Tourism Tuesdays October 11, 2016

  • Railroad Park to debut a winter ice skating rink
  • Anniston’s Hotel Finial welcomes with mix of old and new
  • Forever Wild Trails Grand Opening: a day of gratitude
  • Alabama pilot remembers flying the ‘faster than a bullet’ SR-71 Blackbird
  • Birmingham’s new downtown bus, Amtrak station to open soon
  • Kona Grill to launch first Alabama restaurant next week
  • From Soul Patrol to soul food: Alabama native Taylor Hicks returns to TV
  • Talladega’s Heritage Hall Museum launches new website
  • GulfQuest attendance 80,000 after first year and volunteers log nearly 10,000 hours
  • Tourism fiction writing contest comes to Selma
  • Openings for Tourism Promotional Representatives
  • 2016 Welcome Center Employees Educational Retreat
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events




Railroad Park to debut a winter ice skating rink

By Kelly Poe,, Oct. 6

Railroad Park will be celebrating the winter holidays with an outdoor ice skating rink. 

The park will feature a 50′ by 70′ foot rink with real ice starting the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25 at 10 a.m.  It will be open through mid-January, including Christmas and New Year’s days. 

Tickets are $10 for a two-hour session with a discounted rate of $8 per skater for groups of 20 or more.  There will be ice skate rental available, but skaters can bring their own. 

It will be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.  Christmas and New Year’s day hours are noon-8 p.m.  The Boxcar café nearby will sell hot chocolate and other cold weather refreshments. 

The park will also feature, for the first time, the American Family Care Holiday Market every Saturday from Nov. 26-Dec. 24. featuring merchants selling seasonal merchandise. 

“Railroad Park will come alive this winter in ways that it hasn’t before,” said Camille Spratling, Executive Director of the Railroad Park Foundation, in a press release.  “2016 has been about creating new ways for visitors to enjoy the park.”

Other holiday season events will include theme nights like “tacky sweater night” and “SEC team night,” the schedule of which will be announced later. 

Magic Ice USA, headquartered in Miami, will make and maintain the rink.  The company has built rinks in Charlotte, Denver, San Francisco and Nashville, among others.

To read this article online, go to:


Anniston’s Hotel Finial welcomes with mix of old and new

By William Thornton,, Oct. 3

Pay a visit to Anniston’s Hotel Finial, and your first stop will be the old Carriage House – now the check-in desk and hotel bar. Just behind a wall are the original horse stalls, a reminder of the hotel’s beginnings.  And a few steps inside, you’ll see its distinctive Red Oak table.

The table is a cross-section of a large tree trunk, finished to a shine, with enough chairs around it to seat a large party.

“I thought of it as a community table,” said Ginger Marsh. “A tree fell on the property and we wanted to find some way to use it, because it’s just one of a kind.”

The story, in some ways, sums up Hotel Finial – a distinctive reminder of the past, updated for the present, with enough room and charm to welcome anyone.

Hotel Finial is a 61-room boutique hotel on Anniston’s Quintard Avenue which opened in late March. Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and his wife, Ginger, acquired the hotel from the City of Anniston last year. The couple spent more than $2 million on the property, which was formerly known as the Victoria.

Hotel Finial, named for the weather vane that stands atop the Queen Anne-style home’s turret, was built as a private home in the late 1880s on a hill to sit alongside some of the Model City’s grandest houses of the era. Ginger remembers the Santa that sat in the windows of the turret at Christmas time.

By the time the Marshs became the owners, the other houses were long gone. Now a hotel, the property had passed through several owners and was in need of some deep repairs.

“It was a massive undertaking,” she said. “When reality set in, we started to ask, did we want to take this on? But we knew we really had something that was a landmark for the community.”

Spencer’s Bar, inside the Carriage House, is named for Ginger’s father – a man who enjoyed a good cigar and a beer, she remembers. The bar offers two special house beers created by Cheaha Brew Pub: “The Finial 8,” a dark beer, and “Mighty Fine,” a pilsner.

Just a short walk up the hill is the main house, which hosts the morning breakfast buffet and has four suites. Behind the house is a complex including the guest cottage, assorted rooms with king and double queen size beds and the Carriage House.

