Tourism Tuesdays July 12, 2016

  • Birmingham hopes to obtain ‘World Heritage’ status for civil rights landmarks
  • Birmingham Forging Tourism Identity
  • Sign up for April Walking Tours 2017
  • The Telegraph lists 50 amazing secret places and top tips from the US
  • 20 Alabama restaurants receive top awards from Wine Spectator magazine
  • Two Bham gas station restaurants featured in Southern Living
  • Eleven Alabama State Parks Receive TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence
  • Craig Ray to lead Mississippi’s Tourism Efforts
  • Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism deadlines
  • Send in anniversary events for 2017
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Birmingham hopes to obtain ‘World Heritage’ status for civil rights landmarks

By Stephon Dingle,, July 5

Birmingham hopes to have some of its historic civil rights landmarks be part of a group nomination to obtain World

Heritage status.

It’s part of the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO. The status could have a huge economic impact for the city, officials say.

Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell says this is a multi-year process that will pay off with a major increase in tourism to the selected sites, if they are approved.

Many of those sites are right here in Alabama. They include the 16th Street Baptist Church, as well as the Tuskegee Air field, but outside of Alabama, it includes places like the Lincoln Memorial and the home of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss.

The city is looking to gain World Heritage status because global tourists consider world heritage status to be a bucket list to visit.

The final decision will be made by the World Heritage Committee–they have a conference coming up in Turkey, and at least one city official will be attending to take a look at others who are making bids as well.

To read this article online, go to:


Birmingham Forging Tourism Identity

By Michael Shattuck, Director of Research at Birmingham Business Alliance, LinkedIn post, June 27

Birmingham may not have the white-sugar sand beaches that attract millions of visitors each year to Alabama, but it does have rich history, nationally ranked dining, world class museums and genuine Southern hospitality that is helping it gain international attention as a travel destination.

The Alabama Tourism Department’s Economic Impact Alabama Travel Industry 2015 conducted by Smith Travel Research reveals that Alabama had more than 25 million visitors in 2015 that spent nearly $12.8 billion in the state.

The Baldwin County Beaches were the state’s top attractions in 2015, accounting for nearly 28 percent of the state’s tourism impact, but the Magic City came in second and accounted for a close 20 percent. In 2015, more than $2.5 billion in travel-related expenditures were injected into metropolitan Birmingham’s economy, employing nearly 36,000 in travel related occupations.

Recent accolades touting Birmingham illustrate a strong tourism industry. Just within the past year, Birmingham has been recognized by the Travel Channel as one of 11 next great destinations; Lonely Planet recently recognized Birmingham among the top five best places to visit in 2016 and Forbes ranked Birmingham among the 20 best destinations in Canada, Mexico, the U.S. and Caribbean for travel this summer.

Accolades singing the praises of the Magic City have skyrocketed over the past year.  So far in 2016, Birmingham has received more than two dozen accolades from national media, up from 21 accolades for all of 2015.

Other recent accolades shaping Birmingham’s tourism industry include Regions Field being named by Baseball Park Digest as the No. 1 baseball park in America for 2015 and the finalist for 2016, Highlands Bar and Grill was named as the best restaurant in Alabama by Business Insider, and Zagat named Birmingham the No 1 Next Hot Food City in America.  And according to Nielson, metropolitan Birmingham leads the nation in craft beer sales, which is a reflection of the new breweries that have popped up in and around downtown over the past few years.

The momentum from Birmingham’s national recognition is being felt along the city streets.  With more than $1 billion in construction activity, many significant historical structures are being preserved in downtown Birmingham to serve residential, retail and commercial needs.

The city has created places that people want to experience, such as Railroad Park, Rotary Trail, Zyp Bikeshare and renowned Civil Rights District that provide an impetus for hospitality-related development such as restaurants, breweries and hotels. As a result, more than 1,000 hotel rooms have either recently opened or are under construction in downtown Birmingham, and according to Southern Living,  Birmingham had five of the eight Alabama bars ranked among the top 100 best bars in the South.

Here are some Birmingham highlights found in 2015 attendance reports by the Alabama Travel Department:

  • Metropolitan Birmingham has three of the state’s top five admission-charged attractions: it is part of the No. 2 attraction, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (580,221 visitors); No. 3 Birmingham Zoo (576,974 visitors) and No. 5 McWane Science Center (367,995 visitors)
  •  Attendance at the McWane Science Center increased 11% between 2014 and 2015 – the second largest attendance increase among Alabama’s admission charged attractions.
  •  Metropolitan Birmingham has three of the state’s top five free attractions: No. 1 Birmingham Botanical Gardens (350,000 visitors); No. 4 Birmingham Museum of Art (132,000 visitors) and No. 5 Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark (94,382 visitors)
  •  Birmingham’s National Veteran’s Day Parade ranks as the state’s seventh largest attended festival with 100,000 attendees in 2015.
  •  Metropolitan Birmingham has three of the state’s top 10 most visited parks and natural destinations: No. 4 Oak Mountain State park (555,000 visitors); No. 5 Railroad Park (548,000 visitors) and No. 6 Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park (540,000 visitors)
  •  Oak Mountain State Park experienced a 52% attendance increase between 2014 and 2015 – the highest among the state’s major parks and natural destinations.
  •  Metropolitan Birmingham has three of the state’s top 10 sports destinations: No. 3 Birmingham Barons Baseball (444,639 attendees); No. 6 Barber Vintage Motorsports (170,735 attendees) and No. 7 SEC Baseball Tournament (120,386 attendees)

Lauren Cooper, Birmingham Business Alliance, contributed to this analysis.


