Tourism Tuesdays March 10, 2015

  • Tourism Department supports Selma commemoration
  • The Year of Alabama Barbecue
  • History of Alabama barbecue closely linked to politics, civil rights
  • 15th annual Alabama Tourism Bash
  • Swamp Thing video celebrates generations of Muscle Shoals music
  • Successful ITB
  • UK 50+ publication journalist vacations and tours Alabama
  • Rebranding Mobile: National experts stress power of cooperation, engagement, storytelling in Tourism Town Hall
  • Visitor Center at Mercedes’ Alabama plant gets $3 million makeover
  • New Trailhead for the Southern End of the Pinhoti
  • TV One’s premiere of the 46th NAACP Image Awards drives weekend of history-making ratings
  • Tuscaloosa’s Embassy Suites opened this week, already sold out for every Alabama football weekend
  • Alabama Black Belt Tourism Marketing Workshop
  • Bellingrath Gardens & Home announces new director of marketing and public relations
  • USA TODAY’s Readers’ Choice Contest
  • Alabama Barbecue
  • Alabama Makers
  • Attention CVBs and attractions: ATD needs pictures by May 29
  • Learn how to work with the Alabama Tourism Department
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Tourism Department supports Selma commemoration

The staff of the Alabama Tourism Department created publications, souvenirs, media support and coordination with tour groups for the 50th anniversary of the Selma March 50th anniversary.

For more than two years, Sales Manager Rosemary Judkins worked with tourism leaders in the region and solicited motorcoach groups to attend the commemoration of 1965’s “Bloody Sunday.”

Public relations director Brian Jones met regularly with community leaders and supervisors from the National Park Service to coordinate individual events and updated the Office of the Governor. He supervised the video contractor that provided live footage of President Obama’s speech on Saturday and events inside Brown Chapel AME Church on Sunday for television networks.

Tommy Cauthen and Cody Eason in the Graphics Department designed two civil rights publications, posters and event items that the National Park Service distributed to the tens of thousands of visitors.

Director Lee Sentell was pleasantly surprised that a historic marker he wrote a few weeks ago about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 wound up center stage behind the podium from where the president, Gov. Bentley, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and other speakers delivered their remarks.

Officials estimated that more than 40,000 people attended events on Saturday and another 80,000 participated on Sunday.


The Year of Alabama Barbecue

It Ain’t All Chicken and White Sauce

By Daniel Vaughn, (a production of Texas Monthly magazine), March 3

If you follow barbecue news (and I’m going to assume you do if you read, you’re going to hear a lot more about barbecue in Alabama in the coming months. Or at least that’s the goal of the Alabama Tourism Department, which launched its Year of Alabama Barbecue campaign last weekend.

The formal announcement came at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Food Media South event, held in Birmingham, where organizers screened a new documentary, Q: Alabama Barbecue Legends, and passed out a thumb drive of the full film.
“Q – Alabama’s Barbecue Legends” – Trailer from Alabama Tourism on Vimeo.

I’ll admit, this bit of media savvy worked—at least on me. While attending Food Media South, I set out to try as much of Birmingham’s barbecue as I could. But of course it wasn’t just a bit of clever marketing that enticed me. Alabama has a much-deserved good reputation for barbecue. Not only are there some classic stalwarts who laid the foundation for the state’s smoked meats traditions, one of the best barbecue joints in the nation was founded here. Saw’s BBQ, open since 2009, draws fans from across America, and last year Paula Deen Magazine called it the best barbecue in the country. (There are now three Saw’s locations around Birmingham, all with slightly different menus).

Saw’s menu is emblematic of newer non-denominational barbecue joints around the country. Items common to Alabama barbecue like spare ribs, chicken on the bone, and pork shoulder share space with boudin, sausage, and brisket. They even offer some Carolina-influenced items, like a lima bean-heavy Brunswick stew and a Carolina pork sandwich. They smoke the new stuff as well as the standards, but it might leave the impression to visitors that Alabama doesn’t have a barbecue style all its own–or at least enough of one to rely on for a full menu.

But those assumptions would be wrong. A new historical essay—Pork Ribs & Politics: The Origins of Alabama Barbecue—explains the state’s traditions well:
The pigs that dominated the rural landscape of the state provided the meat. Readily available hickory wood served as the fuel source for smoking it. Open-pit cooking, developed and passed down by pitmasters over more than a century, was the method. And a variety of vinegary sauces, based in mustard or tomato or mayonnaise, offered the foundation for ferocious arguments that serve as their own rewards.

