Tourism Tuesdays January 24, 2017

Governor Bentley announces appointments to the Alabama Tourism Department Advisory Board

BBC broadcasts from USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park on inauguration day

Video featuring Alabama barbecue restaurant receives more than 2 million views

Alabama’s former first lady of Costa Rica to attend film premiere

Alabama featured in Brand USA campaign in the United Kingdom

Jesse Owens Museum receives donation from Obamas

Ed Bridges’ outstanding book analyzes Alabama’s history

New downtown Huntsville event: Paddle the Canal in Big Springs Park

Escape attraction, VR arcade coming to downtown Montgomery



Governor Bentley announces appointments to the Alabama Tourism Department Advisory Board

Governor Robert Bentley has appointed nine new members and six reappointments to the advisory board to the Alabama Tourism Department.

The governor appointed Wiley Blankenship, president of the Coastal Alabama Partnership; Ashley Jernigan, client relations director of Central restaurant; John Oros, president of Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau; Hans van der Reijden, chief operating officer of The Hotel at Auburn University; Jared Sorenson, vice president of events for DeSoto Caverns Family Park; Pam Stenz, county extension coordinator with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System; Andrea Taylor, president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Angela Till, deputy secretary of the Alabama Commerce Department and Magi Williams, public relations manager of Wind Creek Hospitality.

He reappointed Patti Culp, executive director of the Alabama Travel Council; Mindy Hanan, executive director of the Alabama Restaurant Association, Bob Hendrix, executive director of the Dothan Convention & Visitors Bureau; Tynette Lynch, chief executive officer of Aldridge Gardens; Patti Presley-Fuller, county extension coordinator with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Judy Ryals, president of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Advisory Board will hold their first meeting on Jan. 25 at the Hotel Finial in Anniston.

The advisory board meets quarterly with state tourism director Lee Sentell who outlines upcoming marketing and promotional campaigns.  Board members represent attractions, local tourism departments, hotels, restaurants and state organizations in accordance with legislation.

Tourism is a $13 billion industry in Alabama and has shown a combined increase of 104 percent during the previous 14 years. 

BBC broadcasts from USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park on inauguration day

Viewers watching the BBC for coverage of President Donald Trump’s inauguration also got to see the USS Alabama. 

A BBC crew traveled from Wisconsin to Alabama just prior to the inauguration stopping in several cities along the way to interview Americans about their opinions on Trump.  The crew made the USS Alabama Battleship Park in Mobile the last stop on their more than 1,000-mile trip down U.S. Highway 45, which runs north to south from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico.

They arrived in Mobile late Thursday afternoon and filmed into the night.  In addition to the taped 30-minute “Route 45” segment, the BBC also broadcast live from the USS Alabama Friday morning.

Officials with the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park said the live broadcast showed the USS Alabama clearly in the background and the park was mentioned in each segment of the broadcasts. The program by Jon Kay was broadcast on BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, BBC America, BBC Asia and BBC Latin America.

Video featuring Alabama barbecue restaurant receives more than 2 million views

By Rick Harmon

Alabama Tourism Blog

Alabama barbecue received worldwide attention recently thanks to a video titled “North Koreans Try American BBQ” on YouTube.

The video, featuring Huntsville’s LawLers Barbecue, hit a million views in only 32 hours and surpassed 2 million views in 4 days.

The video created by Christopher Lewis, an executive producer, director and editor at Digitalsoju TV, hit No. 2 on the trending section of YouTube. The video featured North Korean refugees now living in South Korea trying American barbecue for the first time.

Lewis, who had barbecue fans on his staff from Alabama and Kansas City, tried to recruit from the top barbecue regions in the country, making a list of the best barbecue restaurants that bottled their sauces, and asking them to send different style barbecue sauces.

He asked LawLers based both on his staff’s recommendations and because it had been judged the barbecue sauce winner for north Alabama, during the Alabama Tourism Department’s BBQ Sauce-Off competition in 2013.  

“These places are all already very successful,” Lewis said. “They didn’t need to even be in this video, but they wanted to represent their region.”

While several major Alabama barbecue restaurants declined to participate, Jim Kelley, a managing partner with LawLers, liked the concept of “World peace through BBQ” and the idea of getting Alabama barbecue worldwide respect.

“The project name ‘World Peace Through BBQ’ seemed reason enough to do it,” Kelley said Tuesday. “And the fact that it was going to feature North Korean defectors in a video shot in South Korea struck a chord with me. Because my daddy was a Korean veteran, and was there at the (battle of) Chosin Reservoir, this held special meaning.”