Sign up for April Walking Tours 2017

Towns interested in participating in the 2017 April Walking Tours should respond with an email giving their town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to  The deadline to sign up for the walking tours is Aug. 1.

Towns already signed up for 2017 include: Athens, Attalla, Cullman, Decatur, Elba, Enterprise, Fairhope, Foley, Montgomery and Moulton.

More than 2,500 people participated in this year’s April Walking Tours. Some 27 towns across the state hosted the tours. Towns with the most participants included Athens with 474, Huntsville with 310, Fairhope with 295, Tuscumbia with 124, Pell City with 110 and Cullman with 101.

The hour-long tours start at 10 a.m. each Saturday morning in April. Dates for the 2017 April Walking Tours are April 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.

“These tours are an excellent way for towns and communities of any size to be involved in a state wide tourism campaign,” said Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.  “There is no cost to participate and state tourism provides all the posters, brochures and collateral materials. More than 20,000 people have participated in the tours since the beginning of the program 12 years ago” he said.

Media coverage of the April Walking Tours this year included the Montgomery Advertiser, The Decatur Daily, Times-Daily, Moulton Advertiser, Cullman Times, The Demopolis Times, Dothan Eagle, News Courier, Selma Times Journal, Anniston Star, Courier Journal, Madison County Journal, Alabama News Center, WSFA-12 NBC Montgomery, WAAY-31 ABC Huntsville, WCFT 33-40 ABC Birmingham and WVTM-13 NBC Birmingham.

Email your town’s name, starting location, contact person and shipping address to to register for the April 2017 tours.


The Telegraph lists 50 amazing secret places and top tips from the US

By Jordan Payson, Escape, in The Telegraph, July 3

If you’re planning a holiday to the U.S., you also probably have a bucket list of big-ticket attractions to see.

But for every Disneyland, Statue of Liberty or Yosemite National Park there’s a host of lesser known treasures – historic sites, areas of natural beauty or just fun places to eat – that locals love and love to recommend.

So while you’re in Arizona taking in the majesty of Horseshoe Bend, make time to see something different such as Mission Gardens. Eaten at the landmark Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar? Then head to the Whispering Wall outside to see why it’s made this list.

Every state has its secrets … here are 50 of them.


Tom’s Wall

Tom’s Wall is a tribute that Tom Hendrix created to his Native American great-great-grandmother. She is the only person known to have walked back home to Alabama after escaping the Trail of Tears forced removal.

Bonus tip: With more than 1450 vintage motorcycles and race cars that date back to 1904, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham remains the largest motorcycle museum in the world.

To read this entire article online, go to:


20 Alabama restaurants receive top awards from Wine Spectator magazine

By Bob Carlton,, July 7

Eighteen Alabama restaurants have received the Award of Excellence in Wine Spectator magazine’s 2016 Restaurant Awards.

Also, two more restaurants — Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville and Galley and Garden in Birmingham — received Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence.

The 18 Award of Excellence winners include six restaurants from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, five from Birmingham and Hoover, four from Auburn and Opelika, one from Huntsville, one from Florence and one from Montgomery.

Wine Spectator’s annual awards recognize restaurants around the world that offer the best wine programs, according to the magazine.

This year’s list includes 3,595 restaurants from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.

The list will be available in the August issue of Wine Spectator, which appears on newsstands July 19. The winners are also available online here, and in the official Restaurant Awards app here

Wine Spectator began its world’s best wine lists in 1981. They include three levels of awards: Award of Excellence, Best of Award of Excellence, and the Grand Award. This year, there were 2,414 Award of Excellence winners, 1,093 Best of Award of Excellence winners and 88 Grand Award winners. There are no Grand Award winners from Alabama on the 2016 list.

The Award of Excellence recognizes restaurants whose wine lists feature a well-chosen assortment of quality producers along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style, according to Wine Spectator. Best of Award of Excellence recipients offer more extensive selections with significant vintage depth and excellent breadth across multiple regions.

Alabama’s two Best of Award of Excellence winners — Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville and Galley and Garden in Birmingham — are both owned and operated by Huntsville chef and restaurateur James Boyce and his wife, Suzan Boyce, of Boyce Restaurant Concepts.

To read this entire article, including a list of the restaurants, online, go to:


Two Bham gas station restaurants featured in Southern Living

By Tim Steere, Birmingham Business Journal, July 7

Two gas station restaurants in the metro Birmingham area were recently featured in a Southern Living article highlighting the best service station eateries in the South.

