Tourism Tuesdays March 3, 2015

  • Alabama Tourism launches The Year of Alabama Barbecue
  • Canadian outdoor adventure show a success
  • World’s largest tourism trade fair underway in Berlin
  • Lectern goes from basement to a starring role in “Selma”
  • Wade joins Patti LaBelle to perform March 7 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March
  • Montgomery mural depicting voting rights march completed
  • The 10th Bassmaster Elite Series Season to showcase world-class fisheries
  • Alabama’s beach tourism year sees record number of sporting events fuel $30M in visitor spending
  • Gulf Shores in the running for USA Today’s best coastal small town
  • U.S. Gulf State Geotourism project continues
  • Maritime objects to go on display at GulfQuest
  • Alabama Barbecue
  • Alabama Black Belt Tourism Marketing Workshop
  • Update – Alabama Tourism Department Workshop
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Alabama Tourism launches The Year of Alabama Barbecue
The Year of Alabama Barbecue announcement was covered by the Associated Press, The New York Times, ABC News and media across the state.

The Year of Alabama Barbecue: State tourism agency launches 2015 campaign
By Bob Carlton,, Feb. 26

The Alabama Tourism Department has celebrated the state’s musical heritage, its great restaurants and chefs, and its charming small towns.

Now, it’s time to salute the ‘cue.

The year-long campaign will include a Year of Alabama Barbecue website and  smart-phone app, a traveling photo exhibit featuring legendary Alabama pitmasters, a documentary film that chronicles the history of Alabama barbecue, and the announcement of the first inductees into the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame.

“What we are doing with the Year of Alabama Barbecue is celebrating our barbecue heritage and making our state a destination for barbecue lovers across the country,” Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell said today.
Previous state tourism campaigns have included the Year of Alabama Music, the Year of Alabama Small Towns and Downtowns and two Year of Alabama Food promotions.

“After we did food twice, it became obvious to us that the overriding favorite type of food in the state for an evening out is barbecue,” Sentell told “There are other dishes that are indigenous to the South — namely, fried chicken and catfish and seafood — but there is a mystique about the different ways that barbecue can be prepared and seasoned and served.”

The Year of Alabama Barbecue website,, is expected to go live sometime today. It will include links to some of the state’s best places for ribs, pulled pork and chicken, as well as a barbecue-themed road trip and a calendar listing of the top barbecue festivals around the state.

The “Alabama BBQ Trail” smart phone app features the history and favorite dishes of more than 75 barbecue restaurants in 52 cities across the state. The app also includes an alert that notifies users when they are within 20 miles of one of their chosen barbecue spots.

The app is based on the book “Alabama Barbecue: Delicious Road Trips,” which was released last fall and is available at Books-A-Million stores and online at

The first inductees of the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame will be announced on May 18 in Birmingham.
“The restaurants being inducted into the hall of fame have all been open for at least 50 years and include some of the most recognized names in barbecue,” Sentell said.

The “Masters of Alabama BBQ” photo exhibit will focus on 26 popular Alabama barbecue chefs and their favorite dishes. It will tour top barbecue festivals across the nation, beginning with the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest this spring.

Accompanying the photo exhibit will be a new, 57-minute documentary film titled “Q — Alabama Barbecue Legends,” featuring interviews with barbecue giants like John Bishop, Jr. from Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Don McLemore and Chris Lilly from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Nick Pihakis from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and Van Sykes from Bob Sykes BarB-Q.

The tourism department will promote the campaign with the Year of Alabama Barbecue TV spots in about 40 Raycom Media television stations in Alabama and other markets across the U.S., Sentell said.

“We are using a number of different ways to spread the message about barbecue,” he said. “The sole purpose is to encourage Alabamians and tourists alike to sample the different types of barbecue throughout the state.”

