsche and Barber Motorsports Park have strong ties

By Michael Tomberlin,, Feb. 4

Porsche’s relationship with the Barber Motorsports Park dates back to the beginning of the park itself and a top Porsche executive said the automaker plans several special events there this year, including two new vehicle launches.

Joe Folz, general counsel and secretary with Porsche Cars North America, told the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham the Porsche Sport Driving School has enjoyed great success at the Barber Motorsports Park since opening there in 2003.

There are 15 PSDS’s in the world. None compare to the one in Birmingham, Folz said, which is the only one in the U.S.

“The Porsche Sport Driving School at the Barber Motorsports Park really is the most special of them all,” he said.

Folz said Barber Motorsports Park’s reputation and that of Porsche mutually benefit each other.
“It is widely regarded as the premier motorsports venue in America,” he said of the Barber park. “There is no other place in America where we can show all of this to our owners and our potential customers.”
The Porsche Sport Driving School is a major draw for the Barber Motorsports Park. Since it opened with the park in 2003, the school has drawn more than 15,200 attendees from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.

“We’re very proud of bringing the world here,” Folz said.

He said the school is responsible for 70,000 hotel room nights in the Birmingham area and an economic impact of $25.9 million since 2003. Porsche invests an average of $3.55 million in its operations at Barber Motorsports Park every year and that number will be closer to $4 million this year because of two special events, Folz said.

Porsche will release its new Macan compact SUV crossover vehicle to media, dealers and employees at the Barber Motorsports Park in June. It will follow that up in August to release the 918 Spyder, the first Porsche plug-in hybrid that is getting buzz for both its tech and its $1 million price tag.

Porsche has used Barber Motorsports Park as a backdrop for other high-profile releases before, like the 2003 Cayenne SUV and the 2012 Boxster launch.
To read the entire article, go to:

Gadsden destination app selected to Editor’s Choice listing

Feb. 6

The Editors of ConventionSouth magazine, a national multimedia resource for planning events that are held within the South, have officially announced their 2014 list of “The South’s Best Destination Apps and Mobile Sites” and Greater Gadsden Area Tourism’s travel app was one of those chosen. These travel apps and mobile sites were selected by ConventionSouth’s editorial team for offering meeting/event attendees the ability to easily navigate the destination as well as trust the information to be accurate.

The complete list of selected destinations with apps and/or mobile sites will be featured in the March issue of ConventionSouth.

To select the list, editors requested nominations from destinations across 16 states in the Southeast as well as D.C. and the Caribbean. From the nominations and research, editors then downloaded dozens of official destination travel apps and logged on to mobile-friendly websites using iPhone 4S smartphones. Each app or mobile site was then categorized by destination size, in order to compare apps/mobile sites of similar-sized destinations. Destination size categories include: state/country, first-tier destinations, second-tier destinations and third-tier destinations. Within each category, apps/mobile sites were judged based on several factors, including GPS and mapping features, content geared for travelers and attendees, user friendliness, unique features and visual appeal.

“There are thousands of online travel resources available, however, official destination apps and mobile sites provide meeting attendees with a trusted, easy-to-use tool while they’re in town for a convention or event,” said ConventionSouth Editor Marlane Bundock. “The meeting planners who read ConventionSouth can feel confident in recommending these apps and mobile sites to attendees because while they may be free, they provide accurate information directly from each destination’s official tourism bureau.

Hugh Stump, Executive Director for Greater Gadsden Area Tourism said “We are very happy to receive this news as we have worked hard to create a travel app that is not only valuable to visitors, but also to our local citizens.” The app is available free for both iPhone and Android smartphones. Search “Gadsden, AL” in the applicable app store and look for the distinctive “Double G” logo that brands the app.

ABOUT THE MAGAZINE: Celebrating 30 years as a leading meeting planning resource, ConventionSouth magazine is based in Gulf Shores, Ala., and is circulated to more than 18,000 meeting professionals located across the country that book meetings held within the South.

Before you kick the bucket, Runner’s World suggests you run on Oak Mountain’s Peavine Falls Road

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.,, Feb. 10
If readers follow the recommendation they received from Runner’s World magazine, a number of runners will head to Oak Mountain State Park before they die.
Peavine Falls Road at the state park in Pelham was listed among Runner’s World’s 27 gorgeous running locations to add to your bucket list.

The road was listed among the must run locations for the period ranging from 2012 through 2014.
To read entire article, go to:

John Dersham, DeKalb Tourism’s executive director has photo exhibit
The work of North Alabama photographer John Dersham is currently on display at the Evelyn Burrow Museum at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.  The collection, “Changing Moods – 50 Years of Black and White”, documents 50 years of his life spent taking photos.
Dersham’s work in black and white photography began when his father gifted him in 1960 with a Kodak Brownie camera he received from an Eastman Kodak promotion 30 years earlier. That led to a long and distinguished background in photography and the “Changing Moods – Fifty Years in Black and White” exhibit that is on display at the Burrow Center for Fine and Performing Arts.

Dersham spent 30 years working for Eastman Kodak and on his travels for the company he would always pack his cameras so that he could take photos of the interesting places he visited.
“I would get up pre-daylight and shoot till my first appointment, or I’d shoot late afternoon or night shots,” Dersham said. “I always found a way to shoot and I was out to perpetuate my fine art photography and nothing seemed to stop me.”