Blue Pacific at Hoover Food Mart and Bayou Fresh in Jasper were among the list of 10 eateries across the southern United States. Interestingly enough, both of the Birmingham eateries mentioned feature some sort of Asian cuisine.

Blue Pacific, located at 3219 Lorna Road, serves traditional Thai food using recipe’s from owner Pranchit Aroon‘s grandmother.

Parked outside the Hoover Food Mart, you wouldn’t think that the city’s best Thai food awaits inside, but

Birmingham residents across the city venture far down Highway 280 to dine on dumplings, Pad Thai, Panang curry, and a near urban legend-level pork noodle soup—each decorated with crushed peanuts, lime wedges, scallions, and even basil grown outside in a pot,” Southern Living said of Blue Pacific.

Bayou Fresh on 217 N Walston Bridge Road, serves several sushi options.

“From sculptural sashimi to artful avocado rolls, the sushi you’ll find in this humble facility doesn’t require you to adjust your expectations for the location,” the article said.

To read this entire article online, go to:


Eleven Alabama State Parks Receive TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, June 10

Eleven Alabama state parks have been awarded the 2016 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor, a travel website featuring traveler-generated content and reviews. The award celebrates establishments that provide excellent guest experiences and consistently achieve positive reviews on the TripAdvisor website,

For the third consecutive year, Alabama State Parks has been recognized by TripAdvisor for excellence in providing lodging, access to nature and outdoor activities. This year the parks system received 17 awards, an increase from 11 in 2015. A state park concessionaire also received the award.

2016 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Awards for Alabama State Parks

(Park name or attraction and award name)

• Cathedral Caverns – State Parks

• Cheaha – State Parks

• Chewacla – State Parks

• DeSoto – State Parks 

• DeSoto Falls – Mountains, Nature and Wildlife Areas

• Gulf – Campgrounds

• Gulf – State Parks

• Gulf Adventure Center at Gulf State Park (zip line concessionaire) – Zip Line Adventures

• Gulf State Park Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail – Trails

• Gulf State Park Pier – Piers and Boardwalks

• Joe Wheeler – State Parks

• Lake Guntersville – State Parks

• Lake Guntersville Lodge – Lodging

• Lakepoint – State Parks 

• Monte Sano – State Parks

• Oak Mountain – State Parks 

• Wind Creek – State Parks


“Over the last three years several of our parks have received an increasing number of excellence awards from TripAdvisor,” said Rob Grant, Assistant Director of Alabama State Parks. “We are extremely proud that our customers regard their state parks in such a consistently positive manner. The entire parks division deeply appreciates our staff, park volunteers, and the customers who make these awards possible.”


Alabama State Parks also encourages visitors at its smaller parks to post their observations and experiences at those parks on TripAdvisor.  


“We hope to use these recent awards as examples at some of our smaller parks,” Grant said. “The more our customers at the smaller parks share their positive experiences the better off the entire park system will be.”


To learn more about TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence and read traveler reviews of Alabama’s state parks, visit To plan your next Alabama State Parks adventure, visit


For Alabama State Parks photos, click here.


The Alabama State Parks Division relies on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit

To read this article online, go to:


Craig Ray to lead Mississippi’s Tourism Efforts

New Visit Mississippi Director begins July 18

Veteran tourism professional Craig Ray will take over as Visit Mississippi Director at the Mississippi Development Authority. Ray was appointed to the position by MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough, Jr. “Craig has a proven history with both tourism and MDA,” said McCullough. “His results-driven performance record will enhance Mississippi as a destination location with a uniquely rich cultural heritage around the globe.” 

As Visit Mississippi Director, Craig will lead MDA’s tourism efforts to promote Mississippi as a premier tourism destination and film location both nationally and internationally.  He will advocate Mississippi’s significant cultural, heritage, history, natural resources and recreational offerings through his promotional efforts.

“I have had the privilege of promoting Mississippi’s rich tourism assets for many years. It is an honor to help lead a team dedicated to showing the world what the state has to offer,” said Ray.  “I appreciate Glenn McCullough for this opportunity and look forward to working with both MDA and our tourism partners.”

Ray is a former partner of The Talon Group, LLC, a government relations advocacy firm. He has an extensive background in tourism, public relations, event management, partnership development, and entertainment and venue negotiations.

Ray assumes his new position July 18.


Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism deadlines

The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism (AGCT) will be Aug. 20 – 23, at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach.  The room block for the AGCT ends on Wednesday, July 13, and the Early Bird Special for registration ends July 29.

For more information and registration, go to:


Send in anniversary events for 2017

The Alabama Tourism Department would like to highlight any state events/festivals having major anniversaries next year (10th, 25th, 50th, etc.) in our 2017 Vacation Guide.  If any of your local events are celebrating one of these major anniversaries next year please send the name of the event, its anniversary, the dates for 2017 and a short description to Pam Smith at  


Please send these in by July 15. 


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

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

Sept. 7 – 9        STS Fall Forum   Birmingham



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