Tourism Tuesdays June 14, 2016

  • The best of Birmingham
  • BBC Radio features 30-minute broadcast on Alabama
  • Alabama has more than 100 appointments for IPW show
  • Southern Makers festival scheduled for Birmingham has been postponed
  • Garden & Gun lists five essential Muscle Shoals albums
  • Teachers from the Marshall Space Flight Center Region attend STEMcon
  • Alabama Living features Alabama in six separate articles
  • Mobile, Alabama’s Gulf coast heritage and urban vibe
  • A new life for historic Mobile landmark
  • Montgomery to be headquarters for new regional passenger train system
  • Hotel to be built at historic site in downtown Montgomery
  • Armstrong Airport to add direct flights between New Orleans, Germany
  • Kipling rates Alabama as one of the 10 best states for retirement
  • Visit Mobile launches Tourism Ambassador program
  • Boat races to return, big crowd expected
  • Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events deadline June 30
  • Alabama Restaurant Week sign up in full swing
  • Alabama Tourism Department upcoming events



The best of Birmingham

By Mike Gerard, Huffpost Lifestyle United Kingdom, a Huffington Post / AOL blog, June 13

The Alabama Tourism Department invited 12 top European journalist on a tour of Birmingham and the Muscle Shoals area, June 2-7, 2016.  One of those on the trip was Mike Gerard from the UK. He posted the following on June 13.

Here are several reasons to believe you may not like Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. When it was founded in 1871 it was named not after somewhere romantic like Florence or Paris but after the English industrial city of Birmingham. That’s because Birmingham, Alabama, was a steel town and, at the time, equally industrial.

These days the steel industry has gone and the furnaces are replaced by opera companies, symphony orchestras, a vibrant theater and music scene, and award-winning restaurants.

Birmingham was in the public eye for all the wrong reasons during the years of the civil rights struggles, when so many bombs went off that it was nicknamed Bombingham. One of those bombs was so overwhelmingly awful, killing four young girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, that it was a pivotal moment in the fight for civil rights. The world was shocked, and so was America. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was finally passed.

The painful history isn’t concealed but is commemorated in today’s Birmingham, and there are plenty of things to do and see to warrant a visit of at least a few days. Here in alphabetical order are ten of the best.

16th Street Baptist Church

While a visit here could be sad and painful, it’s also a way of paying tribute to the four young girls who lost their lives when a dynamite bomb planted by Ku Klux Klan members exploded. It blew a hole seven feet wide in the basement of the church where the girls were putting on their choir robes for a service. A modest stone outside marks the spot of the explosion, and inside the still-active church a film explains the background to the bombing and the civil rights movement.

More Information:

Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame

Based in the historic Carver Theatre, the collection of artefacts may be modest but jazz aficionados will enjoy the mementoes and musical instruments of the surprising number of top jazz players that Alabama produced, including Sun Ra, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith and Erskine Hawkins.

More Information:

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

This remarkable collection of vintage cars and over 1400 motorcycles, with about half of them on display at any one time, is a must-see whether you’re interested in motorsports or not. The design of the vast main building (an extension is due to open in the autumn) is a work of art, flooded with light from enormous windows and with every historic motorbike in immaculate working condition. You can’t help but gasp when you walk through the door.

More Information:

Bethel Baptist Church

There were three figures who were prominent in the fight for civil rights. One was Martin Luther King Jnr, a preacher in Montgomery when the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place. The second was Ralph Abernathy, from Linden in Alabama and King’s closest friend. The third was Fred Shuttleworth, who was a minister here at the Bethel Baptist Church. The church was bombed three times and is now a National Historic Landmark. A visit to a Sunday morning gospel service in the new church nearby is an uplifting and moving experience.

More Information:

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church, this museum opened in 1992 but feels as fresh as a new coat of paint. Through lively exhibits it tells the story of black life in and around Birmingham, and the inevitable fight for civil rights in a country which called itself a democracy but denied millions of citizens the right to vote because of the colour of their skin. A must-see if you want to understand Birmingham.

More Information:

Demetri’s BBQ

While BBQ is a Southern tradition, some of the best comes from Greek immigrants like Demetri Nakos who came to Alabama in 1955 and discovered he had a knack for BBQ. Well, a knack is putting it mildly as Demetri’s has been rated by Playboy as the Number One Breakfast in America. Try their BBQ omelette if you dare.

More Information:

Hot and Hot Fish Club

The other side of Birmingham cuisine is at high-end restaurants like the Hot and Hot Fish Club where chef/owner Chris Hastings is a James Beard Best Chef award-winner. Forget the fried catfish and tuck into mouthwatering dishes like oven-roasted duck with rye berries, kale, blackberries, a spring onion pureé and lion’s mane mushrooms. Great cocktail list too.