‘I still find myself falling in love with some aspect of it each day.’ – Ginger Marsh

Hotel Finial is larger than a bed-and-breakfast, but offers a different experience than the standard motel off the Interstate. The complex is enclosed in an iron gate but allows a view of Quintard’s tree-lined thoroughfare.

While the exterior home and grounds retain the look of Victorian charm, the interior has a more modern feel. On the ground floor of the house, guests can sample a Southern breakfast buffet featuring Conecuh sausage and catfish, among other items, in two dining rooms, three auxiliary rooms or the sunporch.

Under its previous incarnation as the Victoria, the hotel used to have a restaurant. Del Marsh said Hotel Finial only offers the buffet, and steers guests to the area eating establishments for other meals.

“There are some wonderful restaurants downtown within a short distance, along with Anniston’s museums and landmarks,” he said. “That’s one of our goals is to act as a catalyst for the area.”

There are also meeting spaces in the hotel’s “Marble Room,” the Board Room, or a conference area sometimes referred to as “the Situation Room.”

Upstairs are the suites, named for previous owners of the home, and each with a distinctive look. The Kirby features a silver gray interior, while the McKleroy has a champagne scheme. The Wilson bears a seafoam shade. On the top floor is the grand ballroom, with a view from the turret. In addition to the regular bed is a Murphy bed, a relaxing lounge and a desk with a view. 

The guest cottage out back near the swimming pool has a more masculine interior, Ginger Marsh said, with its own area for relaxation in addition to the bed and bath, which features a jetted tub.

In the 56 standard rooms, a visitor comes in on a tile entryway. Marsh said this was an allowance for the bike enthusiasts who come to Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain. There are bike racks in select rooms. Each bathroom has a three-foot sliding door.

And each bed has a specially constructed heart pine and iron frame, made from materials from Sylacauga’s old Avondale Mills. Some of the pine is also used in the Carriage House bar.

“I still find myself falling in love with some aspect of it each day,” Ginger said of the hotel. “We wanted to make it into something that was a blending of old and new, which can be very hard. Sort of a ‘past-forward,’ you might say.”

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Forever Wild Trails Grand Opening: a day of gratitude
By Lance Griffin, Dothan Eagle, Oct. 1

The grand opening of Dothan’s Forever Wild trails at Beaver Creek was supposed to begin with a few speeches, some thank-yous, a ribbon cutting and the unveiling of a monument before people began walking and hiking the 10 miles of trails.

The scores of children on hand, however, couldn’t wait that long before pedaling the trails.

And that’s OK.

A large crowd turned out on a beautiful day for what was deemed the official grand opening of the trails.  Portions of the trail have been open for a few months, but Sept. 24 marked the first day all 10 miles were open for hiking and biking.

“This is a day of gratitude,” Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said.  “We can get outside. We can be helpful. We get to have fun. Baby boomers can get out here and walk these trails.  It is wonderful to know that Forever Wild will be special in our community forever.”

The Forever Wild land in Dothan consists of about 392 acres.  Overall, Alabama’s Forever Wild program has secured about 248,000 acres since its inception in 1992.  The Forever Wild trust owns about 186,500 acres of the land and leases the rest.  The purpose of the program is to provide for greater habitat conservation and public recreational opportunities.

Dothan’s land is significant in at least two ways.  First, it is the only nature preserve entirely within a city.

Schmitz said the concept was exciting and risky when assistant leisure services director Kim Meeker approached him more than three years ago with the idea of leveraging the city-owned land that held the old Beaver Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant with several nearby parcels owned by different landowners.

“You mean you want us to take 400 acres and make it a preserve?  In one of the fastest growing parts of the city?” Schmitz said.  “And it turned out so wonderful.”

The land is within about 5.5 miles of 10,000 residents, making it one of the most easily accessible preserves in the state.

Second, it is the only Forever Wild land in southeast Alabama.  The closest Forever Wild land is a Blue Springs State Park addition in Barbour County and a bottomland hardwood habitat along Lightwood Knot Creek near Opp in Covington County.

“It took us about 25 years (since the program’s inception) to get our piece of land down here in the Wiregrass but it is worth it,” State Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, said.  “This is something our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy.  That’s what this program is about, to keep the land like it is.”

The trails are accessible at three locations. One trail head is located on Fortner Street across from the Crestwood Village subdivision.  Another is on Fortner Street across from the Greystone subdivision and a third is just off Flowers Chapel Road on Narcisse Drive near the Mill Creek subdivision.