Some of the cities and restaurants that will be featured during the Year of Alabama Barbecue campaign include:

Albertville, Wilsons’s; Anniston, Betty’s; Argo, Southland; Athens, Lawlers; Auburn, Byron’s Smokehouse, Price’s Barbecue; Bessemer, Bob Sykes BarB-Q; Billingsley, Jim’s Highway 82 BBQ; Birmingham, Full Moon Bar-B-Que, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Rib-It-Up; Blount Springs, Top Hat; Calera, Fred’s Small Time, Tin Top; Clay, Barbecue Stop; Cullman, Johnny’s; Decatur, Big Bob Gibson, Smokey C’s; Dora, Leo & Susie’s Famous Green Top; Dothan, Dobb’s, Smokey Joe’s, The BBQ Shack, Tib A Dor’s Station; Elba, Ranch House; Enterprise, Big Daddy’s; Eufaula, Phil’s; Fayette, Sam’s Smokehouse; Florence, Bunyan’s, Dick Howell’s, Singleton’s, Smokin’ on the Boulevard; Foley, Down South; Gadsden, Pruett’s; Georgiana, Kendall’s; Greenville, Real Pit; Gulf Shores, Hog Wild; Hartselle, Pig Stand; Heflin, Marie’s; Hollywood, Mud Creek; Homewood, Demetri’s BBQ, Saw’s BBQ;

Huntsville, Gibson’s, Granville’s Gourmet, Little Paul’s; Irondale, Golden Rule; Leeds, Rusty’s BBQ; Leesburg, Tim’s Walk Hard; Lincoln, R&B; Madison, Chuck Wagon, The “Old” Greenbrier Restaurant; Midland City, Webb’s 231; Mobile, Cotton State, McMillan, Dick Russell’s, Saucy Q, The Brick Pit; Montgomery, Brenda’s, Sam’s; Moody, Bluegrass; Muscle Shoals, Brooks Barbecue; New Market, New Market BBQ; Northport, Archibald’s B.B.Q.; Opelika, Chuck’s; Owens Cross Roads, Big Cove; Pell City, Butts to Go; Prattville, Fat Boy’s Bar-B-Que Ranch; Selma, Hancock’s, Lannie’s; Summerdale, L.A. Barbecue; Troy, Hook’s, Bar-B-Q House; Tuscaloosa, Archibald & Woodrow’s BBQ, Moe’s Original Bar B Que, Dreamland Bar-B-Que; Vestavia Hills, Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q; Wetumpka, Champs, Smokin’s.

To read this article online, go to:

Canadian outdoor adventure show a success
Attendance 27,500

Representatives from the Alabama Tourism Department and the Alabama Scenic River Trails Association returned home with far fewer boxes of material after talking with Canadians at the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto.

Grey Brennan of Alabama Tourism and Jim Felder of the Alabama Scenic River Trails attended the three-day consumer show focused on outdoor adventures that was held in Toronto, Canada, Feb. 20-22.   Attendance at the show was 27,500.

A majority of those stopping at the Alabama booth were interested in canoe and kayaking, which matched the research that showed 70% of those that attend are interested in paddle sports.  The Alabama Scenic River Trail brochure of top 10 paddle adventures and list of canoe/kayak outfitters were in high demand as where a brochure on the Bartram Canoe Trail. Also high on the interest level was information on Alabama camping, RV parks, cycling, hiking and scuba diving.

Printed material from the Alabama Tourism Department on the Gulf Coast beaches, mountains, cycling, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing and state parks was given out at the show.  The Alabama Vacation Guide and the state map were also available.  Visitors to the booth were also told about on scuba diving, whitewater adventures and ATV parks in our state.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s promotion of outdoors, contact

World’s largest tourism trade fair underway in Berlin

Representatives of the Alabama Tourism Department are attending the ITB in Berlin March 4-6.  The ITB Berlin (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin) is the world’s largest tourism trade fair. The companies represented at the fair include hotels, tourist boards, tour operators, system providers, airlines and car rental companies.

In the past about 7,000 journalists attended the ITB Berlin. In addition to the industry’s leading trade magazines, business and travel journalists from 94 countries report on the latest travel trends and products. 11,000 exhibitors from 180 countries welcomed 170,000 visitors to the travel trade fair.

Grey Brennan of the Alabama Tourism Department will be taking appointments with tour operators at the show.  Della Tully, in-marketing representative, will also attend.