More Information:

Kelly Ingram Park

Across from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and 16th Street Baptist Church, the park was a staging area for the civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s, including ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers. Visit today for the sense of peace and to see the moving commemorative statues.

More Information:

Niki’s West

Named by USA Today as one of the USA’s top ten restaurants, Niki’s offers a daily buffet of about 70 items including Southern fried chicken, catfish, seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and a range of desserts that make you fat just by looking at them.

More Information:


The world’s largest cast iron statue was built in 1904 and overlooks Birmingham from Red Mountain, giving breathtaking cityscape views from the top. The view of Vulcan from Birmingham’s neighbouring city has resulted in the nickname, The Moon over Homewood.

More Information:

To see this entire article with photos, go to


BBC Radio features 30-minute broadcast on Alabama

“Alabama is an incredible place.  You see the whole history of music unfolding as you walk down streets in front of you,” those are the opening words to a 30-minute BBC radio documentary that aired Monday, June 10.  The program interviewed Jonathan Wingate, a journalist from the UK who just visited Alabama a few days ago.  The program was broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live, the biggest radio station in the UK.  There are plans to syndicate the program to more than 300 radio stations in the United States.

Wingate spoke of the churches in the state, the W.C. Handy Home, the studios of Muscle Shoals and a remaining juke joint near Birmingham.  Wingate called Alabama different than the other southern states, in part because of the number of hits that came out of the studios of Muscle Shoals.’

The BBC Radio program featured interviews from Jimmy Johnson, a studio musician from the FAME/Muscle Shoals formation days, Henry Gipson of the juke joint Gip’s Place in Bessemer, and a foot-soldier in the Alabama Civil Rights movement, Mamie Brown Mason.

Wingate was one of 12 top journalist from the UK, Germany, Australia and The Netherlands that visited Birmingham and Muscle Shoals from June 2-7.

For more information on how Alabama promotes in the UK and International markets, contact


Alabama has more than 100 appointments for IPW show

Alabama Tourism has 120 scheduled appointments, the most the state has ever had at the IPW international marketplace where tour companies from around the world meet with destinations across America.

IPW is being held in New Orleans on June 18-22.  This year Alabama will have an expanded booth and three appointment books for the marketplace.  When the more than 100 journalists, tour operators and trade representatives met at the booth, they will be received by a team of tourism leaders.

Working the booth will be Grey Brennan, Alabama Tourism Department; Rosemary Judkins, Alabama Tourism Department; Della Tully, Alabama Tourism Department UK; Janin Nachtweh, Alabama Tourism Partnership, Germany; Tom White, U.S. Space & Rocket Center; Sara Hamlin, Birmingham CVB; Jennifer Moore, Huntsville CVB; Susan Adams, Shoals Marriott; Ron McConnell, Mobile CVB; Meg Lewis, Montgomery CVB; Tami Reist, North Alabama Tourism; and Tina Jones, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission.

Lee Sentell will attend the showcase in his dual role as Alabama’s Tourism Director and board member of Travel South USA.  The Travel South organization will hold a series of meetings just prior to the start of IPW. 

Alabama’s large number of appointments will take place over a three-day period.   IPW marketplace is produced by the U.S. Travel Association.

The Alabama Tourism Department is taking advantage of the marketplace being held in New Orleans by conducting with our partners both a pre and post IPW fam.  During those trips, tour operators will visit Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Florence, Muscle Shoals, Huntsville and Fort Payne.  In addition to these two fam trips, many other tour operators and journalist are visiting Alabama destinations both before and after IPW on individual trips.

For more information on how Alabama Tourism Department markets to the international market, contract


Southern Makers festival scheduled for Birmingham has been postponed

By Bob Carlton,, June 10

The Southern Makers festival scheduled for Birmingham this fall has been postponed, the Alabama Tourism Department announced today.

The tourism agency cited a conflict with Birmingham’s Artwalk, as well as the need for more time to plan the event and acquire additional sponsorships.

The two-day Artwalk, which features more than 100 artists and performs and typically attracts about 10,000 people, takes place Sept. 9-10 in the downtown loft district.

The Southern Makers festival had been scheduled for Sept. 10-11 at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

“Although the Artwalk organizers agreed to make accommodations for our event, we might have impacted their success and we did not want to be competition,” Brian Jones, who is the chairman of the state tourism agency’s Year of Alabama Makers campaign, said in a media release today.

The Southern Makers event will either be rescheduled as a holiday event later this year or for sometime next spring, Jones said.

