Tourism Tuesdays September 6, 2016

  • State tourism wins national award for barbecue promotion
  • Two Alabama BBQ spots appear on USA Today list
  • Fall is the perfect time to plan a family vacation
  • The importance of Alabama’s State Parks
  • Billy Reid Shindig features Year of Alabama Makers
  • Maryland governor pits tourism against teachers with new school start date
  • Mobile and NAIA extend tennis contract
  • Eagle Solar & Light contributes solar lighting to Red Mountain Park
  • The Daily Meal says Sheffield’s George’s Steak Pit best steakhouse in Alabama
  • Alabama Tourism Workshop Oct. 5
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


State tourism wins national award for barbecue promotion

The Alabama Tourism Department’s focus on barbecue last year has been honored by the National Council of State Tourism Directors with the Mercury Award for the best targeted marketing promotion in the nation.

The “Year of Alabama Barbecue” promoted the state’s barbecue heritage, award-winning restaurants and talented pit masters.  The campaign included a website, smart phone app, social media promotions, a touring photo exhibit of legendary pit masters, a documentary about the state’s barbecue culture, a 128-page hardcover book and the creation of the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame.

“After doing a social media survey of barbecue fans from across the state, we selected more than 75 restaurants in 52 cities to highlight for this campaign.  It generated a great deal of pride and traffic within the state’s barbecue community,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell. 

This is the fifth time in the last decade the Alabama Tourism Department has won the top award.  Previous awards went to the “Year of Alabama Food,” the “Year of Alabama Arts,” the “Year of Alabama Small Towns and Downtowns” and the “Year of Alabama Music.” Sentell was also one of three finalists for state tourism director of the year, which was won by Vicki Varela of Utah.

Representatives from the state tourism department accepted the award at the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) conference in Boca Raton, Florida.


Two Alabama BBQ spots appear on USA Today list

By Tim Steere, Birmingham Business Journal, Aug. 29

USA Today
has released its list of the “barbecue dishes worth a pilgrimage” and two Alabama eateries made the cut.

Birmingham’s Rib-It-Up and Tuscaloosa’s Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa were both names on the list. The pair joined several notable BBQ institutions, including Central BBQ in Memphis, Tenn., and Joe’s Kansas City BBQ in Kansas City, Kan.

The publication dubbed all of Rib-It-Up’s plates a “bargain.”

Barbecue joints come in all shapes and sizes, but the great ones tend to have a few key themes: family owned and multi-generational, quirky, locally popular with regulars, serve at least one standout specialty that surprises, and ideally feature some kind of cartoon pig sign. Rib-It-Up hits all these buttons.

The list features establishments from across the country and also names several honorable mentions.

To read this article online, go to:


Fall is the perfect time to plan a family vacation

By Hannah Lane, WSFA 12 News, Sept. 2

According to Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell, this is an ideal time to be planning a fall vacation to the beach.

Sentell says here in Alabama, after Labor Day, into October and even November is a great time to go since the weather is perfect and it’s less crowded. That also helps with finances, since many accommodations will be cheaper with fewer people heading to the Gulf.

“It’s not unusual for people to save 40 percent for accommodations when they go in late September or October, or even into November,” said Sentell. “We may think that December and January are cold in the winter time, but if you are from Canada, you think December and January are perfect times to be at the beach. So right now is really an ideal time for families to be planning getaways, whether it’s for a weekend or a week at the beach.”

To read this article online, go to:


The importance of Alabama’s state parks

By Greg Lein, The Anniston Star, Sept. 4

Labor Day weekend in Alabama marks two major events: the unofficial end of summer and the official start of college football season. As the leaves eventually begin to change and fall temperatures start to prevail, many Alabamians will spend their Saturdays over the next few months focused on their favorite team and tracking their fantasy leagues.