“He and so many brave men and women, Americans, North Koreans, South Koreans, and others fought and died over the 38th parallel in a war that nobody has really yet won. And I can only believe that he, and others like him, would like nothing more than to see peace come to a unified Korea, and for all to share in the precious freedom (we have) in the South.”

Lawlers sent three sauces: red barbecue sauce (previously a north Alabama sauce of the year), the white sauce, and a new sauce they’re coming out with called “the Tickled Pink Sauce.” The Tickled Pink Sauce is a more tart and tangier version of the white sauce.

“All three Alabama sauces were a hit,” Lewis said, especially the red sauce which he said the show’s host and one of the North Korean refugees both picked as their favorite.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lewis said both the North Koreans and the production staff unanimously agreed the Tickled Pink Sauce was better than the white sauce.

Kelley said he knew sending the sauces was a risk “because they might not like them at all.” The risk was even greater with the pink sauce because LawLers hadn’t finished developing it, and it was a work in progress.

But LawLers finally sent all three sauces after Lewis convinced Kelley that sending their Tickled Pink Sauce, might be a good way to introduce it to the world.

“So we did, and crazy enough – they loved it,” Kelley said. “Who would have guessed? And now we don’t even have Tickled Pink Sauce officially in production, yet we are getting orders and calls for it.

Besides more than two million views, the video has received coverage from “The Huffington Post,” “Foodbeast,” “The Voice of America,” “The Philip Defranco Show” and media outlets throughout North Carolina and Texas.

Kelley expects the video will ultimately receive somewhere between 5 million and 10 million views.

Although he is proud that the video is bringing LawLers worldwide attention, he said what is important isn’t what the video says about barbecue sauces, but about people.

It’s about “the opportunity to help show the world, that when we all get together at a table of good food, in a peaceful setting, with our only differences being what style “bbq sauce” we prefer, we are really a whole lot more alike than we are different,” he said.

“Perhaps those North Korean defectors, in their childlike amazement and genuine humility, remind us of the many simple things we in America and so much of the world, take for granted. They did me. If that can start a conversation around the globe that draws us all to the table together, we just did a good thing. Anthony Bourdain said it first, ‘Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.’”

The barbecue was prepared by Sweet Oak in Wonju Korea by its pitmaster/owner Gus Flores, who also came up with the idea of the video. Flores is a classically-trained chef who has learned how to barbecue from celebrity pitmasters Harry Soo (winner of “BBQ Pitmasters” season one), Myron Mixon (four-time barbecue World Champion) and the late Konrad Haskins (BBQ Institute, Texas). He is also an officially certified barbecue judge through the Kansas City Barbecue Society.


Alabama’s former first lady of Costa Rica to attend film premiere

By Rick Harmon

Alabama Tourism Blog

 Henrietta Boggs MacGuire the focus of “First Lady of the Revolution: A Southern Belle’s Journey Through Love, Exile and Revolution” will appear with the documentary’s writer/director/producer Andrea Kalin at its Montgomery premiere, 3 p.m. Sunday at the Capri Theatre.

The documentary traces both Costa Rica’s journey to independence and MacGuire’s journey from being a relatively sheltered conservative Presbyterian in Alabama to being a participant in Costa Rica’s military revolution that resulted in her becoming the country’s first lady.

The journey began when MacGuire, who was then Henrietta Boggs, left Alabama’s Birmingham Southern College to visit her aunt and uncle, who had retired in Costa Rica. There she met and married Costa Rican coffee farmer Jose Figueres.

After her husband dared to criticize the president of Costa Rica, the couple was exiled.  He later returned to lead a 1948 revolution that overthrew the corrupt government and then restored democracy to the country.

But MacGuire was more than simply the wife of the country’s president.  She successfully pushed for women’s rights, including women gaining the right to vote and education for women, and helped shape social policies.

When her husband became so consumed with Costa Rican politics that he had no time for her or their children, she divorced him and returned to the United States, eventually moving back to Alabama in 1969, where she remarried, co-founded River Region Living magazine and contributed articles to the Montgomery Advertiser.

“First Lady of the Revolution,” won three awards at Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival, including the Audience Award for Best Alabama Film.  MacGuire was given the festival’s Inaugural Spirit of Sidewalk Award.

MacGuire will speak to the audience about the documentary and take questions from the crowd after the showing, which is sponsored by Montgomery’s Landmarks Foundation.  Tickets are $30 and available at Old Alabama Town, New South Books and immediately before the show at the Capri ticket window.

Alabama featured in Brand USA campaign in the United Kingdom

Brand USA’s multi-channel winter campaign in the United Kingdom market begins this week and will continue until March 6.

