Tourism Tuesdays April 28, 2015

  • Tourists paid $548 million in state taxes in 2014, up 79% in 12 years
  • Tourism sparks River Region economy
  • Barber Motorsports IndyCar race gets 2+ minutes on David Letterman
  • Groups film at Cheaha, plead for park to remain open
  • Every High School in America is getting a free DVD of Selma
  • Sleeping in rain for love
  • Americana Music Triangle rolls out web guide
  • Harper Lee saves local play
  • City of Wetumpka announces new hotel coming to downtown
  • Itty Bitty Magic City project nears completion at McWane Science Center
  • Nominations open for the 2016 Top 100 Events in North America
  • Welcome Centers gearing up for National Tourism Month
  • Search is on for Alabama Barbecue Restaurants
  • Alabama Makers
  • Attention CVBs and attractions: ATD needs pictures by May 2
  • Mobile Apps will be featured in 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide
  • 2016 Vacation Guide & Calendar of Event deadlines
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Tourists paid $548 million in state taxes in 2014, up 79% in 12 years

The new Alabama Tourism Economic Impact Report showed the state earns about $5 in taxes from each $1 invested in tourism sales and marketing.  Unlike most agencies that spend money from the General Fund, the tourism department earns $14 million in lodgings taxes for its operations and sends three times that amount ($42 million) to increase the General Fund, says Montgomery economist Dr. Keivan Deravi.

He calculates that 23 million tourists spent $11.8 billion in the state.  Tourists paid more than $548 million in state taxes with another $219 million in local taxes.  Without spending by these visitors, each household in the state would have had to pay $408 in additional taxes.

Deravi says the seven largest counties captured 75 percent of the total.  The remaining 60 counties are responsible for $3 billion in direct spending.  “Those smaller counties greatly benefit from direct marketing and awareness activities initiated by the tourism department,” which yields an additional $68 million in state taxes.

In the past 12 years, the amount that tourists spend has grown by 79 percent.  The number of tourism industry employees has grown by nearly 80 percent to about 165,000 Alabamians, said state tourism director Lee Sentell.

During that time, the agency’s Montgomery office staff has been reduced by 20 percent because of attrition to rank as one of state government’s most efficient departments.

Aggressive advertising and promotion of Alabama’s destinations have greatly improved the state’s image, said Sentell.  “Our award-winning restaurants, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and major attractions change the perception of our state,” he said.

In addition to grants that market hometown festivals, the department supports major events, such as IndyCar races in Birmingham, NASCAR races in Talladega, SEC baseball in Hoover and college football bowl games.  Special promotions, such as the current Year of Alabama Barbecue, focus positive attention on the state.

At the direction of the Legislature, the tourism agency has developed contingency plans for a 15 percent cut and a 30 percent cut for operations next year.


Tourism sparks River Region economy
The Montgomery Advertiser, April 21

Tourism dollars are especially prized in any region’s economy, as they represent business and tax revenue with relatively little consumption of public services. The tourism impact for the tri-county area, measured by 2014 statistics from the Alabama Tourism Department, is impressive and points to a region that is not merely welcoming, but also has a lot to see and do.

As the Advertiser’s Marty Roney reported, lodging tax revenue indicates significant tourism growth in the region, with a whopping economic boost. In Montgomery County, visitors spent $723 million and supported 11,268 jobs. Spending was up 9.4 percent over 2013.

In Elmore County, tourists spent $129 million and were responsible for 1,897 jobs. The spending figure is likely low, because it does not account for the Wind Creek Casino in Wetumpka, which is operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and does not collect state and local lodging taxes.

In Autauga County, visitors spent $33 million and were responsible for 438 jobs. The spending is an increase of 25.5 percent over 2013.

The increases locally exceed the statewide increase of 7.3 percent. Overall, tourists spent $11.8 billion in Alabama last year, according to a report by economist Keivan Deravi of Auburn Montgomery.

Montgomery’s rich history in the civil rights movement and the Civil War gives it a built-in advantage in attracting tourists, and being named the nation’s Best Historic City last year only helps that. However, the city also has made wise investments in facilities that help draw tourists and their money. Conventions and youth sports events, for example, are significant money makers, but without an infrastructure to support them, they’ll be held somewhere else.

The strategy has paid off. “Several years ago it was the city priming the pump,” Mayor Todd Strange said. “Now you look at everything going on downtown and it’s the private sector leading the way.”

Then there’s the gratifying fact of shared benefits from tourism. Nearby cities also get a boost from events in Montgomery, and the reverse is true as well. Strange cited last week’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open held in Prattville.

“Almost 200 boats on the river,” he said. “Sure, Prattville saw a great benefit. But you don’t think we didn’t see a benefit, along with Millbrook and Wetumpka? It really is a River Region thing.”

And it really is a good thing, for all of us in this region.