This year, Alabama will be in a joint booth with the neighboring states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana in a booth marketed as Deep South USA.

In addition to the 5 southern states, the tourism department for the city of New Orleans will attend the show and be part of the booth.

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

Lectern goes from basement to a starring role in “Selma”
By Josh Moon, Montgomery Advertiser, March 1

There was a bit of chaos in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on the morning of March 25, 1965, William Gary recalls.

Gary was a 31-year-old school teacher and coach back then and had somehow managed to slip out of school without the bosses realizing it. “Don’t really remember how it happened, but I wasn’t docked a day of pay, I know that much,” Gary said with a chuckle.

Dexter Avenue Baptist was Gary’s church, and it was the church of choice for the majority of black school teachers and businessmen and attorneys in those days. It was the church where Martin Luther King Jr. got his start as a young pastor with a rare gift to move people. And it was the church where King and other icons of the time started a movement with the boycott of city buses.

So, when the 25,000-plus marchers who had left Selma four days earlier on a “Freedom March” came strolling through the center of Montgomery, right down Dexter Avenue and to the state Capitol, King’s former church ended up serving as a makeshift command post and supply store.

“We had marchers sleeping at the church,” said Gary, who’s been a member at Dexter and actively involved in church activities since King was its pastor.

“Whatever they needed, if Dexter had it, they could use it,” Gary continued. “It was a real big day and there were a lot of things going on around there, I remember. But we had a lot of marches (at that time) and things weren’t all that planned well, usually. Not much organization, lot of last-minute stuff, you know.”

Some confusion should have been expected. This wasn’t, after all, a staged entertainment event. This was a mass of humanity moving through town in open defiance of the state government and the laws — at least the local ones — of the day. Whatever order and planning occurred was considered a bonus.

Which was why, on that morning, people were scrambling to set up a makeshift stage on the back of a flatbed truck at the foot of the state Capitol steps, where King, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy and others would lead the crowd in songs and give speeches. The bed of the truck had been spruced up as much as possible. Chairs had been brought in for the dignitaries. But there needed to be something for the speakers — a place to put their notes, like a lectern or small table.

They turned, of course, to Dexter Avenue Baptist. Gary isn’t sure of the exact sequence of things, but organizers of the final leg of the march came calling on the church and most likely encountered Willie McGee, a long-time church handyman and safeguard of church property.

“Nothing went out of that church without him knowing about it, you can count on that,” Gary said.

McGee wouldn’t have allowed the church’s main lectern — the one selected by King a few years before and in use in the main church pulpit — to be taken. So, they settled on another one that was in use in the church basement, most likely for Bible study classes, Gary said.

The dark brown wood lectern, with its green padded top, ornate wood carvings and intricate detail, was moved out to the center of the flatbed. Microphones were positioned around it, and with 25,000 people watching, Dr. King stood behind it and delivered one of his most memorable speeches.

Low-budget film

It’s June 2014, and in downtown Montgomery, it’s hot and a bit chaotic for a group of filmmakers working on the set of the movie “Selma.”

When you attach names like Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt to a film, people get the idea that its budget must rival that of “Titanic.” It doesn’t. In reality, “Selma” is a borderline low-budget film, especially for a period piece attempting to provide an accurate account of one of the most famous moments in time and one of the most famous men in American history.

With a smaller budget comes odd, sometimes strangely frustrating, decisions about issues that larger budget films might take for granted. For example, what to do when the lectern you’ve selected for your star to stand behind while giving the speech that closes the movie looks puny and underwhelming for such a big moment.

A larger budget film crew would simply have an exact replica built. However, Mark Friedberg, the production designer for “Selma,” doesn’t have that luxury. Friedberg, an Emmy winner who’s worked on large budget films, like “Spiderman” and “Noah,” was working with set decorator Elizabeth Keenan, in Atlanta trying to run down an appropriate replacement lectern at rental shops.

“None of the things we were finding really fit with the time period and for the event,” Friedberg said during a phone interview. “Nothing really looked like something Dr. King would use.”

Running out of options, and maybe affected by the heat, a strange idea came to Friedberg: “I knew the Dexter Avenue (King Memorial) Baptist Church was right there by the Capitol, so I thought maybe they could have something.”