The land consists of a series of trails that are interconnected with each other with the help of a long wooden bridge, which spans over swamp land.  The bridge cost $1.4 million to build and was funded through a grant from the Wiregrass Foundation.

The trails are open generally from 6:30 a.m. until dark.  For more information on the trails, visit the Leisure Services website at, then click on Leisure Services, then on “Forever Wild Trails” on the left side of the page.

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Alabama pilot remembers flying the ‘faster than a bullet’ SR-71 Blackbird

By Lee Roop,, Oct. 9

Alabama may not be the first state that comes to mind when thinking of America’s aviation history, but it might need to fly a little higher on your list.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding of Florence, who was the last pilot of the SR-71 Blackbird jet and still holds the coast-to-coast air speed record, told his story of supersonic Cold War spying to a packed auditorium at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville recently.

Add Yeilding to a list that includes the Wright brothers, who started America’s first powered flight school in Montgomery in 1910, and the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, and Alabama is flying in rare air.

Many aviation enthusiasts say Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 is the greatest airplane ever built. “Long, sleek and fast,” in Yeilding’s words, it flew to 85,000 feet at more than three times the speed of sound.  A product of Lockheed Martin’s famous Advanced Development Program, also known as the Skunk Works, the SR-71 broke new ground in everything from design and construction materials to engines and fuel.  In all, 32 were built, and 12 were lost to accidents. None were shot down.

This Blackbird – an earlier version of which is being restored now at the Space & Rocket Center – mostly looked down on the Soviet Union.  Yeilding, who flew it from 1983 until it was retired in 1990, spent a lot of his time over Soviet submarine bases on the coast of the Barents Sea.    

“Where their submarines were and what was being loaded on their submarines” is how he put the mission.  What the Soviets were loading were nuclear missiles targeted at American cities.

Yeilding gave the tech-savvy Huntsville audience all the facts and figures it wanted, including 70,000 feet (his cruising altitude), 2,100 MPH (his cruising speed, faster than a rifle bullet), 34,000 pounds (the thrust from each of two Pratt & Whitney J-58 engines) and 4 inches (the amount the Blackbird grew in length as it heated up in supersonic flight).

He also mixed humor, humility and patriotism through the presentation, starting with why the Blackbird’s two crew members wore pressure suits.

“If you lose cockpit pressure and you’re above 63,000 feet,” he said, “you don’t have enough air pressure on your body and your blood starts boiling. Now, it always ruins your whole day when your blood starts boiling, so we wore this pressure suit as a safety backup.”

Yeilding said it was “an honor” to fly the SR-71, an honor to be chosen to train other Blackbird pilots, and an honor to be chosen to fly its last, record-setting flight from California to Washington, D.C., with back-seat reconnaissance officer Lt. Col. J.T. Vida.  There, they delivered the plane to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is displayed today.

“It was always exciting taxiing out” before a mission, Yeilding said, “because you knew this marvelous machine was going to take you right up to the edge of space at three times faster than sound and oftentimes a couple of thousand miles from home.  You knew something pretty special was about to happen.”

When they returned from each mission, Yeilding said, “We felt like we’d done something really important for our country and the cause of freedom.”

On that last west-to-east flight, Feilding said the Blackbird “flew faster than a bullet toward the (rising) sun” and he looked down at the Great Plains and thought about “those brave pioneers I read about as a boy, just 150 years earlier making their way slowly over that same country, taking months and months to cross country that J.T. and I were crossing in just a manner of minutes.  I thought about what a great country we have made by the hard work and sacrifices and courage and prayers of our forefathers.”

Yeilding, who flew passenger jets for Northwest Airlines after retiring from the Air Force, ended with an observation about the return to California after the record-setting flight of 67 minutes and 54 seconds.

“We flew a United 767 back, and it was a good flight, the service was good,” Yeilding said. “But, gosh, it took five hours.”

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Birmingham’s new downtown bus, Amtrak station to open soon

By Erin Edgemon,, Oct. 7

MAX buses will begin rolling from its new central hub in downtown Birmingham in December, officials say.

The Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) bus station, located between 17th and 18th streets, will be the first phase of the $32 million three-block Birmingham Intermodal Facility along Morris Avenue to open.

Construction started in early 2014.

The new facility is touted as a new front door to Magic City that will bring the city and regional public transit systems together at one location.  