Those open pits transformed over time into indoor brick pits. These are not the brick pits of Texas with a fire at one side and a chimney at the other end. These pits are essentially brick chimneys—broad-based and smoke stained—interrupted by a cooking grate. As Van Sykes of Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q (1957) explains, “That’s the difference between a pit and a smoker, when you see that masonry chimney coming up.” They are the symbol and the signature of barbecue in Alabama, a state where, much like Texas, all-wood cooking is thankfully still revered and respected.

The most well-known smoked dish of Alabama is probably chicken with white sauce. Any concise list of geographical barbecue styles or sauce variations will likely single out the white sauce, but boiling down an entire state’s contribution to barbecue to this signature item is kind of like believing Texas barbecue is smoked meat on butcher paper from a Central Texas meat market. It’s just a thumbnail sketch. Like Texas, Alabama is a big state with lots of variation from one end to the other. For some perspective, a drive from Bridgeport, Alabama, in the northeast corner of the state, down to Mobile Bay would take as long as the trek from Austin to Pecos, Texas.

Of course, the white sauce stands out for a reason. Its long history dates back to 1925 when Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q opened in Decatur, a town in northern Alabama. And for most of its life, this concoction of vinegar and mayonnaise stayed in northern Alabama. Sykes said, “Once Chris Lilly bottled Big Bob’s white sauce, everybody started coming in asking for it.” That was in 1994. Think of white sauce in terms of the beef short rib in Texas. Most of the older barbecue joints never offered it, but all of the new ones opening up feel like they need to include it on their menu. But then, it’s hard to argue against it after a bite of chicken at Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q (1984) where the skin shatters like a potato chip, even after a healthy dose of their white sauce.

Although you can now find white sauce at restaurants all around the state, it is not ubiquitous. The older generation of restaurants like Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q (1957), Demetri’s BBQ (1961), and Golden Rule BBQ (1891) in the Birmingham area don’t offer it at all, and instead opt for a vinegar spiked tomato-based sauce. “People ask me why I don’t have a white sauce or a vinegar. It’s because I’m traditional, and I’m staying true to the tradition that we helped establish,” explained Demetri’s owner Sam Nakos in Q: Alabama Barbecue Legends. “It’s a tomato based sauce in Birmingham.” Van Sykes echoes the sentiment when discussing his thoughts on Alabama barbecue. “The thing that defines it for me is hickory, pork (always), and a tomato-based sauce.”

Another hallmark of Alabama-style barbecue is using a live hickory fire directly under the meat. If a joint is working with a brick pit, chances are that they’re cooking with direct heat. They don’t burn the wood down to coals before adding it to the pit like they do in the Texas Hill Country. They just throw another log into the fire below the cooking grate. Instead of smoking for six or eight hours, a big rack of spare ribs in Alabama might get done in 45 minutes. Willie Gardner at the original Dreamland Bar-B-Que (1958) in Tuscaloosa says his target is about an hour. They open at 10:00, so he gets the ribs on at 9:00. During the lunch rush he admits that he’ll stoke the fire and the ribs might come off in thirty or forty minutes. I’d suggest not fighting the crowds or potentially tough meat, and get there early for the pleasantly chewy ribs with salty, crunchy edges.

Given there’s a hot fire with lots of fatty meat dripping down on it, Alabama barbecue requires lots of attention. There are water hoses to tamp down the fire, but there’s still plenty of flipping involved when cooking the meat. Van Sykes noted that “A good pit man won’t use a lot of water. You can move heat, or you can move meat. It’s a lot easier to move heat.” He should know since he was wearing a brace during the filming of Q because of tendonitis from working that barbecue fork. “The pigs got even with me,” he joked. John Bishop Sr., now deceased, who founded Dreamland told John Egerton, author of Southern Food, that “On busy weekends, I get calluses from forking up so many of these ribs off the pit.”

Until recently, Dreamland held fast to their limited menu that included only ribs. At the original location, they’ve since added sausage, a few sides, and banana pudding, which can hardly be seen as capitulating to the non-denominational barbecue movement. Several months ago when I visited, the server didn’t ask for our order. She simply said, “Y’all want a slab?” Of course we did, but we couldn’t resist the banana pudding either.

The ribs are just as famous at Archibald’s Bar-B-Q (1961) in Northport. It borders Tuscaloosa to the north, so the rivalry between Archibald’s and Dreamland goes back decades. I liked them both, but the long, slender ribs at Archibald’s provide a little less tug and a bit more sizzle to meat ratio. The sauce is also thinner and more acidic so the coating on the ribs is more like that from an airbrush artist than one using a brush. Don’t expect chicken or white sauce at either of these Tuscaloosa-area joints, and don’t ask for pulled pork.