That wasn’t the most ideal option for a couple of reasons. First, there had been no formal introductions between the movie crew and the Dexter Church leadership. Friedberg and another member of the crew were considering strolling into a church where they didn’t know a soul and ask to borrow furniture.

And second, the “Selma” movie wasn’t sanctioned by the King family, and for all Friedberg knew, the church where King got his start wouldn’t look too kindly on a couple of people working on an unsanctioned King movie.

“They couldn’t have been nicer,” Friedberg said. “I have to tell you, my entire experience in Montgomery and Alabama was just fantastic. It completely changed my perspective on the state. The folks at the church really started that. They went out of their way to help us.”

Current Dexter pastor, Rev. Cromwell Handy, and Earnest Vandiver, current church handyman and “all around gopher,” as he describes himself, met with Friedberg and the other crewman. They showed them around the church, talked through a little history and listened to the problem at hand.

“They wanted the lectern from the pulpit,” Vandiver said, with a sarcastic laugh. “That was a no-go there. Dr. King picked that one out himself. We can’t let that one out there.”

Vandiver is no newcomer to the Dexter Church. He started in the 1960s and says he basically grew up in the place. He’s a retired firefighter now and spends his time pitching in around the church — fixing what needs to be fixed, straightening up and generally taking care of some of the church’s more historical items.

As he walked around the church and the basement with the filmmakers, they spotted an old lectern, pushed off to the side, in the area where tours are given today.

“I remember him saying, ‘You know, that old lectern there might work OK for us,’ ” Vandiver said.  “he got on his phone and called somebody — I guess it was the director — and I could hear him telling whoever that he had found what they needed.”

The lectern that Vandiver was about to loan to the film crew was not one of the more historical items. It had been down in the basement for a while, but mostly used by the Bible classes, if at all, and had been beaten up over time. Kids had used markers and crayons to draw on the inside shelves, someone had taken a sharp object and scratched something into the side panel.

It was a long way from the pristine lectern used by King in 1965, but Friedberg thought he could make it work. Its green padded top and intricate carvings underneath the crayon and scratches gave it a certain stature that he liked.

Same lectern

It didn’t take Friedberg long, once he got the lectern out of the church, to realize what he had. Once he began comparing it to pictures from King’s speech in March of 1965, looking for differences and trying to determine what might be needed to make the piece as authentic as possible, the realization sent a tingle up his spine.

Somehow, a little more than 49 years after organizers setting up for one of the most memorable speeches in American history wandered into the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church looking for a lectern behind which King would deliver that speech, a film crew working on a movie about that day wandered into the same church looking for the same thing.

Quite by accident, the two had managed to leave carrying the same lectern.

“It was like divine intervention — truly,” Friedberg said. “We had that happen a lot on this movie, where things would just work out like that. It looked to me like it was the exact same lectern Dr. King used in those photos. Honestly, I just couldn’t believe it. I can barely believe it now saying it.”

Immediately, phone calls went out from Friedberg to “Selma” director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo, who portrays King in the movie. “They were shocked — none of us could believe it,” he said.

However, one person he didn’t phone was Vandiver, or anyone else at the Dexter Church, for that matter. “They never mentioned it was the original lectern and we weren’t going to bring it up,” Friedberg said, laughing. “We didn’t want to risk them not letting us use it.”

Instead, the filmmakers went out of their way to protect it. Each night after shooting, the lectern was wrapped completely in weatherproof material and a guard would sit beside it all night.

“I do remember thinking that they sure were going out of their way to make sure nothing happened to it,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver was skeptical that the lectern he loaned out that day was the one King used at the Capitol. But a couple of weeks ago, he compared photos from that day to the lectern, which had been returned to its spot in the basement. An odd piece of wood jutting out from the top right side of the lectern’s face — visible in a photo taken from over King’s right shoulder during the speech, was the tipping point.

Vandiver took a step back, rubbed his hand over the wood carving along the edge and smiled.

“I’ll be, that’s her,” he said. “I just can’t believe it. Look at it, just sitting on the concrete floor all these years. Kids drawn all over the inside of it. We sure didn’t know.”