The second phase of the building, which is located between 18th and 19th streets, includes new facilities for Amtrak and Greyhound and is scheduled to open in March 2017, said senior manager Robert White, of Hoar Program Management, which manages the construction of the project for the city of Birmingham.

“Finally, there is a new parking lot located between 16th and 17th streets, scheduled to open in April of 2017,” he said.

Megabus will also pick up and drop off passengers at the MAX bus terminal facility.  Taxis and Ubers will be able to wait along Morris Avenue and pick up passengers.  A Zyp bike share rack will also be placed off Morris Avenue.

“For the first time in a long time we will have a modern Amtrak facility instead of a hole in the ground (at 19th Street) that we currently have now for our terminal,” Birmingham Mayor William Bell added.

By this spring, the MAX bus terminal facility will feature an eatery, which could be anything from a pizza place to a deli, said Andre Bittas, director of the city’s planning engineering and permits department.

“They haven’t really decided who will be the vendor,” he said, adding that is still under negotiation.

A newsstand, similar to Hudson News at airports, will be located in the Amtrak and interstate bus station, Bittas said. That contract is also under negotiation.

Morris Avenue along the three-block intermodal facility is designed to be very walkable for passengers and to promote economic development, he said.

“We are doing full street improvements (on Morris Avenue),” Bittas said, including new lighting, brick-paver sidewalks (similar to Railroad Park), landscaping, security cameras and emergency phones.  The walkway from the parking lot to the bus and train stations will be under a canopy.

The parking lot will have nearly 300 parking spaces and charging stations for electric vehicles.

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Kona Grill to launch first Alabama restaurant next week

By Lucy Berry,, Oct. 10

Kona Grill is preparing to open its first Alabama restaurant next week at Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville.

The 7,000-square-foot contemporary American and sushi eatery will launch Oct. 17 in Building 435 next to Belk.

Led by Executive Chef Mike Osborne and General Manager Robert Davenport, the location will be one of more than 40 Kona restaurants in 22 states and Puerto Rico.

“We know Huntsville is going to be a great home for us as we expand into Alabama,” Davenport said.

In addition to dining and bar space, Kona’s Huntsville site features a large outdoor patio, private dining area, exhibition kitchen, and sushi bar.  The restaurant will accommodate 389 guests and be open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining.

A spokeswoman for the Arizona-based company said Kona Grill in Huntsville is fully staffed with 130 employees. You can search job openings here.

Last week, Bridge Street announced it will welcome Urban Cookhouse in February next to the newly-expanded Mountain High Outfitters.  Construction will begin this month on the 3,200-square-foot building to be operated by local entrepreneurs Kumar Patel, Jay Patel and Rajesh Patel.

Urban Cookhouse will offer hot plates, wraps, sandwiches, family dinners, desserts, craft beer and wine by the glass. There will be an outdoor patio area, carry-out option, and catering menu for parties, meetings and events.

To read this article online, go to:


From Soul Patrol to soul food: Alabama native Taylor Hicks returns to TV

By Allison Griffin, Alabama Living, October Issue

Even with an outsized personality he can put strangers at ease

The aroma of smoked barbecue wafts through the dining room of the Birmingham restaurant, a mild distraction for the team prepping Taylor Hicks for a photo shoot for Alabama Living.

The “American Idol” season 5 winner, who grew up in Alabama, is no stranger to being fussed over.  It’s been 10 years since his win on the singing competition TV series, but he’s been anything but idle in the years since:

Broadway, a two-year stint in Las Vegas, touring, writing music, some TV and acting appearances.

The site for this particular photo shoot is Saw’s Juke Joint in the Crestline neighborhood of Birmingham, of which Hicks is part owner. (He maintains residences in Birmingham and Nashville.)  He sits patiently through the primping and posing from a stylist, but the smells of a tasty lunch beckon.

“Y’all want some wings?  Let’s get them something to eat,” Hicks asks the wait staff, eager to feed his guests (and himself).  He’s a natural fit in this role as host; after all, he’s been an entertainer, in one way or another, since high school.  That charm, along with his soulful voice and stage presence, helped him win the top spot on “Idol” in 2006.

In short order, a plate of hot smoked wings drizzled with white barbecue sauce appears, along with some fresh fried okra with remoulade on the side and a sweet tea fried chicken sandwich, served with plenty of pickles and more white sauce.