“We were slow in negotiating with Sloss Furnaces as the venue and it just seemed better to wait,” Jones said. “We underestimated the time and support needed for Southern Makers to produce such an important show. Everybody wants to do this right.”

The Southern Makers festival began in Montgomery in 2013. This year’s Montgomery event took place the weekend of April 30-May 1.

That event has showcased the goods and products of some of the South’s most creative cooks, brewers, farmers, builders, artists, designers and craftspeople.

The event in Birmingham will require more sponsorships than the Southern Makers event in Montgomery, Jones said, adding that the Montgomery city government is able to provide more support services.

To read this article online, go to;


Garden & Gun lists five essential Muscle Shoals albums

Celebrating the sounds of music history

Native Americans were the first to recognize the musical quality of the Tennessee River as it flows through the northwest corner of Alabama near Muscle Shoals.  They called it the Singing River.  Centuries later, Keith Richards christened the area simply “rock-and-roll heaven” after the Rolling Stones spent three days recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.  The unassuming structure on Jackson Highway in Sheffield also hosted Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, and the Staple Singers, among many others, from its opening in 1969 until 1978, when the studio’s legendary producers moved across town into a newer, larger space.  The old building gradually fell into disrepair.  

Today, it’s reached the end of a three-year restoration that has returned it to its midcentury glory—right down to the analog equipment inside the famous control room.  The historic space will host tours by day and operate as a studio for a small number of artists by night.   “After all these years, the room still has a certain vibe,” says Bonnie Bak of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, the organization responsible for the restoration.  The group also purchased the land behind the studio in hopes of opening a performance venue in the future—introducing a whole new generation of music lovers to that Muscle Shoals magic. 

Bassist and former owner David Hood reflects on his favorite Muscle Shoals Sound Studios albums:

Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones

“They say they never got so much done in three days.”

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

Paul Simon

“Paul Simon booked several days to record one song, and we got it on the first or second take. That’s when he played some of his other songs for us, and that’s what led to this album.”

Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

The Staple Singers

“Al Bell at Stax Records knew there could be a fusion between rhythm and blues and gospel, which they were doing, and the pop stuff we were doing.  On Be Altitude, it really worked.”

3614 Jackson Highway


“This was her first solo project, and the first act we recorded at the studio.”

Very Extremely Dangerous

Eddie Hinton

“Eddie had so much promise. Now there are a lot of young groups that try to copy him.”

To read this article online, go to:


Teachers from the Marshall Space Flight Center Region attend STEMcon

Teachers from the region graduated Sunday, June 5, from the STEMcon program at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, NASA’s official visitor information center for Marshall Space Flight Center and home to Space Camp.  This educational program provides teachers with hands-on activities they can take back to their classrooms to help them teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

STEMcon is a four-day program for STEM educators whose students are ages 10 to 14. These educators live within the Marshall Space Flight Center region, Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Tennessee, and were selected through an application process to attend. Approximately 50 educators were chosen to participate in this session.

During the program, they participated in astronaut-style training simulations and took part in a mission simulation that required teamwork, leadership and decision-making skills. Teams took part in an engineering design challenge

that had them solve a problem based on an incident that could arise while in space.

The program included a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and breakout sessions taught by NASA education staff.

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the NASA Competitive Program for Science Museums and Planetariums. The scholarship includes tuition, meals, lodging, lesson materials and a stipend to help offset travel expenses.

New program sends top Alabama students to Space Academy tuition-free

By Josh Barrett,, June 3

Places like Puerto Rico and even other countries offer programs that send their top students to Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, so Alabama followed suit.  The Space and Rocket Center worked with Alabama legislators to fund a trip to the week-long Space Academy for two top students from each of the state’s districts.  The program is dubbed Space Academy for Leading Alabama Students, or S.A.L.S.A., and the first class graduated June 3rd, 2016.

In normal Space Camp classes, it’s not unusual to have more representation for other countries than Alabama.  The problem was quickly found out to be that while Space Camp has a worldwide brand, a surprising amount of Alabamians did not know that a premier educational opportunity was in their back yard.  Local state representatives actually had to sell the idea in Montgomery.

“A lot of the legislators didn’t know about it,” said District 53 State Representative Anthony Daniels, who represents part of Huntsville. “And so we had to, as a delegation, we actually educated the legislators about the program and how phenomenal the program is.”

But it wasn’t just legislators who weren’t aware of Space Camp.  S.A.L.S.A. is already accomplishing one of its goals: spread the word of the program to Alabamians.

“I am also a teacher, and I kind of feel bad because I did not know anything about this program until the legislators came to our school and passed out the awards,” said Stacie Pritchett, a parent of one of the S.A.L.S.A. students.  “I also have younger sons so I’m planning on sending both of them next year.” 