“A lot of people talk about pulled pork. I’m not sure what that is. We’ve been doing this a long time before they ever started talking about pulled pork.” These couple of lines from Dale Pettit of Top Hat Barbecue in Blount Springs on the Q film let you know that the ultra-tender pork shoulders you’ll find in competition barbecue aren’t the aim, nor are they a real possibility coming out of a direct heat pit. Van Sykes who cooks pork picnics (the cut just below the shoulder) described to me the pork ordering options at his restaurant: “It’s inside sliced, outside sliced, inside chopped, outside chopped, or mixed chopped.” There is no pulled option. That is saved for those joints that have gone over to low and slow gas rotisseries for their shoulders like Big Bob Gibson and Saw’s BBQ. Big Bob’s still uses an all wood smoker for their famous chicken.

The menus at Saw’s and Big Bob’s are also a lot broader, probably because they have greater flexibility in cooking thanks to modern smokers. Van Sykes has beef on the menu, but he doesn’t pretend that it’s smoked. “Cows are for Westerns and pigs are for barbecue…my beef is cooked in a pot with barbecue sauce on it. My fire is too hot to cook with beef.”

Of course, if you’ve enjoyed Alabama barbecue outside the state by way of the chains like Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que (started in Colorado by Alabama natives in 2001) and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q (1985) you’ve seen the huge menus that include cuts from every region in the south, including brisket, smoked turkey, and of course chicken with white sauce and pulled pork. You also won’t find a brick pit inside any of their locations.

I spent much of last Friday driving around Birmingham while noting all of the active brick chimneys outside of joints I’d never heard of like Carlile’s Barbeque, and M&M Bar-B-Q. I noticed a familiar name on the side of the original Full Moon Bar-B-Que, and I was anxious to try them on Saturday. It wasn’t until late that afternoon that I realized much of Birmingham barbecue is meant to be enjoyed for weekday lunches.  Every one of them that I’d noted on that drive were closed on the weekends. At least it gives me a good reason to come back, and all I’ve got to do is keep an eye out for the smoking chimneys.

To read this entire article, go to:


History of Alabama barbecue closely linked to politics, civil rights

 By The Associated Press, March 8

At various times in Alabama, barbecue has served as a social event bringing together rural communities, a political tool, civil rights backdrop and an avenue for entrepreneurship.

“What I found really interesting was, over the course of the state’s history, barbecue has really served as an occasion and a vehicle to bring people together who don’t always spend a lot of time together,” said Josh Rothman, professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Alabama.

The history of the cooking style is the subject of an essay by UA graduate student Mark Johnson, which was edited by Rothman and published as part of the state tourism department’s Year of Alabama Barbecue campaign, which began recently and highlights Alabama’s tradition and eateries.

“Pork Ribs and Politics: The origins of Alabama barbecue” was published as a multimedia website presentation by the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Mississippi that documents and celebrates the food cultures of the South. The nonprofit and the state funded the essay on the history of barbecue and a second essay on Alabama’s foodways with an $18,000 grant.

The second, due out sometime in the spring, addresses a broader topic of foodways — how the state’s regional cuisine developed — and was written by graduate student Dana Alsen. The Southern Foodways Alliance is in the process of developing a Web module for the second essay, said Rothman, director of the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South.

Johnson’s essay offers an overview of Alabama barbecue’s colonial beginnings, roles in race and class relations, the emergence of social clubs and the rise of barbecue restaurants in the 20th century.

The essay was a new foray for Rothman and Johnson, both of whom said the research was just the beginning of work on the history of barbecue in the state.

“I hope people read this and think, ‘Oh, he forgot this restaurant, and that would have changed the whole story …’ ” Johnson said. “I hope it has legs, but I don’t know if I am the one who carries it.”

Barbecue’s link to politics was unsurprising for Rothman and Johnson.

Johnson’s dissertation is on political ritual.

“I knew from my own work here at the university that barbecue was pretty common,” Johnson said.

But the public events that attracted candidates and voters did offer interesting snapshots of their time’s political currents.

“I got to think about power and community development. What surprised me was barbecue was sort of powerful, and the people who owned it hosted these things,” Johnson said. “You could use that to track the power relationships in wider society.”

Barbecue was a fixture of politics in antebellum Alabama and during Reconstruction.