Alabamians’ love for parks extends much further than the Saturdays spent at the ballpark. Parks of all kinds are important to our communities; national and state parks provide dozens of options for people to go unwind. As you prepare for your Labor Day adventure and officially kick off fall, I encourage you to get outside and experience some of the amazing opportunities in Alabama’s state parks as well as the thousands of attractions that can be found in city, county, and National Parks.

Last week, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrated 100 years of service and stewardship. Alabama’s state parks are celebrating their 77th year of service. These incredible public lands are much more than simply protected lands; they are outlets for cultural, historical and environmental education. Parks also give citizens countless opportunities for recreation and help provide an exceptional quality of life with scores of recreational options.

The Alabama State Parks System protects more than 47,000 acres of land across the state and offers dozens of recreational options. Within Alabama’s state parks you’ll find hundreds of miles of trails, golf courses, mountain top views, serene beachfront, luxury resorts, ziplines, archery courses and museums that tell the story of native Alabamians and early pioneers. These parks are as diverse and distinct as the guests that visit them each year. Parks provide opportunities for people of all backgrounds. Regardless of socioeconomic background, education, and physical ability, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the parks.

Our leaders had the choice generations ago of whether to keep these lands available to citizens. They made the right decision to keep our parks available to future generations. We hope all these amazing public lands will still be available to all Americans in the next century.

The citizens of Alabama are faced with a decision this November about whether they want their state parks preserved for future generations. A “yes” vote on Amendment 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot is a vote to help ensure our incredible state parks will remain available and thriving for future generations. The proposed constitutional amendment would protect the state park system’s money, keeping it within the parks and preventing it from being taken and used elsewhere.  Since almost all of the money in the state parks’ budget comes from parks’ users, it is only right for those funds to remain in the parks.

Let’s continue to celebrate our “parks heritage” during this centennial year and let us come together to ensure the future of our state parks by voting “Yes” on Amendment 2 – and encourage all your friends and neighbors to do likewise.

To read this article online, go to:


Billy Reid Shindig features Year of Alabama Makers

The international star power of our fashionable Alabama Makers was evident in Florence two weeks ago for the 8th annual Billy Reid Shindig.  As part of Alabama Tourism Department’s celebration of The Year of Alabama Makers, the Sweet Home Alabama brand was showcased during top fashion designer Reid’s gathering of fashion designers, models, and fashion journalists from Aug. 25-28.  This year’s event created additional buzz with the addition of a runway show featuring Reid’s fall collection. He brought the fashion world to Alabama this year instead of doing a traditional New York runway show for fashion week.

Billy Reid and fashion designer Natalie Chanin continued the tradition of showcasing the Shoals area’s attractions, food and music as part of the Shindig experience.  A stop at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame was a favorite of writers for Vogue and the Hollywood Reporter. Concerts featuring Florence based singer/songwriter John Paul White entertained a mix of locals and out-of-town guests at the Shoals Theater in downtown Florence.

Food events included meals prepared by chefs John Best, John Currence and a closing brunch at Odette, a popular eatery in downtown Florence.  Craft beers were a Shindig favorite with a tasting during the event.

For Shindig photos, go to: OR OR


Maryland governor pits tourism against teachers with new school start date

By Andy Campbell, The Huffington Post, Sept. 1

Here’s how to reach these kids: Give them more summer vacation.

On Wednesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared via executive order that beginning in September 2017, the Maryland school year won’t start until after Labor Day ? a decision that prompted sharp criticism from school leaders, who are accusing Hogan of favoring the tourism industry over education.

The order exacerbates an ongoing battle between education leaders and Democrats in the state legislature ? who called the order “extraordinary and legally questionable” ? versus the governor and the tourism industry. The education side says students and parents will pay the price for an extended summer, while Hogan’s camp argues that families will have more time together and local economies will thrive.

It’s a landmark decision in a state whose school boards had previously been able to write up their own calendars.

Sean Johnson, a lobbyist for the state teachers union, blasted the governor for forcing schools and parents to deal with an ever-shrinking window for education. The new mandate requires that the school year end by June 15, but school boards still have to cram 180 school days into the calendar year.