How that came to be isn’t clear; at one time church leaders were aware. A number of older members and people who have taken tours at the church over the years recall hearing that “the podium in the basement” was the same one used by King for that speech.

“I suppose that somewhere along the way, that fact just got lost,” Rev. Handy said. “There are so many great, historical artifacts left behind by Dr. King and so many others. This one we were unaware of. But now that we know, we’ll take better care.”

That the history of the lectern was however momentarily lost has added to the mystique of “Selma,” a troubled film that went through numerous incarnations before DuVernay latched on and a string of good fortune and hard work took it to a best picture nomination at the Academy Awards. But the lectern itself didn’t necessarily aid the film’s star, Oyelowo.

“I think it added a little pressure for David,” Friedberg said. “It’s already slightly intimidating to take on this role. And now we add in this piece of history and literally have him standing where Dr. King stood 50 years ago. That’s not easy.”

If Oyelowo was intimidated, it didn’t show on the screen and he hasn’t complained. Early on in the film’s production, he said he felt God had called him to play the role of King long before he knew of the movie. After a number of odd and fortunate occurrences on the set, he was more convinced.

After the lectern incident, Oyelowo said, in a press conference, “When things like that start happening, you just have to think, ‘OK, something else is in charge here.’ It was unbelievable.”

After the filming ended, Dexter Church leaders, still unaware of the significance of the lectern, asked Oyelowo to sign his name to it. On the top shelf inside, just above his signature, he wrote, “It has been an absolute privilege to momentarily walk in Dr. King’s shoes.”

Before a couple of weeks ago, Handy and Vandiver said plans were being made to spruce up the lectern, add a better looking clear cover over Oyelowo’s signature and make the lectern part of the tours that come through. “We thought that would make it famous,” Vandiver said, shaking his head.

Now, there are other ideas in play. Vandiver spoke of creating an exhibit with the lectern, a light shining on it, pictures of King delivering his speech from behind it on that day in March 1965. Or maybe a cardboard cutout of King standing behind it.

“We didn’t know, but now that we do, we’ll do it right,” he says. “Who would’ve thought. …”

“It was like divine intervention – truly. We had that happen a lot on this movie, where things would just work out like that. It looked to me like it was the exact same lectern Dr. King used in those photos. Honestly, I just couldn’t believe it. I can barely believe it now saying it.”

To read the entire article, go to:

Wade joins Patti LaBelle to perform March 7 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March

Texas soul singer Luke Wade from Season 7 of NBC’s Emmy Award-winning music competition, “The Voice,” recently launched the first leg of his multi-city tour hitting some of his favorite spots in his home state and venturing out to new hotspots around the country.

He may not have won the trophy, but soul singer Luke Wade won the respect and praise of his celebrity mentors and fans on “The Voice,” and Wade says he is enjoying being on the road with his full band, No Civilians, and getting back to bringing his high-energy style of music to his fans across the country.

Luke was recently invited to join the world famous Patti LaBelle at the “Dream Marches On” concert at Alabama State University Dunn-Oliver Acadome in Montgomery on March 7.  LaBelle will be there to commemorate and honor the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March.  The commemoration and concert is sponsored by ASU, the City of Montgomery and the Montgomery County Commission.  Tickets for the concert are $35 in advance and $45 the day of the show. Tickets are available through or by calling the ASU ticket office at 334-229-4551.

“It’s going to be a full band show with horns, not acoustic.  This will be the same high energy performance people came to expect from me on ‘The Voice.’”

Montgomery mural depicting voting rights march completed
By WSFA 12 News Staff, March

The downtown Montgomery mural commemorating the 1965 Voting Rights March has been completed.

Montgomery native Sunny Paulk was chosen as the artist to create the mural, which is visible on the wall of 129 Montgomery Street, which is the 50-50 bar and grill. Paulk works at the Southern Poverty Law Center, attended Carter Creative and Performing Arts Center and Auburn Montgomery.