Johnson features roughly a dozen of the state’s most famous eateries of the 20th century, including Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Archibald’s BBQ in Northport, as he examines the rise of the barbecue restaurants that sprang up in neighborhoods and along the state’s roadways.

“What was interesting about the barbecue is it goes along with the development of the highway system and becomes a vehicle of entrepreneurship,” Rothman said.

Black-owned barbecue restaurants also offered a measure of economic independence in Jim Crow Alabama, Johnson argues in the essay.

The history of the state’s barbecue is also characterized by the juxtaposition of the competition and conviviality, from the political currents of the 19th century community barbecues to the modern debates over who plates the best meat and sauce.

“They come here to win,” Johnson said of the modern barbecue competitions. “But the whole time they are having beers with one another. It’s the same thing with the restaurants. They are competitive with the profits but also host each other and eat each other’s food. They are always talking methods and recipes, and the clubs are the same way.”

For Woodrow Washington III, owner of Archibald’s BBQ in Northport, barbecue is part of a family legacy. His grandparents founded the famous eatery on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and his mother and uncle ran it after their parents.

Barbecue is synonymous with celebration and community for Washington.

“I’m speaking of it as part of the third generation, watching my grandparents run a business that just made a lot of folks happy,” Washington said.

He said people come to Archibald’s to celebrate holidays, birthdays, athletic events and other occasions.

“You see them happy coming here. For us to be a part of people’s lives often is one of the special things,” Washington said.

To read this online, go to:

15th annual Alabama Tourism Bash

Enjoy a Taste of Tourism at the 15th annual Alabama Tourism Bash Tuesday, April 15 from 5 – 8 p.m. at the RSA Activity Center. The annual event is one of the most popular events of the legislative session. Make plans to join hospitality professionals from around the state to inform elected officials about the economic impact of the Alabama Tourism Industry.

The event offers the opportunity to network face to face with the men and women who make decisions that impact tourism statewide. All industry partners are encouraged to invite board members, city and county officials as well as fellow industry partners to attend this “can’t miss” annual event.

The RSA Activity Center at 101 Dexter Avenue, in Montgomery is the location for this event.  The Bash showcases the best Alabama has to offer from all facets of the industry with numerous restaurants and beverage providers. For tickets and more information contact Patti Culp at 334-271-0050 or

Numerous sponsors and event supporters make the annual Bash possible.

2015 sponsors to date are:
Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, Alabama Travel Council, Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau, Black Belt Tourism Alliance, CAHABA, Chamber of Bayou La Batre, Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce, Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, DeKalb Tourism, Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Dothan Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce, Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, Greater Gadsden Area Tourism, Gulf Shores-Orange Beach Tourism and GUMBO, Huntsville-Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Luckie & Company, Marshall County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau, South Mobile County Tourism Authority, Town of Dauphin Island, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission and Wind Creek Hospitality.

2015 Five Star Partners are:
Alabama BBQ Association, Alabama Wholesale Beer Association, Ariccia/The Hotel at Auburn University, Central – Downtown Montgomery, Cotton Row Restaurant, DeSoto Caverns and Family Fun Park, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Perdido Beach Resort, PCI Gaming/Wind Creek Wetumpka, Royal Cup Coffee, The House/Renaissance Hotel Montgomery and U.S. Foods.

Members of the Alabama Wine Trail are:
Hodges Vineyards, Maraella Winery & Vineyards, Morgan Creek Vineyards, Perdido Vineyards and Vizzini Farms Winery.

Alabama Brewers Guild:
Railyard Brewers.

Swamp Thing video celebrates generations of Muscle Shoals music

A recently released video celebrating generations of Muscle Shoals music features the youngest artist who has ever been signed to a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Nashville. Jackson Nance, a 15-year-old singer/songwriter from Leiper’s Fork, TN, recorded It’s A Swamp Thing at The NuttHouse recording studio in Sheffield.  The video is being shared on social media this week.

Nance along with his friends Rob Robinson and Eddie Wilson wrote the song as a tribute to their music heroes, the Muscle Shoals Swampers who have played on hundreds of hit recordings. The Swampers rhythm section comprises guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood, drummer Roger Hawkins and keyboardist, the late Barry Beckett.  It’s A Swamp Thing includes numerous references to artists and hit songs associated with the Muscle Shoals music industry.

“These guys are my heroes,” said Nance, who has been singing since he was 8 and began playing guitar and writing songs when he was 12.  The session, produced by Jimmy Johnson and engineered by Jimmy Nutt, featured Hood, Johnson, Reggie Young, Chad Cromwell and Robinson.  It was recorded at The NuttHouse in Sheffield in early February.