“Forcing all schools to begin after Labor Day won’t help students do better ? and research shows that it can worsen summer brain drain among students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds,” Johnson said. “Cutting back the school year and extending summer is not a solution to any education problem ? it’s just another Gov. Hogan school cut.”

The state Education Association has repeatedly criticized Hogan for saving, rather than spending, nearly $100 million that the state legislature allocated for various school programs over the past two years. Hogan, meanwhile, allowed $5 million to be spent on a private school scholarship program, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The governor’s camp, which notes that there have been increases in education aid across every jurisdiction in the state since Hogan took office, did not mince words in its response to the teachers union.

“The Maryland teachers union is living in a complete fantasy world and has been for quite some time,” spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver Churchill told The Huffington Post. “While they are loath to admit it, they are very well aware of the fact that every single one of Governor Hogan’s budgets has provided record funding for K-12 education. Why they continue to deny this easily provable fact is incomprehensible.”

The governor has, in fact, been hailed for historic increases in public school funding over the years, and has repeatedly accused the unions of waging a misinformation campaign against him. But lawmakers have said that Hogan’s increases are the minimum required by state law and are due solely to rises in enrollment and other factors.

Wednesday’s order is unlikely to end the war. Some school districts say they may have to shorten spring break and eliminate time off for religious holidays. Concerns have also been raised about what a shorter school year will mean for low-income students who rely on public schools for subsidized meals.

For their part, defenders of the shorter school year point out that Maryland’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates say the move could generate up to $74.3 million in direct economic activity for the state.

Parents, meanwhile, appear to support the decision. Earlier independent polls found that more than 70 percent of Maryland residents wanted the first day of school to come after Labor Day.

To read this article online, go to:


Mobile and NAIA extend tennis contract

A five-year extension has been given to Mobile, as the host for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Men’s and Women’s Tennis National Championships. The agreement keeps the event at the Mobile Tennis Center through the 2021 season.

“The NAIA is very pleased to have continued partnerships with both the city of Mobile and the Mobile Area Tennis Association for the coming years as the hosts of our Men’s and Women’s Tennis National Championships,” said Jim Carr, NAIA President and CEO. “The student-athletes, coaches and fans always are welcomed with a very well-organized event. We are proud of the efforts that the Mobile community puts forth to host this event.”

“We are extremely pleased to learn of the extension of the NAIA Tennis National Championships for the next five years in Mobile. We must congratulate Scott Novak and his team at the Mobile Tennis Center for doing a remarkable job in hosting the tournament. From a Destination Marketing Organization standpoint, it is fantastic news for our city to be able to serve the coaches, players and families of the NAIA schools. Our community will be thrilled to learn of this agreement,” said Ron McConnell, Vice President of Visit Mobile.

The Mobile Tennis Center, a 60-court facility located in the western suburbs of the city, has hosted the NAIA Men’s and Women’s Tennis National Championships since 2004. In addition to the NAIA, the facility welcomes numerous tournaments throughout the year, including both United States Tennis Association (USTA) and Bay Area Tennis Association (BATA) league matches.

“We are excited to have the NAIA Tennis Championships in Mobile for another five years,” said Scott Novak, Mobile Tennis Center General Manager. “We feel honored that the NAIA would choose Mobile as we know there is always great competition with other cities to host the 48 teams that compromise the championships. This event has brought great tennis to Mobile and has become a staple in our community.”

In its 13 championships that have been hosted there, Mobile has held the event the second longest, after Kansas City hosted the championship from 1960-93. Other sites that have played host include Tulsa, Okla., Boca Raton, Fla., Lexington, Ky., and Peachtree City, Ga.

“We want to thank the NAIA for showing the confidence in Mobile to extend their prestigious tennis national championships for another five years. Scott Novak and his staff do a great job with our tournaments at the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center and the Mobile Sports Authority is proud to help support Scott and his team, especially with this important event,” said Danny Corte, Executive Director of Mobile Sports Authority.