Paulk was selected over artists’ proposals from across the country including California, Texas, and New York. This mural, the first of several urban murals planned by the commission, will be visible along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

City leaders say the mural is a part of an effort to advance public art in downtown Montgomery, in concert with the city’s work to promote revitalization.

To read this article online, go to:

The 10th Bassmaster Elite Series Season to showcase world-class fisheries

In 2015, B.A.S.S. celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Bassmaster Elite Series with a schedule that commemorates some of the greatest events in bass fishing history. Six of the sites have hosted Elite tournaments in the past decade, and all eight fisheries are among the finest venues the sport has to offer for the best anglers in the business.

“It’s fitting that the 10th Elite Series season features such prominent and important fisheries,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin in announcing the 2015 schedule. “The schedule spans the country from coast to coast and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and it includes some of the very best bass lakes and rivers in the country — and some of the most challenging.”

The season begins March 19-22 in Orange, Texas, at the Sabine River, site of one of the most popular Elite tournaments in history. At that 2013 event, a new Bassmaster Elite Series attendance record was set with more than 33,000 visitors during the four-day tournament. While some Elite anglers struggled to fill out limits in the Sabine’s backwaters, Todd Faircloth caught almost 50 pounds of bass to earn his fourth Elite victory.

From the Sabine, the best bass anglers in the world head east to Alabama and Lake Guntersville, April 9-12, the site of 22 previous professional tournaments, including four Elite events and the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro, won by Randy Howell. It took more than 100 pounds to win each of the last two Elites here, and weights should be high again next spring.

“Lake Guntersville is a perennial bass fishing powerhouse,” said Bassmaster Magazine Editor James Hall. “It has never ranked below fifth on the annual rankings of Bassmaster’s 100 Best Bass Lakes list.”

Alabama’s beach tourism year sees record number of sporting events fuel $30M in visitor spending
By Marc D. Anderson,, March 2

With retail sales and lodging revenue reaching new heights for the fourth consecutive year on Baldwin County’s coast in 2014, it’s no coincidence that the sports tourism industry is seeing similar gains.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have been investing in sports facilities for years with both cities having sports complexes and each helping to fund a sports commission to keep the momentum going.

Since forming in 2007, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission — supported by the beach cities, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, Coastal Alabama Business Chamber and sponsorships — has seen 27 events, generating 11,961 room nights and $3.4 million in visitor spending, skyrocket to 102 events, 76,024 room nights and $30.8 million in spending in 2014.

The numbers have continued to grow year over year with visitor spending jumping 10 percent from last year’s $27.9 million and room nights growing by nearly 6 percent compared to 2013.

“The continual growth of sports tourism in our beach communities is a pleasure to see and an honor to promote,” Beth Gendler, vice president of sales for the sports commission, said in a prepared statement. “Sports events have a strong economic impact on our local communities through room nights, restaurant meals and retail sales. Many of these events bring athletes, their families and fans to our area in our shoulder seasons which means added business for our tourism businesses.”

The increases seen in the sports tourism sector are running neck and neck with the overall economic rebound Baldwin’s beach cities have achieved since the 2010 BP oil spill.

In 2014, the taxable lodging rentals in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and the Fort Morgan peninsula jumped 8.5 percent to nearly $380 million compared to 2013, and more than 35 percent since 2011, according to tourism bureau figures.  Taxable retail sales in the two cities jumped nearly 8 percent to $727 million from 2013.

In addition to the beach cities, Foley also continues a record-breaking trend with retail sales growing nearly 6 percent to $641 million, and taxable lodging rentals up nearly 20 percent to $11 million thanks to a lodging tax hike that went into effect Oct. 1, 2013.

In late 2015, Foley will also add to the sports tourism machine when the Foley Sports Tourism Complex opens with 16 multi-purpose athletic fields and a 100,000-square-foot Events Center on Baldwin County 20, west of the Foley Beach Express. The project, funded by the additional lodging tax revenue, is part of the first phase of the Blue Collar Country entertainment complex that includes two hotels the developers will construct next to the sports complex.

To read this entire article, go to:

Gulf Shores in the running for USA Today’s best coastal small town
By Dennis Pillion,, Feb. 27

Gulf Shores is one of 20 nominees in USA Today’s Readers’ Choice award for Best Coastal Small Town, and Alabama beach enthusiasts have until March 16 to cast their vote for Gulf Shores.