State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said the state supported the videotaping because the project generated a unique tool to use for marketing Alabama both regionally and internationally.  Sentell said the critically-acclaimed Muscle Shoals documentary has broadened the horizon for music tourism opportunities.

Wes Wages was the videographer for the project and the session was spearheaded by Debbie Wilson, former director of Florence/Lauderdale Tourism who recently joined Sentell’s staff in Montgomery.

The video project was also supported by the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Office.

The song is available on iTunes and the link to the video is:

For more information contact: Debbie Wilson, Alabama Tourism Department, 401 Adams Avenue, Suite 126, Montgomery, AL 36103-4927, 334-353-4516 or

Successful ITB

More than two dozen meetings with top tour operators and journalists were held by the Alabama Tourism Department over a three day period last week at ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin).  Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department and Della Tully, the department’s In-Market Representative, held the meetings in the Alabama booth at ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair.

Several events helped raise the awareness of Alabama during the ITB show.

  • The movie Selma was showing in cinemas in Berlin.
  • Announced in print at the show was an update on the 2015 UK Travel Agents MegaFam trip to the United States, in which Alabama is participating.
  • Thousands of the German language version of the Discover America guide were available on the ITB marketplace floor.  Alabama’s full-page section included information on our beaches, music and food. Readers were prompted to go to for more information that included RTJ Golf, Civil Rights, Talladega Superspeedway, U.S. Space Camp, Moundville, Whitewater, Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Gee’s Bend, and Muscle Shoals.

Golf, Space Camp, education travel and increasing Alabama product were the main topics discussed during the meetings held by Brennan and Tully in the Alabama booth at ITB.

In addition to the travel trade and press meetings, ITB includes several consumer days in which Alabama tourism information in both English and German are available to the thousands of consumers who attend.

For more information on Alabama’s effort to attract international visitors to our state, contact

UK 50+ publication journalist vacations and tours Alabama

Rowena Cooper, senior travel writer for United Kingdom based Mature Times took time off from her busy schedule to vacation in Gulf Shores and then continue her trip to Mobile for research this month.  Cooper spent the day in Mobile on March 11, visiting many of the city’s sites with the help of Mobile Bay CVB staff member Tara Henley.

Mature Times is the only UK national newspaper targeted to the 50+ age group and has a readership estimated at 500,000.  The publication has been in print for more than 20 years and now includes a popular website.

Cooper met with Alabama Tourism Department’s UK representative Della Tully at the World Travel Market tourism event last November before planning her trip.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s efforts in the United Kingdom, contact or


Rebranding Mobile: National experts stress power of cooperation, engagement, storytelling in Tourism Town Hall

By Kelli Dugan,, Feb. 27

Build it, and they will come?

That 20th-century development and promotion mantra has outlived its usefulness and ultimately leaves communities looking to market their amenities hamstrung by a two-dimensional approach that fails to engage a 21st-century audience.

In turn, the six-member power panel assembled Friday for the first-of-its-kind Tourism Town Hall in Mobile offered a more evolved approach.

Go ahead and build it, but fall in love with it.

Then, market it so that others follow suit, and reap the rewards.

“You have to look at the product you already have…repurpose the infrastructure that isn’t being used and get creative,” Paul Van Deventer, president and chief executive officer, of Meeting Professionals International, told a crowd of more than 200 gathered for the public forum at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center.

The town hall, convened by the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau to educate the public at large about the true value of tourism, offered a variety of insights from the industry’s leading experts, all of whom agreed that community buy-in is the first and most critical step in building and marketing a successful destination-city brand.

David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events as well as the town hall’s facilitator, said he personally found his two-day stint in Mobile “rewarding and eye-opening,”

The city, its leadership and its residents have to create, sell and market a cohesive brand that tells Mobile’s story, however, in order to attract and drive traffic that, in turn, fills more hotel rooms, restaurant seats and hospitality jobs.

Meanwhile, John Graham, president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives, noted the tourism industry might technically be larger than the automotive industry in the United States, yet look at how successful car companies are at selling consumers on “the experience.”

Of Mobile’s amenities, culture and history, Graham said, “In many respects, it’s a secret. You need to tell your story far and wide.”

And while Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association, said identifying what sets Mobile apart and then presenting it in a unique way will be key, he cautioned the stakeholders involved to remember the power of partnerships to maximize both funding and exposure.