Graduates are also expected to return to the classroom with the lessons learned and a new motivation for science, math and technology.

“I’m probably going to take it back and learn more patience with my team and be able to work better as a team, and it’s inspired me to learn a lot more about rockets and space,” said Ty Thompson, a S.A.L.S.A. graduate from Bragg Middle School in Gardendale. 

Applications for 2017 are expected to open in the spring, but interested students can contact their legislators about the opportunity until then.

To read this article online, go to:


Alabama Living features Alabama in six separate articles

Alabama Living, June

The June issue of Alabama Living has several articles featuring Alabama.

An article by John Felsher on the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum in Mobile can be found at

Emmett Burnett focuses on movies that have been made in Alabama.  His article is online at:

With a movie-related theme David Haynes’ piece on the fictional town of Spectre, which was part of “Big Fish”, can be read online at:

Following in the movie-related vein, Allison Griffin takes a look at a number of actors and the Alabama locations in which they appeared as well as a number of films that featured Alabama locations.  Her article can be found at:

Skye Borden takes the reader hiking, biking, driving and canoeing along Alabama’s long trails, which can be searched out at:

Davie Haynes takes a look at one of Alabama’s last ferries in The Last of Its Kind, found online at:


Mobile, Alabama’s Gulf coast heritage and urban vibe

By Ann N. Yumgmeyer, The Tennessean, June 12

Mobile, Alabama, revels in its coastal heritage and multicultural roots. More than 300 years of colorful history have given the Alabama port city a savory blend of traditions and architectural styles, including Spanish and French Colonial, Victorian and Greek Revival. But recent emphasis on the area’s arts, culture and ecology, along with its world-class attractions, have revitalized the city, making it one of the South’s great urban destinations.

The heart of Mobile

At the forefront of the city’s novel attractions is GulfQuest, a national maritime museum opened in fall 2015. The riverfront museum spotlights the heritage and economic importance of the Gulf of Mexico, of which Mobile Bay is an inlet.  Designed to resemble a container vessel, the museum has an educational focus, with hands-on exhibits, theaters and simulators.

The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is another major draw in downtown Mobile, with interactive science exhibits and an IMAX dome theater. Its new permanent display, My BodyWorks, is considered the most advanced of its kind nationwide.

As home to the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World in 1703, Mobile remains entrenched in the festival culture. While Mardi Gras enthusiasts may want to join the revelry during Mobile’s carnival season leading up to Fat Tuesday, the history of the annual event can be discovered year-round at Mobile Carnival Museum. Visitors can climb aboard a float replica and see the jeweled crowns, lavish gowns and robes worn by Mardi Gras kings and queens. And for the uninformed, exhibits explain the mystic societies, dens, beads and masks associated with the historical pageantry.

‘Damn the torpedos’

Mobile’s history from early colonial times is depicted at the History Museum of Mobile, located in the Italianate-style Old City Hall. The area’s numerous historical sites include Fort Gaines, which was at the center of the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, where Admiral David G. Farragut famously said, “Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead.”

WWII history buffs won’t want to miss one of the nation’s finest military parks, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial, which harbors the 35,000-ton “Lucky A,” so named because she didn’t lose a single American life to enemy fire. Her multiple decks and passageways can be explored with a self-guided tour, as can other exhibits of artillery, aircraft, and the submarine USS Drum.

Oysters, art and azaleas

Oysters are mainstays on Mobile menus, and the oyster reefs have long provided a prosperous economy for the region and beyond. There is even an Oyster Trail, an arts and education project that helps support sustainability and harvest programs in Mobile Bay.

The urban arts scene thrives with weekly art walks, galleries and the impressive Mobile Museum of Art — with sizable permanent collections of American, European, African and Asian art. The newly named Alabama Contemporary Art Center offers a different focus, exposing modern-day art that often reflects social issues and themes of relevance to the Gulf Coast.

Alabama is the Azalea State, and a prime spot to view the colorful blooms is Bellingrath Gardens and Home, a historical 65-acre estate built in 1935. Garden enthusiasts will enjoy a variety of seasonal flowers, including tulips, poppies and roses, as well as featured areas like the estate’s camellia parterre, live oak plaza and bayou boardwalk.

A tour of the beautiful riverfront home reveals the fascinating story of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bellingrath, who were philanthropists and owners of the first Coca-Cola bottling franchise in Mobile, purchased in 1903. The English renaissance-style home, featuring local brick, cast iron galleries and English flagstone, is filled with the couple’s extensive collection of antiques and Coca-Cola memorabilia.