He earned his Masters of Photography while working with Kodak and his work was placed on display at Kodak office buildings, factories and photo finishing plants nationwide.
Donny Wilson, director of the Evelyn Burrow Museum, said Dersham’s exhibit is one of the finest examples of black and white photography he’s ever seen.

“The quality of work Dersham shows is amazing,”‘ Wilson said. “The details in the photographs, the compositions, and the contrasts all evoke some feeling, whether it be nostalgia from a photo of an old country store or a sense of peace from a rural landscape.”

For more information, call the Burrow Museum at 256.352.8457 or visit, or visit Dersham’s website at


Alabama’s underwater forest one step closer to gaining sanctuary from exploitation

By Jeff Dute,, Feb. 6

Alabama’s primeval underwater cypress forest is one step closer to being protected from exploitation.  The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted unanimously Thursday to have its staff draft a letter in support of designating the forest, located in 60 feet of water 10 miles off Alabama’s coast, as a marine sanctuary.

The vote came at the council’s Houston meeting a day after Weeks Bay Foundation Executive Director Ben Raines made oral and video presentations to the Reef Committee.

“This is a great step toward protecting the forest. With the approval of the Gulf Council, we can move ahead toward a final designation from NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries program. They have sanctuaries around the nation, but only one in the Gulf, which is off Texas. The underwater forest really fits in with what the program tries to protect,” said Ben Raines, executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation, the group that launched the effort to protect the forest. “We’ve had preliminary conversations with NOAA about the forest, and I believe the forest will meet the criteria for the sanctuary designation.”

Under the National Marine Sanctuaries Program, Raines said fishing and diving would still be allowed, but no one could molest the trees on the bottom.

The possibility of someone trying to salvage the logs was brought to Raines’ attention shortly after he described a SCUBA dive to the forest in a September 2012 story published online at and in the Mobile Press-Register, where he was formerly the environmental reporter.
The forest had escaped such efforts because its location has been a closely guarded secret among a handful of Alabama divers ever since an offshore fisherman enlisted one of them to explore structures that showed up on his bottom machine shortly after large waves generated by Hurricane Katrina scoured the Gulf’s mud/sand bottom in August 2005.

The scouring action likely uncovered the forest.

Raines’ stories brought the forest to the attention of the world. As expected, lots of calls came from divers, obviously intrigued by the chance to experience what Raines describes as “an enchanted, Fantasia-like place.”

“The underwater forest is an incredible asset we didn’t even know we had,” said Alabama’s Dr. Bob Shipp, who is chairman of the Gulf Council Reef Committee. “Protecting it is really a no-brainer. It’s important to note that, even with this designation, people will still be able to fish and dive on it. This will, however, ensure that no one can molest those logs on the bottom. We have a real treasure out there and it’s worth protecting.”
To read the entire article, go to:

UK journalists encourage readers to visit Alabama

Jessamy Calkin, Features Editor at the Telegraph Magazine produced the following feature on February 8 in the UK. The Telegraph Travel Magazine is distributed with the Saturday Telegraph, one of the UK’s leading newspapers. It follows the trip arranged for Jessamy by UK in-market representative Della Tully and the CVBs of Mobile, Selma, Monroeville, The Shoals and Montgomery.

The print version in the Telegraph Magazine has a readership of 1,398,000 per issue.  The, which is their online website, receives 12,945,000 unique visitors per month.
The following is an excerpt from the article that resulted from Calkin’s trip to Alabama.
I love the South. I love the idea of it, the lyrical names of the states – Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee. I love the accent, and the writers – Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, Harry Crews. I love the music – The Blind Boys of Alabama, Robert Johnson. And Elvis, of course.
I had been to New Orleans and Mississippi, but even though our daughter is called Alabama, we have never seen it. A road trip seemed to be the answer, and for once everyone in my family wanted to come. Ralf wanted to see where Hank Williams grew up, Jonah (12) wanted to perfect his southern accent and taste real fried chicken, Alabama (17) wanted to see her namesake state.
To read the entire article, go to:

Another UK journalist, Lindsay Sutton, produced a feature that appeared in the Trinity Mirror Group regional newspapers Dec. 12, 2013.  It has a massive shout out to the Shoals.  The Trinity Mirror group includes 240 regional papers as well as the national Daily MirrorSunday Mirror and People, and the Scottish Sunday Mail and Daily Record. The combined circulation is 12.6 million per week.

Alabama Tourism Department-ATD staff at work

Della Tully from ATD’s UK office represented Alabama at the Deep South booth during the Holiday World Show Dublin, the leading  Irish Trade and Consumer show which took place January 24-26.  Mr. Stuart Dwyer, Charge d’affaires at Dublin’s US Embassy, opened the US pavilion and visited the booth. The show was very busy with a very high level of genuine enquiries for travel to our region. The total number of admissions over the weekend was 48,041.

Alabama Tourism Department-ATD upcoming events

Feb. 14-23                   Indianapolis Boat, Sports & Travel Show, Indianapolis, IN
Feb 16-20                   National Tour Association (NTA) – Los Angeles, CA
Feb. 20                        Retirement party for Frances Smiley, Alabama Center for Commerce, Montgomery
Feb. 23-26                   Travel South Domestic Showcase, Charleston, WV
Mar. 11                       2014 Legislative Tourism Bash, RSA Activity Center, Montgomery
Mar. 27-30                  Nashville Southern Women’s Show, Nashville, TN

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.
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Alabama Tourism Department