Pantuso pointed specifically to Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail as a model for successful partnership
opportunities that cross imaginary jurisdictions invisible to the tourist’s eye.

“Travelers don’t see political boundaries or state lines,” Pantuso said.

Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Mobile Bay CVB, said the issue of boosting Mobile’s attractiveness to the world starts at home; however, and that means tapping into and capitalizing upon the city’s homegrown ambassadors.

“Mobilians have passion. Mobilians love their city,” Hutchinson said, adding, “As a community, we have tell our story and package our assets to sell us as a coastal destination.”

“It’s about all of us in here. We’ve got to be so connected. It’s got to be in our DNA. It’s got to be at our core,” he said. “We know there’s some apathy in Mobile. People don’t understand tourism…We have to engage everyone in this room. Everybody has to get excited about Mobile. We have to get local excitement, and we have to get that local buy-in.”

That work, however, has only just begun, said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

“We have to have a more consistent and concise branding of what Mobile is…, but we have a lot to sell because of our history and our culture,” Stimpson said, imploring the community to become an active, vocal player in the process.

“This is about economic development. It’s about creating jobs, about creating an atmosphere people” want to enjoy with their families, he said.

To read this article online, go to:


Visitor Center at Mercedes’ Alabama plant gets $3 million makeover

By Dawn Kent Azok,, March 6

Mercedes-Benz has redesigned the Visitor Center at its Tuscaloosa County auto plant, a $3 million project that’s playing a pivotal role in a new company training program.

The facility’s sleek new look, unveiled last month, came about in partnership with the German automaker’s U.S. sales and marketing arm, which footed the majority of the bill and is now using the center as a “base camp” for the Mercedes-Benz Brand Immersion Experience.

That $30 million initiative is designed to connect dealership employees from across the globe with the Mercedes-Benz brand. Each week, it brings about 150 people to Alabama to tour the plant, participate in workshops and test drive vehicles.

The redesign of the Visitor Center, which began last spring, takes guests on a journey of the automaker’s 128-year history, including its two decades in Alabama. See the photos.

An array of vehicles is featured, from vintage models to Mercedes’ worldwide sales leaders.

Along with the renovations, there are plans to add either full-time or part-time workers to the current four-member staff, said Felyicia Jerald, a spokeswoman for the Alabama plant.

The Alabama plant will maintain the facility; no state or local incentives were involved in the project.

The Visitor Center has now reopened to the public after closing last spring for renovations. Since it opened in 1997, it has hosted more than 300,000 people from around the world.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Public plant tours also have resumed, and reservations can be made by calling 1-888-286-8762.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes-Benz Brand Immersion Experience is expected to host 80 sessions a year, bringing more than 20,000 visitors to the Birmingham area over the next four years.

“The decision to host our Brand Immersion Experience in Alabama was a natural one,” Steve Cannon, president and CEO of the sales and marketing arm, Mercedes-Benz USA, said in a statement. “There is no better place to showcase the heart and soul of Mercedes-Benz USA than where our vehicles come to life.”

To read this article online, go to:

New Trailhead for the Southern End of the Pinhoti
Ribbon cutting on March 22

Work is now complete on the southern terminus of the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail located in the Forever Wild Land Trust Weogufka State Forest Addition in Coosa County. The new construction includes a 5.3-mile section of trail, a previous road-walk that was rerouted through the forest, and a trailhead located at the base of Flagg Mountain, the southernmost Appalachian peak rising more than 1,000 feet.

This southern terminus is part of a trail system that includes both the Pinhoti and Appalachian Trail and extends more than 2,500 miles north to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

The public is invited to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Pinhoti trailhead on March 22, 2015, at 9 a.m. Following the ceremony, the Alabama Hiking Trail Society (AHTS) will host a guided hike of the new Pinhoti section. The trailhead is located at 32.9781° N, 86.3547° W.

Directions to the new Pinhoti southern terminus trailhead:

From Weogufka, drive west on County Road 56.  Pass through Unity, Ala., and turn left onto County Road 55. Turn left again at the next dirt road (known as the old CCC Road, unmarked). Take this dirt road to the top of Flagg Mountain. Continue on this road for approximately 1 mile. The trailhead and pavilion will be on the left.

Driving north of Weogufka, Ala., on County Road 29, take a right onto County Road 16 and cross a concrete single-lane bridge. Continue on County Road 16. Take the first right onto the dirt road after the final house (CCC Road, unmarked).  Look for yellow trail blazes on the telephone poles. The new trailhead and pavilion will be on the right before reaching the top of Flagg Mountain.