The bay area is rich in flora and fauna, resulting from the biologically diverse habitat of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta — where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Appalachee and Blakely rivers converge at Mobile Bay and flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center offers access for boating and camping, as well as a launching point for the outfitter Wild Native, which leads guided kayak tours and a pontoon safari cruise highlighting the bayou ecology.

From creole gumbo to MoonPies

Mobile’s downtown and historic neighborhoods are lined with eclectic dining establishments — from Irish pubs and oyster houses to Creole cafes and upscale restaurants. For casual chic, foodies head for Kitchen on George in the Oakleigh Garden District, serving locally sourced, seasonal cuisine and creative small plates. For urban ambiance, the newly opened Dauphin’s restaurant is a standout for skyline views from the 34th floor of Trustmark Bank, and its gumbo z’herb is possibly the best in town.

The café at GulfQuest Museum boasts the only waterfront dining in the city, but Felix’s Fish Camp on the causeway offers bayside dining where patrons often catch sight of an alligator nestled in the dunes. Felix’s is the place to go for catch-of-the-day and local favorites, including West Indies salad, made with fresh lump crabmeat and vinaigrette.

Another seafood icon, the historical Wintzell’s Oyster House, touts the best variety of oysters — served “fried, stewed or nude.”

Oddly enough, the MoonPie has been a Mobile favorite since 1952, when the chocolate marshmallow treat made by Chattanooga Bakery became the treasured throw at Mardi Gras parades. Its popularity led to MoonPie desserts featured on Mobile menus and the city’s famed New Year’s Eve event, MoonPie Over Mobile. As such, a replica of a giant MoonPie suspends from a downtown high-rise — both a curiosity and an emblem of the city’s vibrant spirit.

To read this entire article online, go to:


A new life for historic Mobile landmark

By Jon Coxwell, Lagniappe, June 10

With a complete restoration, The Steeple on St. Francis Street is ready to open its doors to guests.

The owners, Cliff and Ginna Inge, have been renovating the old St. Francis Street Methodist Church since they purchased the building in early 2014.  Renamed The Steeple, it will be used as a multi-functional event space available for rent.

The church was originally opened in 1842, but was destroyed by fires from the Mobile magazine explosion of 1865. A disaster that left hundreds dead and most of downtown severely damaged when 200 tons of shells and powder exploded in a warehouse on Beauregard Street.  After the church was tragically charred by those fires, it was later demolished and rebuilt in 1895.  The church would live a long and healthy life for the next century until its doors were eventually closed in 1994.

“We hope this space is used, not only to benefit the community, but for inspiration also.  It was always inspiring in some faith based way, and so perhaps it will inspire people and their souls to write a new song or play a new tune,” Inge said.

The capacity of the space is 500 and tours are available by appointment only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.  For booking information or more information on The Steeple’s journey you can visit

To read this entire article online, go to:


Montgomery to be headquarters for new regional passenger train system

By Lindsey Rogers, WSFA 12 News, June 11

A rail developer has set its sights on the Capital City for a new state-wide network of passenger trains.

It’s a project that’s been talked about for years, but now it’s taking shape in the form of a public-private partnership and officials say it will have a major economic impact.

J. William McFarland Jr., the Governor’s Designee to the Southern Rail Commission, says the new system will usher in a new era of train travel in Alabama. He’s been working for years to find a way to make rail travel available to more people throughout the state, including the rural areas.

McFarland Jr. thinks the formation of the new system, called Alabama Corridor Rail, will improve transportation and fuel major growth and investment. 

“We feel that this is a major step forward for passenger rail but also for economic development, transportation and jobs for the people of our state and particularly in the Montgomery, River Region area,” McFarland said.

Montgomery will be the southeastern headquarters for the new system. The developer, Corridor Capital Rail, is also looking at two different possible locations for a train depot in the heart of downtown, near the Biscuits stadium and restaurants.

Amtrak’s Crescent Route currently serves Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston running once per day, but the rest of the state has been without passenger train service for many years.

“One of the first of many routes that they hope to launch is the old Gulf Breeze route but instead of going from Mobile to Montgomery to Birmingham, they want to link Mobile to Montgomery to Birmingham all the way up to Huntsville with intermittent stops in smaller communities such as Atmore and also provide multiple frequencies each day to give the traveler more options instead of only one train per day,” McFarland explained.

Corridor Capital’s chairman, James Coston, issued the following statement Friday regarding the new Alabama based, Gulf Coast Region system:

“Corridor Capital understands Alabama is the heart of the South, and historically has been the center of Southern passenger train service.

By developing a modern, robust network of passenger trains routes, Alabama can vastly expand mobility options for travelers to, from and within the state, and make passenger trains a giant economic development engine throughout Alabama. Utilizing a public-private partnership that brings aboard private capital and entrepreneurship will enable Alabama to maximize the use of all available resources to create a superior transportation product.