To read this article online, go to:

Barber Motorsports IndyCar race gets 2+ minutes on David Letterman

David Letterman spent two-plus minutes of his show Monday featuring the second place finish of Graham Rahal at the Barber Motorsports IndyCar race.  Rahal drove the Steak ‘n Shake/Letterman Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday.

To celebrate his racing team’s strong performance, Letterman treated his studio audience to a classic Steak ‘n Shake milkshake.

To see the video, go to:


Groups film at Cheaha, plead for park to remain open
By Eddie Burkhalter,, April 27

The video shot Sunday is to be part of two public service announcements pleading for Alabama’s state parks to remain open. Dekarske was one of more than 30 concerned local residents at Cheaha on Sunday worried over plans to close the 82-year-old park, Alabama’s oldest continuously open state park.

State officials announced April 15 plans to begin closing 15 of the state’s 22 state parks, including Cheaha, some starting May 1. Lawmakers in Montgomery have yet to  settle on how to make up for Alabama’s general fund budget shortfall, estimated to be at least $265 million in 2016.

Park closures are among many proposed cuts to state-funded programs, and there’s been little support among lawmakers for Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed $541 million in tax increases meant to solve the state’s money shortages.

State parks director Greg Lein told The Star on April 22 that after hearing from concerned park users the decision was made to keep all parks open past May 1.

That doesn’t mean the parks won’t still be shuttered, however, Lein said. The gates could still close indefinitely beginning when those cuts are to take effect Oct. 1. They would also still close under a trimmed budget being considered by the House passes.

Public concern like that seems to have worked for other parks, at least temporarily, Patolo explained, which is why she and the others spent the day with video cameras and scripted questions.

“The most detrimental thing that we can do as community members concerned about our parks is nothing” Patolo said.

To learn more about the local group visit

To read this article online, go to:

Every High School in America is getting a free DVD of Selma
By Sarah Begley,, April 23

Paramount is sending a free DVD of Selma to every high school in America, public and private, as part of an extended “Selma for Students” initiative.

Director Ava DuVernay made the announcement at a United Nations event on Thursday night where U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power was present. Companion study guides will also be made available to the nation’s tens of thousands of high schools for any teachers who want to teach the movie in their classrooms.

The movie about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Montgomery to Selma, Ala. came at a pivotal time in American politics, hitting theaters between a spate of racially charged incidents of police brutality that sparked major protests. Paramount executive Megan Colligan pointed out in a statement that the nation’s high schoolers are a particularly important audience for the film.

“With many of these students preparing to vote for the first time in next year’s elections,” she said, “it is especially fitting that they witness the bravery and fortitude of those who fought to establish the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

To read this article online, go to:


Sleeping in rain for love
By Rheta Grimsley Johnson,, April 22

He wore an open-collar polka-dot shirt the way some men wear Gucci. He had swagger and style and a gap-toothed smile the width of the Mississippi at flood stage.

I stood in a long line waiting to shake Percy Sledge’s hand. He was being inducted into the then-new Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, not far at all from his hometown of Leighton, where as a youth, he picked cotton.

It was apparent I would have only a moment to ask him a question — one question. I decided, when it came my turn, to cut to the chase.

“How many young girls do you suppose lost their virginity to ‘When a Man Loves a Woman?’” I asked.

He threw back his head, eyes squinting toward an Alabama sky, and laughed from where it counts. Then, because he was Percy Sledge, he didn’t miss a beat.

“Well, that’s some fine, belly-rubbing music,” he admitted, and I had my cornerstone quote.

Every woman I know wants to be loved the way Percy sang about, the kind of flat-out, passionate love where a man will sleep out in the pouring rain if that’s the way she says it ought to be. Most of us only get that kind of unconditional, see-no-evil, last-dime love from our grandmothers, or stalkers.

But that song, Percy’s song, though he gave the rights away, raised the remote possibility. It planted the impossible dream in our heads when we were young and believed in romance and unwithering passion and mind monogamy.

Now, whenever we hear it again — in our middle ages, our dotage, one foot in the grave — we’re back in time and all things are once again possible.

Like the best songs — Hank’s “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You,” or Lucinda’s “Lake Charles,” or Aretha’s “Natural Woman” — Percy’s hit is a time machine. It carries us where we want to be.

When I spent time in Louisiana, Percy Sledge was a staple at small clubs and casinos and fairs. His song was sung a lot by others, too, sometimes in French. In Louisiana they called such period love ballads “Swamp Pop,” and Percy was king of the genre.

Once — and this will sound like bragging, but so be it — I was sitting all alone in a bistro across from Gare Nord in Paris, waiting to catch a train to Amsterdam, when That Song came on the intercom, blasting Percy into the August air. I felt an unreasonable thrill, like the French were playing it for me and me alone, the girl so far from home. I almost wept.