Funding and support for the land acquisition and trailhead project were provided by The Conservation Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, the Hugh Kaul Foundation, Alabama Forest Resource Center, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Alabama State Lands Division and the Forever Wild Land Trust. Volunteers from AHTS built the new section of trail and will maintain the trail in the future.

For information about the ribbon cutting ceremony, contact Doug Deaton, State Lands Natural Resources Planner, at 334-328-2141, or by email at The AHTS guided hike of the Pinhoti is being offered as part of the group’s annual conference being held on March 20-22 at Poplar Point Camp and Conference Center in Rockford, Ala. To learn more about the AHTS including how to volunteer, visit

Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust continues to expand the number of recreational areas available to the public so that present and future generations can enjoy quality-of-life opportunities in the outdoors such as the trailhead at the southern terminus of the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail. For a complete list of Forever Wild tracts with recreational opportunities including hunting, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing and more, visit

For nearly 30 years, The Conservation Fund has been saving special places across America. From city parks to historic battlefields and various other wild areas, the fund has helped protect more than 7 million acres of land and water in all 50 states. The Conservation Fund has also been instrumental in securing land along the 330-mile long Pinhoti Trail corridor in Alabama and Georgia. For more information about The Conservation Fund, visit

TV One’s premiere of the 46th NAACP Image Awards drives weekend of history-making ratings
By Amanda Kondolojy,, Feb. 12

This is a small film that was filmed (in its entirety) last summer in Opelika. TV One is thrilled with their Feb/Black History month numbers which included the premiere of “Whitewater.”  Kathy Faulk, Alabama Film Office director

TV One recently announced that the network launched Black History Month with a strong slate of successful original programming yielding record-breaking ratings growth by posting a combined reach of 6.1 Million Total Viewers. The history-making weekend was led by the Fri., Feb. 6 broadcast of the 46th NAACP Image Awards Red Carpet Live Pre-Show and Awards Show, as well as a sneak peek airing of the upcoming original series Born Again Virgin.  The Sat., Feb. 7 premiere of the original film White Water capped off the successful triple-premiere weekend.

White Water is the Most Watched TV One Original Movie premiere of All Time among Total Viewers 2+ (494K).  White Water is also the #2 Most Watched TV One Telecast so far this year among Total Viewers 2+ (494K), only behind #1 NAACP Image Awards.

To read online, go to:

Tuscaloosa’s Embassy Suites opened this week, already sold out for every Alabama football weekend

By Ben George,, March 4

Tuscaloosa’s first Embassy Suites opened the doors to its eight floor, 154-suite hotel this week, giving visitors a full-service destination right in the heart of downtown.

The $31-million hotel boasts all of the top amenities, such as WiFi, 42-inch flat screen TVs, indoor pool, and a 24-hour gym. Guests can even enjoy a rooftop bar or eat at the on-site restaurant, Side by Side, which is run by James Beard Award winner Chris Hastings and his team.

“Tuscaloosa hasn’t seen a full-service, premium hotel like ours,” the hotel’s general manager Jon Crisp said in a statement. “Whether traveling on business, for a big game at University of Alabama or to tour local attractions, guests will appreciate the fantastic amenities and culinary offerings at Embassy Suites Tuscaloosa Downtown.”

Unfortunately, if you haven’t already booked your room for any of the seven Alabama football home contests, you’ll have to wait until next year to enjoy a game weekend at Embassy Suites. You read that correctly. I tried booking a Friday-Sunday room on the same week the hotel opened – six months before the season – and got a ‘sold out’ message every time.

To read this article online, go to: Embassy Suites Sold Out for Every Alabama Football Weekend |

Alabama Black Belt Tourism Marketing Workshop

Join travel marketing expert Judy Randall from Randall Travel Marketing for a workshop customized for Alabama’s Black Belt.   You will learn the existing research on the region to help you identify your most likely potential tourists, as well as the best practices in tourism marketing.   Please bring your current tourism brochures for an instant one-on-one review and recommendations for improvement.

The Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area and Alabama Black Belt Adventures are hosting three Market Research workshops to share market research specific to the Black Belt region.  It will help you identify who the current and potential visitors are and how to enhance outreach to this target audience.

Workshop topics include: Who is your best potential visitor…and how do you reach them?; Best messages to motivate new and repeat visitors to visit your destination; Creative Marketing without the Dollars.

Dates for the workshops are; Wed., March 11, Selma/Dallas County Library, Selma; Thur., March 12, Cambrian Ridge RTJ Golf Course, Greenville.