Hicks doesn’t do the cooking at the Juke Joint himself, but he does have a new venture that involves food: he’s the host of a new TV show, “State Plate,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Oct. 21, on INSP, a cable and satellite network (visit to check availability in your area).  The show seems to be a natural extension for his career; after all, Hicks came to the world’s attention on TV.  Even with an outsized personality he can put strangers at ease, a combination that should serve him well on the small screen.

And, it allows him a chance to indulge his love of all things food.  “You can’t not be a foodie and be from Alabama,” he says, taking a bite of that hot fried okra.

On “State Plate,” Hicks visits a different state for each episode, and travels within that state to find the foods that best represent the area.  But it’s not just about featuring a chef or an eatery; the show is “truly a farm-to-table concept,” Hicks says, which allows him to learn about the origin of a state’s iconic foods.  But each show is more than just peaches in Georgia or crab cakes in Maryland; for each episode, he samples a variety of delicacies.

The first episode features Wisconsin, where Hicks milks a cow to make cheese curds, grinds pork to make bratwurst and visits a facility that produces more sauerkraut than anyone else in the world.  Alabama isn’t featured in this first season, but Hicks said plans are to work it in for the second.

He visits farms, ranches, markets, and festivals, uncovering the stories and legends behind each state’s unique food traditions, according to INSP. For Hicks, it’s been a true learning experience.

“I want it to be educational, first and foremost, because I’ve been educated,” he says. “And also, I want people to get hungry.  Educated and hungry.  It’s another way for people to get to know my personality.”

Hicks says he’s “blessed” to be back on TV, the medium that brought him to the country’s attention.  Before “Idol,” he spent several years pursuing a career in music. After graduating from Hoover High School in 1995 and attending Auburn University for a couple of years, he spent a decade or so touring, mostly in the Southeast, and self-produced two albums.

In his 2007 book, “Heart Full of Soul,” he recounts the grueling years on the road in his 20s: trying to keep a revolving lineup of musicians together, playing gigs for next to nothing, losing money to shady promoters and owners, and living with the consequences of a partying lifestyle.  Despite his father’s pleas for him to get a “real” job and settle down, Hicks refused to give up on music and touring.

In August 2005, Hicks was in New Orleans for a wedding the weekend Hurricane Katrina struck. His flight home to Birmingham was canceled, but the airline offered a voucher for a free trip to make up for it.  He made it out of New Orleans safely just before the storm hit, and decided to cash in that voucher and try his luck in a city built on long odds and crushed dreams: Las Vegas.

Vegas also happened to be one of the cities holding “American Idol” tryouts, an idea Hicks had vaguely considered before Katrina.  Almost on a lark, Hicks was in the line for tryouts, a gray-haired man amid thousands of barely-adults, who wanted to be Justin Timberlake or Usher.

Hicks, on the other hand, just wanted to make his own kind of soul music.

After winning “Idol,” Hicks released his major label debut, “Taylor Hicks,” which debuted at No. 2 and was certified platinum in January 2007.  His signature soul-pop song from “Idol,” “Do I Make You Proud,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  A tour with fellow “Idols” followed, and in 2008 he joined the cast of “Grease” in the role of Teen Angel on an 18-month tour.

His second full-length album, “The Distance,” followed in 2009, and was released on his own independent label after Arista dropped his contract. In the years since, he’s made several TV appearances (as well as returns to “Idol”), and had a two-year residency on the Las Vegas strip.

Now, a new record is in the works, which Hicks says should be released in 2017. Earlier stories reported the release date would be this year, but Hicks says the pre-production process is slow, and deliberately so.

“I’m very traditional, and sort of an old-school mentality. As quick as the attention span has gotten through social media, I feel like a little bit of the integrity is lost these days from artists, because they feel like they have to put out a single every week. I feel like putting out the best music and the best art that I can, at a certain time.”

Throughout his career, Hicks’ music has been difficult to categorize, which may be why he hasn’t had the same chart-topper success as some of the other “Idol” winners, like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. But few Idols have been as successful as he has been at what he calls “reinvention.” He’s a “vehicle-driven artist,” he says, with vehicles that include TV, Broadway, Vegas, touring and recording.