Corridor’s goal is to implement routes serving Mobile-Atmore-Montgomery-Birmingham-Huntsville, New Orleans-Mobile-Atmore-Jacksonville-Orlando-Tampa with multiple daily trains, and expanding frequencies on the existing but underutilized Atlanta-Anniston-Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-New Orleans route. This will allow the citizens of and travelers to Alabama to make use of a new and efficient corridor rail system in a far shorter time, and at the fraction of the cost, of a government agency project.”

The first train is expected to roll out in 18 months, using existing CSX rails. Alabama Corridor Rail is designed to be created and operated independent of any involvement with Amtrak.

“We feel very confident that the people of Alabama will have some additional options when it comes to taking family vacations, traveling for business or any other need that they would have involving rail travel,” McFarland said. “It’s one that doesn’t rely on taxpayer bailouts and ballooning annual operating subsidies from the government…We feel like it’s a good value for the state and a true private-public partnership that will create jobs and help Alabama grow.”

Robert Smith, Montgomery’s Director of Planning, says a study is underway to determine the feasibility of returning passenger rail service from Birmingham to Montgomery to Mobile. The first phase is complete and the second phase is underway.

“It’s a good strategic move for Corridor Capital Rail to have a headquarters in Montgomery where a lot of decisions are made. This will be a great resource we can tap into to move the project forward from the feasibility stage to the implementation phase,” he said.

Corridor Capital Rail will open its Montgomery office by July 1st.

Former state representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. lobbied to make sure that the corporate headquarters within Alabama would be located in Montgomery.

The average Alabama Corridor Rail job will pay $60,000 annually. The network will employ hundreds of Alabamians. Terminals and maintenance facilities will be built using private capital. Construction costs are estimated at $40 million.

By year five, the rail system is expected to have $25 million in annual contracts and purchases in Alabama.

To read this article online, go to:


Hotel to be built at historic site in downtown Montgomery

By Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser, June 9

A five-story, $12.5 million hotel project will be built at the site of a downtown skate park where the first White House of the Confederacy once stood.

A 114-room Staybridge Suites starts construction this fall at 301 Bibb St. and should be finished in about a year. That’s next to the Renaissance Hotel & Spa and the new mid-rise apartment building where Mellow Mushroom recently opened.

The downtown area’s thriving convention business has supported a growing network of hotels, but Jake Kyser said this is the first “truly” extended-stay hotel in the heart of the city.

“We worked closely with the city’s development department and (the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitor Bureau) to meet the needs of our growing tourism industry and business travelers looking to stay a week to a month at a time,” said Kyser, president of Kyser Property Management Co.

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said that will allow the city to attract larger conventions, while also appealing to military personnel who are staying for a few weeks at Maxwell Air Force Base.

The new hotel will feature one- and two-bedroom suites with full kitchens, meeting space, a fitness center, a business center, a convenience store and an outdoor living room with a fire pit. The company said on-site parking will be available, with additional parking in the Molton Street lot. The hotel is a brand under Intercontinental Hotel Group.

City officials gathered at the skate park Thursday to celebrate the announcement along with the businesses involved.

City officials said they expect the skate park to move to another location downtown, though an exact spot hasn’t been decided. The city is asking citizens to contact the Development Department with suggestions about a new location. City Hall’s phone number is 334-625-4400.

The first White House of the Confederacy originally stood on the site but the building was moved to a location near the state Capitol Building several blocks away.

Several other hotels have entered the market over the past few months, and not just downtown.

A week ago, Strange was in east Montgomery to celebrate a hotel announcement there and promised more announcements ahead. He quipped at the time that the sweltering heat was “not as hot as this market.”

The new, 93-room Marriott Townplace Suites in Eastchase is under construction across the street from a 115-room Hilton Garden Inn that parent company RAM Hotels opened in March.

That’s because the occupancy rate for Eastchase hotels averages nearly 75 percent, the highest level in the city. Downtown hotels are only a couple of percentage points behind that level. And the Capital City as a whole has led the state in hotel room demand for more than three years.

Strange said he expects “three, perhaps four” more hotels coming downtown soon.

To read this article online, go to:


Armstrong Airport to add direct flights between New Orleans, Germany

The Times-Picayune, June 8

NOTE: A direct flight to New Orleans should lead to increased German tourism to Alabama, especially the coastal cities of Mobile and Gulf Shores/Orange Beach.