The $15 registration fee includes a workbook and lunch.

To register, please e-mail or call 205-652-3828.

Bellingrath Gardens & Home announces new director of marketing and public relations

Bellingrath Gardens and Home is pleased to announce that Sally Pearsall Ericson has joined the staff as the Director of Marketing and Public Relations.  She will be responsible for media relations and communications about the various events held at Bellingrath throughout the year. Her duties will include promoting and enhancing the stature of Bellingrath Gardens and Home as a top tourist destination on the Gulf Coast.

A Mobile native, Ericson graduated from Murphy High School and from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and English. Her college career included serving as copy desk chief at The Daily Tar Heel, the school newspaper. She is a longtime journalist and has edited stories and designed pages for newspapers in the Carolinas and on the Gulf Coast during a 26-year career. Most recently, she was a reporter for the Mobile Press-Register and Alabama Media Group.

Ericson enjoys attending arts and entertainment events in Mobile, and serves on the board of directors of the Joe Jefferson Playhouse. She is a member of Government Street Presbyterian Church, where she coordinates the speakers for the fall and winter GSPC Forum lunch series.  She is excited to join the team at Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

USA TODAY’s Readers’ Choice Contest

The current leaders on 10Best and USA TODAY’s Readers’ Choice Contest for Best Coastal Small Town are:

  1. Saugatuck, Mich.
  2. Ogunquit, Maine
  3. Gulf Shores, Ala.

There’s still time to rock the vote or secure your nominee’s top spot by sending voters to  They can vote once a day, and voting is open until Mon., March 16 at 10:59 a.m.

You can also follow live voting action at #10BestChoice on Twitter, where our account is @10Best.   You’ll find us on Facebook at and on Pinterest at

Alabama Barbecue

The Alabama Tourism Department is conducting a search for barbecue restaurants around the state.  Please assist us by sending in the names and contact information of locally owned barbecue restaurants in your area.  Send the information to

Alabama Makers

Alabama is home to a vast number of talented and creative people who produce a wide variety of items including, but not limited to, woodwork, paintings, ceramics, fabrics and a lot of food.

The Alabama Tourism Department is looking for information about all these people and their products.  We want the home-grown cottage industries as opposed to industrial giants.

Please send information about people and their products, including contact information, to Peggy Collins, or call 334-242-4545.

Attention CVBs and attractions: ATD needs pictures by May 29

The Alabama Tourism Department will soon be working on a photo book.  We need really great high res images from you.  They need to be a minimum of 4” X 6” at 300 dpi, but bigger is better.  The deadline for getting these in is May 29.

The images we look for are those that are colorful, show people having a lot of fun and could only have been taken in one place.  The graphics team will be at the Tourism Workshops to give detailed information about the photography we need.

For information on the best way to send your images, please contact Peggy Collins,  or 334-242-4545.

Learn how to work with the Alabama Tourism Department

The Alabama Tourism Department will host a Tourism Workshop on Tue., April 21 in Birmingham and Wed., April 22 in Montgomery.  These workshops are for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area.

Many of ATD’s staff members will be in attendance at these workshops and you will have an opportunity for one-on-one time with each of them.  Among others Leigh Cross will be there to answer your questions about matching grants and Debbie Wilson can tell you how to take advantage of ATD’s eight Welcome Centers.

Rosemary Judkins, Group Tour Manager and Tourism Workshops Coordinator said, “People are extremely impressed with the value of the workshops and the fact that their expectations are so far exceeded.”  Come and learn about the many programs and services the Alabama Tourism Department offers.

On Tue., April 21 the workshop will be held at the Vulcan Park and Museum, 1701 Valley View Drive, Birmingham and on Wed., April 22 the workshop will be at the Alabama Center for Commerce Building, 401 Adams Avenue.  Times for both days will be 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.  There is no registration fee.

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

Mar 13 – 15               Milwaukee Golf Show – Milwaukee, WI
Mar 13 – 15               Memphis Southern Women’s Show – Memphis, TN
Mar 22 – 25               Travel South Showcase – Shreveport, LA
Apr 14                        Alabama Tourism Bash – Montgomery, AL
Apr 15                        Alabama Tourism Advisory Board Meeting & Update, Montgomery, AL
Apr 21 & 22               Alabama Tourism Department Workshop – Birmingham/Montgomery
Apr 22 – 24                WTM Latin America (Trade) – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Apr 30 – May 3          Nashville Southern Women’s Show – Nashville, TN


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