Asked about this new music and its genre, Hicks refers to it as “roots” music, which can refer to a broad range of musical genres – blues, folk, bluegrass, country, alt-country, gospel.

“This is the reason I love being from Alabama. My music reflects in a similar way the food. It’s just got everything in it.”

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Talladega’s Heritage Hall Museum launches new website

The Heritage Hall Museum in Talladega has launched a new website, which was designed and built by Ms. Sara Dunn.  Jennifer Alam also provided guidance and help along the way. 

The new website’s address is:

The museum is located at 200 South St. East, Talladega

For more information, call 256-761-1364


GulfQuest attendance 80,000 after first year and volunteers log nearly 10,000 hours

GulfQuest/National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico welcomed approximately 80,000 visitors from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and dozens of foreign countries during its first year of operation. Additionally, GulfQuest has 645 members and had approximately 275 schools from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana visit the museum for educational field trips during the past school year.

“As a start-up, GulfQuest experienced challenges associated with launching a new venture, but we are pleased with the reception we’ve received from our visitors,” Tony Zodrow, GulfQuest Executive Director said. “GulfQuest has received rave reviews. Our visitors love the museum’s exhibits, theaters, simulators and displays, as well as our waterfront restaurant and museum store. As a maritime museum with interactive exhibits and experiences, we expected there would be a certain amount of time involved in showing people what GulfQuest has to offer, but that process is underway and it’s proving to be effective in terms of pointing to future growth.”

Zodrow said the City of Mobile commissioned a marketing feasibility study in 2003, and an update to the study in 2005 that projected first year attendance at 284,700. The study included capturing the Carnival Cruise Line passengers, as it was not known then that Carnival would leave Mobile before the museum’s opening. It also included the presence of a transportation facility/passenger ferry service at “Mobile Landing”, the waterfront development.

“Unfortunately, the study was conducted so long ago and included factors that didn’t exist when we opened GulfQuest,” Zodrow said. “However, with the return of Carnival this November and the new, bigger push for tourism by Visit Mobile, we still plan to use that number as our goal for future years.”

Some notable statistics for GulfQuest’s first year include:

No. 4 of 62 “Things to do in Mobile” on TripAdvisor

4.5/5 overall rating on TripAdvisor with extremely positive comments

4.9/5 overall rating on Facebook, again with positive comments

Approximately 58% of visitors were from Alabama

Approximately 48% of visitors were from Mobile/Baldwin

Zodrow added that the regional press coverage GulfQuest has received over the past year, including in the Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, New Orleans and Atlanta markets, helped to position GulfQuest as a tourist destination, and added that efforts would be made in the coming year to further expand that reach.

“With 42 percent of GulfQuest’s visitors coming from out-of state, there is a huge market out there for leisure travelers, groups, and conventions visiting the Maritime Museum,” Mike Lee, GulfQuest Board Chairman, said. “And when you combine that with the Carnival cruise ship returning to Mobile, bringing an estimated 185,000 visitors annually to the downtown waterfront, I believe we are going to see great things for GulfQuest in 2017.”

Volunteers are a tremendous resource for any non-profit organization, and GulfQuest’s volunteers are no exception.  Using the National Economic Impact of Volunteers Calculator provided by Points of Light, an international, non-profit organization that helps promote the spirit of volunteerism, GulfQuest volunteers saved the museum approximately $230,400 in revenue during the past 12 months.

“These are the people who truly believe in GulfQuest,” Volunteer Services Director Traci Swoboda said. “They volunteer their time to support something they believe in and to be a part of a community that celebrates the maritime industry and culture of the Gulf Coast.”

GulfQuest’s 128 volunteers worked 9,780.1 hours during the museum’s first 12 months of operation.

“Our volunteers come from all backgrounds in life,” Swoboda said. “They include active and retired military, merchant mariners, professors and community leaders, each with their own expertise. They are passionate about sharing our mission with the community and inspiring people of all ages to appreciate the Gulf Coast’s rich maritime heritage.”

GulfQuest volunteers provide manpower throughout the museum, including serving as museum greeters, floaters on the exhibit floors and exhibit facilitators. They also work in Treasures, the museum store, special events, education and administration.


Tourism fiction writing contest comes to Selma

Selma, the city that helped transform voting rights, is now helping to transform the nation’s tourism industry by introducing an innovative concept: tourism fiction.  