The campaign includes a full page on Alabama in a Brand USA four-color glossy travel magazine that will be inserted in The Times (circulation 430,000), Sunday Times (Circulation 70,000), National Geographic Traveler (circulation 60,000) and The Guardian (circulation 200,000) for a total print distribution of 760,000.

Travel South also has a two-page feature that includes multi-state trip ideas.  The “History & Music” trip features Huntsville with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center; Birmingham with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Civil Rights sites and James Beard award-winning restaurants and Gulf Shores and Orange Beach with warm gulf waters and seafood. Featured in the layout is a photo of children at Space Camp.  

Alabama’s full page includes photographs of a family fishing off the Gulf State Park pier, a jazz music festival, bike riding through Oak Mountain Park and Bragg-Mitchell Mansion in Mobile.

The program also includes a digital version of the insert, a 6-week digital campaign via the Google Display Network and an activation partnership with Expedia that highlights 24 accommodations in Alabama.  The special Expedia Alabama landing page has direct Expedia booking to the following hotel and Bed and Breakfasts:

Anniston – Hotel Finial, Birmingham – Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort, The Hotel Highland, Hampton Inn Tutwiler, Cobb Lane Bed and Breakfast, The Westin, Fairhope – Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Florence – Marriott Shoals, Hampton Inn Downtown, Fort Payne – Holiday Inn Express, Huntsville – The Westin, Huntsville Marriott, Mobile – The Battle House Renaissance, Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza, Fort Conde Inn,  Montgomery –  Renaissance Montgomery Downtown, Embassy Suites Downtown, Hampton Inn Downtown, Orange Beach – Perdido Beach Resort, Best Western Premier The Tides, Caribe Resort by Wyndham, The Island House Hotel, Tuscaloosa – Hotel Capstone,  Embassy Suites Downtown, Tuscumbia – The ColdWater Inn

To view the Expedia Alabama landing page, go to To view the digital insert, go to (view page 17 and pages 20-21). 

For more on Alabama’s marketing efforts with Brand USA, contact

Jesse Owens Museum receives donation from Obamas

From the article by Jeff Edwards in The Moulton Advertiser:

The Jesse Owens Museum in Oakville has received thousands of donations in the 20 years since it opened. But one donation the museum received in late December trumps them all, not only because of the amount, but also the sender.

The donation came in the mail on Dec. 20, and didn’t look like much more than junk mail from the envelope.

But when museum director Nancy Pinion opened it, she found a $1,000 check from none other than President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

“It can’t get any better than this,” Pinion said. “To get a check like this from a sitting president has got to be the pinnacle. Do you think any other attraction in Alabama has gotten a donation from a sitting president? I don’t think so.”

The donation was the final act in an almost surreal back and forth between Pinion and Obama’s aides about a Jesse Owens themed birthday gift for the president.

“Around the first of August, a tour guide called me and said ‘This is probably nothing, but a man called and said he was a personal assistant to President Obama,'” Pinion said. “I looked up the area code and it was Washington DC. I thought oh my gosh, this might actually be serious.”

Pinion called the man, Obama aide Joe Paulson, back and found out from him that the aides were trying to find the president a Jesse Owens related birthday gift.

“They were together watching the Olympics and someone had asked him who his favorite Olympian was,” Pinion said. “He said Jesse Owens, so they thought about getting a birthday present that was something Jesse Owens.”

Paulson found the museum on the Internet and called the number, eventually getting in touch with Pinion.

“I was pretty shocked to get the call, and was trying to think of what we had that was befitting of a president,” Pinion said. “I said I would call him back in a few hours with some ideas.”

Pinion called museum co-director Joyce Cole and brainstormed ideas. Eventually, the two called Jesse Owens’ daughters, Gloria Owens Hemphill and Marlene Owens Rankin.

“We had a conference call and they threw around some ideas and eventually we came up with something,” Pinion said. 

American artist LeRoy Neiman had done a lithograph of Jesse Owens in the 1980s which was now out of print, but Hemphill had some extra copies at her home.

“Gloria has some of the very few that are left,” Pinion said. “So we decided to send that to Joe Paulson’s address in Washington DC with a package we put together from the museum. We included a DVD of the movie Race, some Jesse Owens memorabilia and a personalized birthday card. We invited the president and first lady to come visit the museum once he is out of office.”

A few days later, Pinion received a text message from Paulson with good news.

It said ‘The gift was a huge hit. He loved it. You made it happen,'” Pinion said. “We were thrilled that he enjoyed the presents.”