At the time of this post’s publication, Gulf Shores was in a distant third of the 20 nominees, behind Saugatuck, Mich. and Ogunquit, Maine, where we presume everyone is snowed in and has nothing better to do than vote in an online poll.

According to the description of Gulf Shores on the contest web site, “Visitors to Gulf Shores, at the heart of the Alabama Gulf Coast, will be met with sugary-white sand beaches, Southern-style fresh seafood, championship golf courses and nearly any water sport you can imagine, thanks to the many nearby back bays and rivers. Preserves and state parks protect much of the region make Gulf Shores an ideal base for a natural coastal escape.”

Other nearby nominees include Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., Ocean Springs, Miss., and Tybee Island, Ga.

The voting ends on March 16 at 11 a.m. central time and users 18 and older can vote once daily until then.

To read this article online, go to:

U.S. Gulf State Geotourism project continues
Little River Canyon Video and Blog Posted

Another Alabama video has been posted to the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism YouTube channel.  The latest Alabama video features Little River Canyon and is the 3rd of 4 videos to be produced as part of a Southern Journeys project with Compass Marketing.

In addition to the video, a blog was also posted on the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism website on Little River Canyon:

Make the time for a trip to one of the Southeast’s geological gems. In Northeast Alabama, tucked among the Appalachian foothills, Little River Canyon National Preserve holds some of the state’s most stunning scenic beauty. The 14,000-acre protected site takes its name from the Little River, one of the longest rivers in the country to flow for most of its length across the top of mountain. For eons, it has snaked its way over the flat summit of Lookout Mountain, its currents cutting into the sandstone and forming two additional natural wonders, Little River Canyon and Little River Falls.

Start your exploration of the area at the Little River Canyon Center to learn about the abundant flora and fauna that thrives in the preserve. The Center offers an informative 15-minute video that highlights the history and ecological diversity of the canyon and the surrounding areas. It also houses a gift shop and natural history library and hosts regular programs, including workshops, lectures, hikes and other activities for all ages.

When you’re done at the Center, head out for a look at the thundering torrent of the waterfall. The Little River hurls itself over a rock ledge, plummeting 45 feet in a foamy cascade. Water levels on the river change seasonally. During the winter and early spring the falls roar with water. During these months, kayakers take to the river to battle twelve miles of drops.

To read the complete blog, go to
To view the Little River Canyon video, go to

For more information on the Alabama’s participation in the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism website and how your attraction can be listed free of charge, contact

Maritime objects to go on display at GulfQuest
By Mike Kelly, Pittsburgh, March 1

From a distance, it looks like a giant cruise ship ready to weigh anchor and steam out through Mobile Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico.

But the huge glass-walled structure is actually a new maritime museum called GulfQuest, which is scheduled to open sometime this spring. The 90,000-square-foot facility will be the only museum in the country to focus solely on the maritime history and culture of the Gulf of Mexico.

The long-delayed $62 million museum will be a centerpiece of a downtown waterfront development called Mobile Landing. The area on the Mobile River already is home to a convention center, an amphitheater and a cruise ship terminal – which has gone largely unused since Carnival Cruise Line pulled out in 2011.

GulfQuest, a public-private partnership, has been a long time coming to Mobile. Plans were announced in 2000 but construction didn’t begin until 2009, and since then a series of problems, including flooding, mold issues and legal disputes, have pushed back the planned opening several times.

The museum’s executive director, Tony Zodrow, admitted the delays were frustrating, but added, “I think people will love this place once they get in and experience it.”

During a recent preview of the waterfront facility with Mr. Zodrow, it was evident that “experience” is a key word for visitors. There are dozens of interactive exhibits and simulators along with loads of the expected Gulf artifacts.
At the center of the futuristic-looking grand lobby is an electronic exhibit called “America’s Sea.” There visitors can trace exploration routes, see where pirates once ruled the Gulf, spot early settlements and forts, locate sunken Spanish galleons and a German U-boat, re-create important naval battles, identify marine habitats, check out lighthouses and more.