The Selma and Dallas County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Information is partnering with two other organizations to cosponsor a unique contest that challenges writers to compose a short story designed to draw new tourists to the area through fiction.  

Although the Selma area is filled with intriguing attractions to inspire authors, the concept of writing fiction to attract tourists could be adapted to attractions in every state of the nation, making the contest an intriguing model for other cities.

According to Landon Nichols, Destination/Marketing Coordinator for the Chamber, “We are excited to be pioneering a new approach that will draw visitors to our area, but we are most excited about the potential for this model.  We believe that this genre of writing could serve to benefit destination marketing organizations of every size, from Los Angeles to Lower Alabama.”

The 2016 SELTI Writing Contest: Selma and Dallas County is cosponsored by the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative (SELTI) and the Alabama Tourism Department.  The contest is open to any writer, is free to enter, and will earn the first place winner a prize of $500 and the 2016 SELTI Tourism Fiction Award, which will be presented in Dallas County.  

The full contest rules can be found online at ‘’, where the winning story will be published in December.  The online story will include a tourism guide with photos and informational links, showing readers how to literally step into the setting of the story.

“It would be impossible for writers to visit the Selma area and not be inspired, and the stories they write can help share the experience here with their readers on a whole new, deeper level,” said Patrick Miller, founder of SELTI.  

Modern publishing technologies can also significantly enhance the tourism element found in these types of stories, Miller added.  “Today’s popular tablet computers like the Kindle allow readers to click on links inside books that open up websites, which creates the potential for an explosive new market for promoting tourism attractions around the country through novels and short stories.”

Fifty-one years ago, Selma set the stage for one of the most dramatic confrontations of the Civil Rights Movement. Armed State Troopers assaulted a large group of peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery to seek equal voting rights.  The scene unfolded on national television news and helped change the political will of the nation, leading to swift passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma today helps visitors learn more about the movement, and Oprah Winfrey assisted in the production of a movie depicting the events surrounding the struggle.  Thousands commemorate the bridge crossing every year, and even several U.S. presidents have participated.

Selma was also the site of an important Confederate munitions factory and served as the final battleground for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Every year, the Civil War-era Battle of Selma is reenacted.  Also every year, a bevy of Selma’s antebellum and architecturally significant homes are on public display as part of the Historic Preservation Society’s Pilgrimage.  Even outside of the city, county locations can inspire writers, including the nearby ghost town of Cahawba, which once served as the state capital and now has an interpretive history park including active archaeological digs.

“The publishing and tourism industries both experience times of economic upheaval,” said Miller.  “By combining their strengths together, they can create a new market where thousands of readers start enjoying novels and stories that guide them to interesting places to visit like Selma.  And thousands of visitors can translate into millions of dollars in new tourism spending in cities and states that can attract and promote those types of stories.  People only spend thirty seconds passively watching standard tourism commercials, but they are actively engaged for hours with their favorite novels.  How much is that time worth in advertising?”

More information and links to complete contest rules and details can be found at

For questions about the contest, call (334) 875-7241 OR email:


Openings for Tourism Promotional Representatives

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) is seeking applicants for Tourism Promotional Representatives in our Welcome Centers.  ATD Personnel Director Lori Syck urges people from various hospitality segments to apply, “Our goal is to build a qualified applicant pool for vacancies in the eight Alabama Welcome Centers. These positions are front line and we are especially interested in people with experience in hotel, airline, food service, CVB’s, attractions and related tourism fields.”

To apply go to or for more information call Debbie Wilson at the Alabama Tourism Department at 334-353-4516.


2016 Welcome Center Employees Educational Retreat

Registration continues for the 2016 Welcome Center Employees Educational Retreat at the Sheraton in downtown Birmingham.  The event includes a new format.  Welcome Center employees will engage in a speed dating set up similar to National Tour Association and Travel South.  Industry partners will be stationary and get one on one time with each center and their employees.


Dates for the retreat are Nov. 13-15.  

For registration forms, schedule of events and hotel information contact Patti Culp at: OR 334-271-0050.  

Sponsorships are still available. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to showcase your community with the devoted staff members who welcome our visitors to Sweet Home Alabama. 


Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Oct. 24 – 25                            AL-TN-MS Rural Tourism Conference         Columbus, MS

Nov. 13 – 15                           Welcome Center Retreat                                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.

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