The 2017 national championships begin May 16 and runs through May 20. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments consist of a 24-team field comprised of automatic qualifiers from NAIA affiliated conferences/independent/unaffiliated groups, plus at-large selections and a potential host berth. Eight matches will be contested during each of the first two days, with the quarterfinals set for May 18, the semifinals on May 19 and with the final on May 20 at 10 a.m. CDT.



Eagle Solar & Light contributes solar lighting to Red Mountain Park

Now Park Guests Zip Line, Rappel & Climb at Night with ActiveLED Lighting

Birmingham-based company, Eagle Solar & Light has installed and contributed a new solar lighting system for Red Mountain Park.  The donation has made possible the illumination of the Park’s 80-foot tall Kaul Adventure Tower.  Now Park guests can zip line, rappel and climb at night during special after-hours events.  The lighting system is made up of ActiveLED Solar Lights and Solar Lighting Controls, PV solar panels and batteries.  During the day, the solar panels charge the batteries that store energy to power ActiveLED solar lights once the sun goes down.  ActiveLED’s ActiveREST dimming technology dims the lights when no one is on the Kaul Adventure Tower and raises lighting back to full power when guests approach.  And should Park staff forget to turn the lights off at the end of an exciting night-time Adventure? No problem—ActiveLED controls will automatically turn the lights off at dawn.

In 2015, Sam Yates, founder and president of Eagle Solar & Light, discussed with Red Mountain Park the exciting benefits of renewable energy and generated a feasibility study on lighting the Kaul Adventure Tower so that revenue generation could be enhanced for ziplining after dark.  Yates was excited to make the plan a reality, saying “Eagle Solar & Light is proud to have an opportunity to donate such an advanced renewable system for such a unique, incredible venue, home only to Birmingham, Alabama!” 

As a factory certified dealer for ActiveLED, a company located in Austin, Texas, Eagle Solar & Light was able to provide lighting for each level of the tower, plus three outside flood lights and an additional light in the area where guests are prepped for their adventure.  The advanced programmable control system provides over 24 hours of continuous energy.

“Red Mountain Park is a project that depends on great partnerships. I am proud to be associated with Eagle Solar & Light. Their creativity has enhanced our Adventure Area and made the attractions at the Park even more exciting.  This donation will save the park thousands of dollars in construction and energy costs and will enhance our ability to generate revenue. We are seriously considering using solar energy throughout the park,” said Red Mountain Park Executive Director, David Dionne.

The Kaul Adventure Tower is an 80-foot-tall tower—guests can climb, repel or zip line for 1,000 feet off the top of the Tower with Park tour guides who make the experience an unforgettable one.  Nighttime reservations are available on Friday and Saturday evenings starting this month. 

To see available times and to book online, visit or call: 205-913-7899.


The Daily Meal says Sheffield’s George’s Steak Pit best steakhouse in Alabama

An iconic Sheffield restaurant has been named the best steakhouse in Alabama by a New York-based dining news Website.

The Daily Meal surveyed steakhouses from coast-to-coast to determine the best in every state.  George’s Steak Pit was its pick for Alabama.

George’s, which is celebrating its 60th year in business, cooks its ribeyes, T-bones, New York strips and other steaks over a hickory log fire in an open pit in its kitchen.

Susann Hamlin, president and CEO of Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau, said the top steakhouse in Alabama listing confirms what Sheffield area residents have been saying for years. She said George’s is a popular dining destination for locals and visitors.


Alabama Tourism Workshop October 5

The Alabama Tourism Department will hold its semi-annual Tourism Workshop in Montgomery on Wednesday, Oct. 5.  This workshop is for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. 

For additional information and to register, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or e-mail: Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Sept. 7 – 9                              

STS Fall Forum                                             


Oct. 5                                     

Alabama Tourism Workshop                         




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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