While sending the president of the United States a birthday gift makes for a great story, it got even better when Pinion opened up the envelope and found the check from the Obamas.

“It made for a great Christmas present,” Pinion said. “Seeing that check was really a great reward for the museum and the Owens name.” 

Pinion said the donation shows just how big the Jesse Owens legacy is throughout the country and the world.

“I don’t think his legacy will ever die,” Pinion said. “It has been 80 years after (the 1936 Olympics) and he is still so revered and remembered. It is not anything we have done, but a tribute to how much his name is respected throughout the world.”

Before depositing the check, museum co-director James Pinion had to show it to someone special – Therman White.

Now in a nursing home, White was largely responsible, with James Pinion, for having the vision of a Jesse Owens Museum and making it a reality.

“Therman just kept staring at (the check),” James Pinion said with a laugh. “He was real thrilled about how President Obama said his Olympic hero is Jesse Owens and was surprised to see the check. I told him we never would have gotten this if he hadn’t started this (museum) project out here.”

The museum is non-profit and operates off donations and grants. Cole said the $1,000 donation will help tremendously, regardless of who it was from.

“We can resupply the gift shop, buy more books and pay for the new computer we recently purchased,” Cole said. “We need so many things.”

Nancy Pinion said the donation lets her know the work the museum directors and staff do to honor Owens is not in vain.

“As a volunteer managing director, this donation gives us as volunteers a renewed enthusiasm as our sitting president and his wife have validated the importance and significance of this museum and perpetuating Owens’ legacy,” she said. “This donation is a great reward.”

For the complete article please see

Ed Bridges’ outstanding book analyzes Alabama’s history

From the book review by Don Noble in The Tuscaloosa News:

Alabama: The Making of an American State by Edwin C. Bridges, published by The University of Alabama Press, available at Books-A-Million, Amazon and other book sellers.

For 30 years as the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Ed Bridges was immersed in Alabama history. Now director emeritus, Bridges has finished his magnum opus, a narrative history of the state from 11,000 B.C. to the very present, in time for the Alabama Bicentennial in 2019.

This is not in the strictest terms a scholarly book. Bridges has read and digested scores of books and articles on Alabama history — indeed, he helped to create a goodly percent of that original scholarship — and here, with due acknowledgements to the academic historians, especially J. Mills Thornton and Leah Rawls Atkins, he has told the story of our state, in his own pleasing style, for a general audience.

This highly readable, smooth, one-volume study should be read by all Alabamians, especially those who wonder, as we often do, how did we get to this spot?

In his introduction, Bridges acknowledges that he has highlighted Alabama’s “conflicts” because, he believes, those “conflicts,” which in the context of Klan terror, lynchings and bus burnings is a gentle enough word, are what make the state’s history so “rich and dramatic.” Bridges is also suggesting that previous histories, especially those written for Alabama classrooms, glossed over the darker places in our history and whitewashed other spots, such as the strength of the unionists in north Alabama, the perpetual quarrel between north Alabama yeoman farmers and Black Belt planters, the distortion of the politics of Reconstruction into carpetbaggers, scalawags and insolent freedmen, and the deification of the Democratic conservatives as “Redeemers.”

Bridges uses his discussion of the 1901 constitution to illustrate these points. Onerous voting requirements eliminated almost all black voters. Of the 200,000 black men eligible in 1903, only 2,980 were registered.

Women, by the way, could not then vote and although some women in the mid-20th century actually held statewide offices, such as secretary of state or state treasurer, they were not allowed to serve on juries until “Crook v. White,” 1966.

The $1.50 per year cumulative poll tax drove tens of thousands of poor whites off the rolls. Control was solidly in the hands of the Bourbons and Big Mules. And, with some adjustments, remains there.

Still, Bridges insists his goal is to understand our past, so we can move more successfully into the future, not to assign blame, or open old wounds. He understands that “all people have reasons for what they do that make sense to them. Other people may or may not approve of those reasons, and people may even deceive themselves about what their true reasons are.” In his “Afterword” Bridges urges readers to “not only accept, but celebrate the remarkable social changes of the last sixty years. Our old racial divisions were not only wrong and unfair they also were constant barriers to progress.”

But back to the beginnings.

Many Alabamians have been to Moundville. That is what we know about Indians. The first 55 pages of this work will change that. Bridges quickly tells the story of whole distinct eras of Native American culture, including of course the cruel and duplicitous ways in which Indians were lied to, cheated and exiled as their destiny at least became manifest.