I think he must have had a good life. Swept up from his job as hospital orderly into the burgeoning Muscle Shoals music scene, scoring a major hit his first time at the mic, consistently making music if not lots of money, Percy Sledge became part of romance history.

He died last week of liver disease. But his song, the one that grabbed us around the waist and pulled us to the dance floor, the one that’s fine, belly-rubbin’ music, it will live forever.

To read this article online, go to:

Americana Music Triangle rolls out web guide

Alabama is one of five states participating in the Americana Music Triangle’s official launch.  The Triangle web guide is a comprehensive telling of music’s greatest story: the birth and rise of nine distinct genres of music from one tiny, mystical slice of the globe. The collective cultural destinations between New Orleans, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville are defined in the website giving music lovers insider tools and information to facilitate an experience of a lifetime. Aptly sub-titled The Gold Record Road, The Americana Music Triangle is where “history made music, then music made history”.  Muscle Shoals is a must see, hear and feel stop on the Gold Record Road, having produced hundreds of hit records, thousands of songwriter credits, and gave birth to some of the most talented musicians in history. The Muscle Shoals launch is May 5 at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence. Tourism Director Lee Sentell will be on hand to talk about Alabama’s numerous contributions to the heart of the Triangle.

The web guide will be live on May 4 at


Harper Lee saves local play
Radio New Zealand, April 27

Author Harper Lee has started a non-profit company to produce a play of her iconic book To Kill a Mockingbird in her hometown of Monroeville, after a dispute was set to end the show.

Licensing firm Dramatic Publishing had not extended the performance rights for the production, so Lee stepped in with Mockingbird Company.

It will produce the play from 2016, giving proceeds to local communities.

Dramatic Publishing said on its Facebook page it was “thrilled”.

It added: “We are also happy to announce that the play will be performed by Mockingbird Players, who have acted this American classic so well for so long. We believe that this is the best way (from the stage) to celebrate Ms Lee’s masterpiece throughout the greater Monroeville area.”

A Facebook page called Save Monroeville’s To Kill a Mockingbird play had been campaigning for the play to stay in Monroeville, and had been liked by big names including Oprah Winfrey and JK Rowling.

Comments on the Facebook page included Johnny Johnson saying: “Thank you Miss Harper Lee, you have made Monroe County proud,” and Meagan McDonald adding: “Thank you for working towards an agreement!! What a blessing for Monroeville!!”

Performances for the play for this month and next are sold out, boosted by excitement over the upcoming publication of Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman. It will be the 88-year-old American author’s first release since the 1960s.

The show has been staged by the Monroe County Heritage Museum for years, despite it being involved in legal disputes with Lee, 88, in the past. She sued the museum in 2013 for selling Mockingbird souvenirs in its shop, after it had opposed her application for a federal trademark for the title of her book.

The dispute has since been settled.

To Kill a Mockingbird, which explores issues of race, class and the loss of innocence, was published in July 1960 and has sold more than 40 million copies globally. It won a Pulitzer Prize and became an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck two years later.

Go Set a Watchman was written before Mockingbird, and features many of the same characters, with an adult Scout Finch returning to her native Alabama from New York to visit her father, lawyer Atticus Finch.

Written in the mid-1950s but shelved on the advice of her editor, it will be released on 14 July.

To read this article online, go to:


City of Wetumpka announces new hotel coming to downtown
By Melissa Johnson, WSFA 12 News, April 28

Once again, Reporter Melissa Johnson brought you another Hometown Spotlight. This time she was in the city of Wetumpka where Mayor Jerry Willis announced a new hotel is coming to downtown.

This announcement, made exclusively first on Today in Alabama, stated that a new Hampton Inn will be breaking ground downtown today at 11 a.m. Also the historical Fain hotel will be reopened to serve as a food and beverage source for downtown.

We will continue to give you the details for this new economic development announcement. Check back here for updates.

Melissa will also spotlighted a few of the things that make Wetumpka unique during Today in Alabama, including new plans in the works for the Impact Crater and ongoing developments along the downtown area.

Be sure to follow Melissa on Twitter at WSFA_MelissaJ for more behind the scenes information on this morning’s spotlight announcement.

To read this article online, go to:

Itty Bitty Magic City project nears completion at McWane Science Center
By Joe Songer,, April 22

Construction of the Birmingham Children’s Museum Itty Bitty Magic City at McWane Science Center is nearing completion. Workers are installing multi-level climbing structure and tests are being performed on the huge water table feature.

The museum is on the second floor at the McWane Science Center. The exhibit is part of the general admission price. It will be open to the public May 16.  McWane will hold Itty Bitty Days May 16-17.

The official name for the new space is the Birmingham Children’s Museum Itty Bitty Magic City at McWane Science Center. It is a partnership between the City of Birmingham and McWane Science Center. Birmingham has contributed over $2 million to the project.