Direct flights between Germany and New Orleans will be available starting next year. Tourism and airport leaders made the news official on June 9, at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Condor Airlines will provide seasonal service to Frankfurt twice a week from May through September. Flights will depart New Orleans on Wednesday and Sunday evenings and arrive the next day in Germany. The airline will provide service with Boeing 767-300ER jets, which can seat 259 passengers — 206 in economy class and 53 in upgraded sections. 

Fares for Condor flights were not immediately available, but the airline did provide information for its new direct service to San Diego, which it also announced Wednesday. Prices for one-way economy class tickets start at around 350 euros, or $400.

The Frankfurt flight announcement came a week before New Orleans hosts IPW, an annual travel industry convention that brings together tour promoters and members of the tourism industry. Some 1,300 international travel buyers and 500 international journalists will be in the city from June 18-22. 

Germany is among the leaders for international visitors to New Orleans, and the new seasonal Condor flights coincide with the typical travel season for German tourists. The airline already serves several North American destinations, including Austin, Baltimore/Washington, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver.

According to the trade journal AirWays News, this is not the first direct flight to connect New Orleans with Europe.

Now defunct National Airlines once flew from Moisant Field to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris. British Airways stopped its London flights in New Orleans, but only to refuel on their way to Mexico City.

New Orleans tourism officials have lobbied heavily for international flights in recent years, landing Copa Airlines service to Panama City most recently. Armstrong fell short in its quest to lure a British Airways flight from London, with the airline choosing San Jose, Calif., instead last August.

To read the entire article online, go to

The Alabama Tourism Department markets to Germany by attending the ITB show and through the efforts of the Alabama Tourism Partnership German Representative Firm. 

For more information contact:


Kipling rates Alabama as one of the 10 best states for retirement

Where to retire is a deeply personal decision that no one else can make for you.  However, if you haven’t already settled on a destination, a comprehensive analysis of your options can help narrow your search.

We rated all 50 states based on quantifiable factors that are important to many retirees.  Our rankings favored states that are affordable—especially in terms of lower taxes on retirees and lower health care costs.  Then we took health into account—both the economic health of each state and the overall health of the population.  Finally, we rewarded states with relatively prosperous populations of residents age 65 and up.

5. Alabama

Retirees are sure to love the state. You can get many of the benefits of retiring to Florida—warm weather, nice beaches and plenty of golf—all at a lower price. The low living costs extend to health care, for which retirees can expect to spend 4.5% less than the average retired American couple. Taxes are easy on the budget, too, with income tax rates ranging from just 2% to 5%, and Social Security benefits being exempt.

Decatur may be a particularly nice destination for your retirement. Situated along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama, the city offers inexpensive outdoor recreation, including some of the state’s best bass fishing in Wheeler Lake.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Visit Mobile launches Tourism Ambassador program

Inaugural Class Begins July 15

The I Am Mobile! Tourism Ambassador Program is a new training program presented by Visit Mobile that will teach participants all things Mobile – from history, the arts, eco-tourism, Mardi Gras, and more. A showcase of the area’s attractions, businesses, special events, and services will be a main facet. Through this program, attendees will become a certified volunteer ambassador and be an integral part of improving the visitor experience. The goal in the years to come is to have thousands of ambassadors advancing tourism in the area through increased visitor numbers, return visits, and visitor spending.  The knowledge and skills gained from this program can be utilized to further both the tourism industry as a whole and ambassadors’ personal careers.

Tourism is big business in South Alabama, with Mobile County alone welcoming nearly three million visitors each year.  Having a pool of trained, educated and knowledgeable volunteers who are genuinely passionate about their city will impact visitors’ experiences thus encouraging them to return again and again, as well as sharing their positive experiences with their friends and family. Word of mouth continues to be the number one way people find out about potential travel destinations and the experience that a visitor has in town is as important as any advertising and public relations campaign that we run.   Once certified, ambassadors will be given many opportunities to volunteer at local conventions/conferences, special events and gatherings.

For more details, go to:  


Boat races to return, big crowd expected

By Anthony Campbell, The Advertiser-Gleam, June 8

Boat racing on Guntersville Lake will return, after a 30-year absence, in June of 2018, Katy Norton of the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau announced recently.

And the races could draw a crowd of 25,000 spectators throughout the three-day event, she said.

H1 Unlimited will bring its unlimited hydroplanes to Guntersville June 21-24 of 2018.  The races typically include heat races Friday and Saturday and early Sunday with the championship race on Sunday afternoon.

The unlimited hydroplanes as they are called use engines from Vietnam-era Chinook helicopters and generate 3,000 horsepower.  They can approach speeds of 200 miles per hour on the straightaways.

They race on a 2-mile oval and when the corners are factored in, the average speed on a lap runs 130 to 150 miles per hour.