One is reminded here of how fantastically profitable cotton was in the antebellum years. Before “The War,” Alabama was one of the richest states, then, slavery abolished, Jim Crow in place, just about the poorest. Bridges doesn’t pull any punches here. Slaves were driven by the whip and “The War” was fought to preserve slavery, not vague notions of states rights.

The chapters on our 20th century — World War I and II, the New Deal, civil rights, the George Wallace years, Huntsville and the Space Age are familiar enough to mature citizens, although what youth may know is anybody’s guess.

One has heard many times, in partial jest, that Alabama was so poor in 1930 nobody noticed the Great Depression. Bridges makes it clear that was not so. “Commodity prices, including cotton, plummeted from a WWI high of 35 cents per pound to “a nickel in 1932.” “Between 1929 and 1933, half of the state’s mines and mills closed. By 1934, a quarter of Birmingham’s work force was unemployed and Roosevelt called Birmingham the ‘worst hit town in the country.'”

No discussion of this book should end without the highest praise for the illustrations.

Bridges, the archivist, has assembled the best imaginable collection of maps, documents, paintings, photographs — many never published before. Each one, from photos of convict labor camps to the burning bus in Anniston, to a chicken farm in Monroe County, evokes its time and place with great power.

For the complete article please see

New downtown Huntsville event: Paddle the Canal in Big Springs Park

From the article by Paul Gattis on

It’s about time to go racing in downtown Huntsville. But it won’t be happening in cars and it won’t even be on the roads.

This will be on water.

A new event announced Tuesday by Downtown Huntsville Inc. invites canoers, kayakers and anyone eager to navigate through a small waterway to take part.

Paddle the Canal will take place April 22-23 in the Big Spring Canal between the Von Braun Center and Embassy Suites.

Teams of up to four or individuals will race the clock down the canal from the Rotary Plaza east toward Monroe Street, circle Thrasher Fountain and then back to the start/finish line.

“Paddle the Canal is a new way to activate Big Spring Canal and transform the area into a unique festival atmosphere for an event that we believe will be one-of-a-kind in the entire state,” said Chad Emerson, president and CEO of Downtown Huntsville Inc.

There are three different categories for participants: Novice, expert and costume (non-timed). Participants can use their own kayak or canoe or borrow one for a fee during the event. Prizes will be awarded for the top three in each category.

Participants must be at least 18 years old. Participants receive an event t-shirt, a guarantee of three course runs and access to a private Paddlers Park event area.

For more information, email

For the complete article please see

Escape attraction, VR arcade coming to downtown Montgomery

from the article by Brad Harper in the Montgomery Advertiser:

Two of the nation’s hottest entertainment trends are headed to downtown Montgomery in a big way, part of a high-tech, $750,000 makeover to a warehouse space in the city’s entertainment district.

It’ll be the newest location of Escapology, an Orlando-based chain that specializes in elaborately designed, film set-quality escape rooms and movie-style scenarios. There are Escapology locations in Austin, Texas, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, San Diego and more. But local owner TJ Williford said the 130 Commerce St. spot next to Sa Za Italian restaurant in Montgomery is going to be one of the most comprehensive in the chain, and one of the biggest escape-themed attractions in the nation.

He’s also planning to include a virtual reality arcade where people can try VR experiences like flight and racing simulators, futuristic games and more. Williford said that portion of the building will be separated off, with a flat entry fee.

“The VR is kind of dessert,” he said.

In this case, the main course is the escape experience, and it’s a beefy one. Guests enter a modern lobby with steampunk-inspired touches and a time-traveling feel. Then a personal host called a “Game Master” leads each group of two to eight people into a briefing before they get started.

In one scenario, the door opens and the group walks onto a train car in 1931 Budapest, where they must solve a murder as train seems to move through a nighttime snowstorm. Another places the group in 1881 Tombstone, Ariz., and tasks them with hunting down an outlaw. Another asks them to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s palace during the Cuban missile crisis.

The Montgomery location will have six scenarios in all, each lasting about an hour. Williford doesn’t have prices set yet, but he said the cost will be comparable to other escape attractions.

Escape destination Breakout Montgomery has gained a following since opening off Taylor Road in east Montgomery. It offers four scenarios, with prices ranging from about $25 to about $200 depending on the number of players.

Williford said that Escapology’s scenarios aren’t gory or “Halloweeny” and can fit the bill for a wide range of people, from a night out for young professionals to team-building exercises for convention-goers staying at the Renaissance Hotel next door.

“It’s going to give people who are spending two or three nights in Montgomery something to do,” Williford said.

He expects the location to open this spring. It’ll have about 20 employees. You can see more at

For the complete article please see     



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