The space is geared toward McWane visitors of kindergarten age or younger. The hands on exhibit took 5 years of planning and 14 months to build out. Over 300 people have contributed to the project.

A 1,500 square foot climbing structure gives young visitors a view of the entire space from above. After construction is complete, safety nets will be installed.

A town center has been constructed that features a fire house with an operating fire truck, and a grocery store where children will learn about food and nutrition.

A farm, complete with a barn and milkable cow will teach young visitors where food comes from.

There will also be a diner, Pet Vet office, a house and a auto garage that will feature both internal combustion and electric cars.

Two classrooms are part of the project for educational programs. Three educators will staff the new museum full time.

To read this article online, go to:

Nominations open for the 2016 Top 100 Events in North America

American Bus Association’s (ABA) Top 100 Events in North America is an annual compendium of the best events for group travel in the United States and Canada.  Each spring, a committee of ABA-member motorcoach and tour operators selects the Top 100 Events for the subsequent year; the list is unveiled in September.  Winners are chosen from hundreds of celebrations, festivals, fairs, commemorative events, and more that have been nominated by ABA members.

If you have events that will be celebrating milestones or anniversaries for 2016, please contact Rosemary Judkins at to have them submitted.  Deadline to submit is April 30.

Welcome Centers gearing up for National Tourism Month

The Eight Welcome Centers around Alabama are finalizing plans for an annual favorite – Tourism Day.  Each center celebrates National Tourism Month in May each year with a day full of special activities. The Centers have delicious food, refreshing drinks and local tourism partners on site to greet travelers to celebrate the official start of the summer travel season.  A list of the 2015 dates for each Center can be found at

May 6, Sumter Welcome Center, May 7, Cleburne Welcome Center; May 7, Grand Bay Welcome Center; May 14, Lanett Welcome Center; May 14, Baldwin Welcome Center; May 14, DeKalb Welcome Center; May 15, Houston Welcome Center; May 28, Ardmore Welcome Center

Search is on for Alabama Barbecue Restaurants

The Alabama Tourism Department is conducting a search for barbecue restaurants around the state that might not have made it into the Alabama Barbecue book.  If you are or know of any barbecue restaurants in your area, please go to to sign in and join Alabama Tourism’s Year of Alabama Barbecue.

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.  The deadline for getting these in is May 29.

Things are ‘greening up’ all over the state so grab your camera and go take beautiful pictures that you can share with the Alabama Tourism Department.
Great tourism images should include:

  1. Identifiable locations indigenous to Alabama with plenty of colorful flora around.
  2. Attractive people wearing bright, solid-color clothing – no jeans – and having a wonderful time.

Images should be made when the site is in full sunlight, preferably early morning or late afternoon, but never between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Images also need to be:

  1. High resolution – at least 4” X 6” and 300 dpi, but bigger is better.

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

Mobile Apps will be featured in 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide

We need your help.  We are compiling a list of mobile apps offered by our Alabama Tourism Industry Partners.  A section in the 2016 Alabama Vacation Guide will be dedicated to mobile apps promoting the Alabama Tourism Industry.

If your organization has developed mobile apps to promote your area/attraction/business/event, please send a description and link to Jo Jo Terry,  Please send information regarding mobile apps that are even in the development stage.   The deadline is May 29.

If you have any questions, please contact Jo Jo Terry by email or phone, 334-353-4716 direct line.

2016 Vacation Guide & Calendar of Event deadlines

It’s time to get information submitted in order to have your attractions and events listed in the printed version of the Alabama Vacation Guide & Calendar of Events.  They must be entered into the website by June 30, for the Calendar of Events, and July 10, for the Vacation Guide.
The web address is:
If you have any questions, call Pam Smith at 334-353-4541.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Apr 30                         Deadline to turn in Top 100 nominations for ABA
Apr 30 – May 3          Nashville Southern Women’s Show – Nashville, TN
May 1                          Deadline to sign up for Alabama Makers Market
May 29                        Deadline to get images to ATD
May 29                        Deadline to turn in mobile app information to ATD

Tourism Day Celebrations at Welcome Centers
Celebration time at all Welcome Centers is: 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

May 6                          Sumter Welcome Center, Tourism Day Celebration
I-20/59 East of MS Line
May 7                          Cleburne Welcome Center, Tourism Day Celebration
I-20 West of GA Line
May 14                        Lanett Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-85 West of Georgia Line
May 15                        Houston Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
U.S. 231 North of FL Line
May 14                        Baldwin Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-10 West of FL Line
May 7                          Grand Bay Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-10 East of MS Line
May 14                        DeKalb Welcome Center Tourism Day Celebration
I-59 West of GA Line
May 28                        Ardmore Welcome Center Tourism Celebration
I-65 South of TN Line


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