Off to one side on the wall of a cafe will be an interactive map showing in real time which ships are churning by on the Mobile River and what cargo each is carrying.

A 16-minute orientation film illustrates what it’s like to live along the Gulf, and the narration by local residents gives the film an authentic flavor. Such uncomfortable topics as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill aren’t ignored in the video.

Among the exhibits are those that focus on offshore oil and gas platforms, sailing, hurricanes, shipwrecks and more. One exhibit spotlights the offbeat Gulf pastime of “tanker surfing,” in which surfers ride the wakes created by the monster oil tankers that plow their way through shipping channels between Galveston and Houston. The waist-high waves might not be enormous, but the rides can last 20 minutes or more.

At the heart of the museum is a full-sized replica of a container ship – kind of a ship-within-a-ship concept. The three-story replica, surrounded by water and made to look like it’s floating, houses a good number of the museum’s 90 exhibits.

Mr. Zodrow explained that the container ship is a nod to Malcom McLean, who pioneered the use of standardized shipping containers in the 1950s when he owned a shipping company in Mobile.

Visitors can pilot miniature tugboats, try sailing into the wind and load seagoing containers with a crane. But destined to become one of the museum’s most popular draws is its panoramic simulator of a ship’s bridge, like those used to train boat pilots. Visitors can choose a vessel, then try to navigate it through the Gulf and into the port of Mobile. The digital views seen from the bridge were designed based on real Mobile-area locations.

I almost chose a Coast Guard cutter whose mission was to chase a bunch of drug runners, but instead I opted to steer a giant cargo ship into port. Bad move – especially for the unfortunate fishing trawler steamed right over on my way to the docks. Oops.

When it finally opens, local officials predict that GulfQuest will become the area’s signature attraction. It will take its place among a handful of other popular tourist draws in this bustling city of 200,000 in the southwest corner of Alabama.

Tops on that list at present is the USS Alabama Memorial Park, home to a 42,000-ton, World War II-era battleship that’s open for self-guided tours. Also in the park is a WWII submarine, the USS Drum – which is also open for tours – and dozens of retired combat aircraft.

Then there’s the Mobile Carnival Museum, which is loaded with floats, masks, crowns, bejeweled gowns and other paraphernalia celebrating the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country. (If you thought Mardi Gras originated in New Orleans, better think again. Mobile’s pre-Lenten bash was launched in 1703, more than a century before the first organized Mardi Gras parade stepped off in New Orleans.)

Millions of azaleas, camellias, lilies, mums, roses and other flowers bloom year-round at the 65-acre Bellingrath Gardens, one of the South’s top horticultural attractions. The facility also includes an 80-year-old mansion full of original furnishings, including the world’s largest collection of Boehm china.

Golfers have discovered Mobile as an inviting destination for year-round play, with Golf Digest magazine ranking it as a Top 10 spot for winter golf. Among the most popular courses is Magnolia Grove, one of the southernmost stops on the famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a collection of 11 championship-caliber clubs scattered across Alabama.

Although it’s the largest city on the Gulf between New Orleans and St. Petersburg, Fla., Mobile hasn’t had the drawing power of either of those places in the past. But the local tourist industry hopes that its shiny new maritime museum will be a big step toward changing that.

Information:; Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, or 1-800-5-MOBILE (66-2453).

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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 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; Tues., March 10, at the University of West Alabama, Land Hall, Livingston; 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.

Update – Alabama Tourism Department Workshop

The Alabama Tourism Department will host a Tourism Workshop Tue., April 21 in Birmingham at the Vulcan Park and Museum, 1701 Valley View Drive and Wed., April 22 in Montgomery 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.

These workshops are for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. Come and learn about the many programs and services the Alabama Tourism Department offers.

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 4                          Ft. Rucker Extravaganza – Ft. Rucker, AL
Mar 4 – 8                    ITB/International Tourism Exchange Berlin (Trade & Consumer) – Berlin, Germany
Mar 6 – 8                    Dallas Golf Show – Dallas, TX
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 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.

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Alabama Tourism Department