The races will be on Big Spring Creek between the Stockton Causeway and the Highway 227 causeway with the pits at Bucky Howe Park.  No spectator boats will be allowed in the area the first year of the races, Mrs. Norton said.

“We want it to be an extreme water sports weekend for Guntersville,” she said.

Charlie Wiggins and his father Milton Wiggins have an unlimited racing team based in Gadsden.

“My first races were right here in Guntersville,” Charley Wiggins said. “I got my first win here. Every time I’ve driven across this body of water, I’ve thought, ‘We should be racing there.’”

Back in the old boat race days, Guntersville was known as “the fastest water in the south.”

Charley Wiggins said it should still be very fast water and good for racing.

“The mountains and the levee protect this area,” he said. “Ideal conditions for racing are a light chop. We don’t want it white capping and we don’t want it slick calm either.”

He said the light chop provides ideal conditions for the boats to get up on plane and make optimal runs.

She said the races are a joint operation between the cities of Guntersville, Arab, Albertville, Boaz and the CVB.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Calendar of Events deadline June 30

It’s time to get your 2017 information in for the official annual Alabama Tourism Calendar of Events.  The deadline for submitting items for the printed version is June 30. 

Using the Alabama Tourism industry partners website will simplify entering and managing your events/attractions in the database at  Sign up for an account if you don’t already have one and then you will be able to create/update items for the Guide. 

 For assistance please contact Pam Smith at 334-353-4541 or email at:

Alabama Restaurant Week sign up in full swing

Restaurants are being asked to sign up for Alabama Restaurant Week 2016.  The sign-up period began May 9 and will run through July 29. 

Last year 196 restaurants participated in the promotion. 

Courtney Austin with the state tourism department will serve as special coordinator for Alabama Restaurant Week. She will be assisting with sign-up and formatting entries.

Alabama Restaurant Week is a marketing event that highlights restaurants in the state.  This culinary event unites the state’s diverse range of cuisine into a 10-day event.  

Participating restaurants offer two-course lunch and/or three-course dinner offerings at an attractive set price.  A three-course dinner should include a starter, main course and dessert while the two-course lunch should include a main course and either a starter or dessert. Specialty restaurants with very limited menus may have pre-fixed meal offerings that are not multi-course.

There are no coupons or discount books to buy or bring. Just ask for an Alabama Restaurant Week meal at a participating restaurant during the promotion time period and enjoy.  With the promotion’s pre-set prices, you know before making your plans what your cost will be. 

Participating restaurants are listed on the website with exact meal offerings once they are known.  The Alabama Restaurant Week pricing is fixed at $10, $20 or $30 for dinner and $5, $10 or $15 for lunch.  In all cases, the price is per person and does not include tax, tip and drink.  Restaurants may offer a meal at all or just one of the preset prices.  A restaurant’s regular menu will also be available.

When is Alabama Restaurant Week?  Alabama Restaurant Week is set for Friday, Aug. 12 through Sunday, Aug. 21.

Which Restaurants Can Participate in Alabama Restaurant Week?  To qualify for participation, a restaurant must be a locally owned and operated restaurant in Alabama and/or a restaurant in the state that is important to the Alabama tourism industry.  Most chain restaurants do not quality.  The Alabama Tourism Department reserves the right to include or deny any restaurant.  A restaurant does not have to be featured in the popular “l00 dishes to eat in Alabama before you die” brochure to participate. 

How Many Different Meal Preset Prices Must a Restaurant Offer?  A restaurant may participate in all three preset prices for both lunch or dinner, or just one or any combination.  It is not necessary to participate in both lunch and dinner. 

What about a Restaurant’s Regular Menu?  In addition to the Alabama Restaurant Week meal listings, a restaurant should still use their regular menu. 

Is There a Cost to Participate?  The Alabama Tourism Department does not charge a fee. 

How does a restaurant sign up?  Go to  Restaurants that participated last year should click on the highlighted area that reads “Already a member?  Click here” and update their entry form, paying close attention to check the box that reads “I want to participate this year.”  Restaurants that have not participated before, should click on the highlighted area that reads “Sign up your Restaurant It’s quick and easy.”

Restaurants may register to participate and later put in their Alabama Restaurant Week special. The Alabama Tourism Department will send promotional material to restaurants that sign up.

Can a local restaurant week be conducted during Alabama Restaurant Week?  Yes, Chambers, Convention and Visitor Bureaus and other destination marketing organizations who conduct a local restaurant week during the same period and with the same guidelines are requested to let the Alabama Tourism Department know.

For more information, contact or


Alabama Tourism Department upcoming events

Aug. 20 – 23                           Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism            Orange Beach



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