Tourism Tuesdays February 28, 2017

Major addition to state’s bicentennial celebration to be announced

“Alabama: The Making of an American State” book talk by Ed Bridges at EarlyWorks Museum- Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Statewide walking tours begin in April

Musical heritage rooted in north Alabama

Destination barbecue restaurants send smoke signals to the rest of the country

Huntsville featured on popular Chinese social media channel WeChat

After travel ban, interest in trips to U.S. declines

White Spunner developing $500 million entertainment project in Foley

The Wall architect Tom Hendrix dies

Gee’s Bend Ferry is going green: Alabama ferry will soon be all electric

TBEX North America conference in Huntsville on May 5-6

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Major addition to state’s bicentennial celebration to be announced
Gov. Robert Bentley will announce a major new addition to the state’s three-year bicentennial birthday commemoration during an Alabama Bicentennial Commission press conference in Montgomery on March 3.

The press conference will be at 10 a.m. on the front steps of Alabama’s Capitol and will also include announcements about the launch of the bicentennial celebration on May 5 in Mobile, along with other programs and initiatives planned for the bicentennial.

Gov. Bentley will be joined by state Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the Bicentennial Commission, as well as a delegation of leaders from Mobile and bicentennial planning officials.

For more information, visit

“Alabama: The Making of an American State” book talk by Ed Bridges at EarlyWorks Museum- Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Dr. Ed Bridges will be discussing his new book “Alabama: The Making of an American State” at the EarlyWorks Museum in Huntsville on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m.

Bridges served as director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History for 30 years and was a past president of the Alabama Historical Commission.

The 264-page book traces the state’s history from the earliest fossil records to the upheavals of the Civil War and the civil rights movement to modern events. Bridges explains major events in Alabama’s history and makes clear the unique social, political, economic, and cultural forces that have shaped our state.

The richly illustrated book was published in cooperation with the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and includes drawings, maps and archival photographs.

The book talk will be in the Grand Hall of the Early Works Museum and is open to the public.

Statewide walking tours begin in April
Some 28 towns across Alabama will be on display during Saturday mornings in April as part of the Alabama Tourism Department’s April Walking Tours.

A variety of community leaders will lead the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns.  The hour-long tours will start at 10 a.m. on April 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.

Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours are: Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Attalla, Gazebo at 4th St. and 5th Ave.; Bayou La Batre, Mariner Park; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Courtland, Courtland Heritage Museum; Cullman, Cullman County Museum; Daleville, Chamber of Commerce; Decatur, Old State Bank Building; Elba, Chamber of Commerce; Enterprise, The Rawls Hotel; Eutaw, Prairie Avenue; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations; Foley, Welcome Center.

Huntsville, Confectionary Shop at Constitution Village (April 1 & 8 only); Livingston, McConnell Field on University of West Alabama campus; Madison, Madison Roundhouse (April 15 & 22 only); Mobile, Welcome Center at The History Museum of Mobile; Montgomery; Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Mooresville, Post Office; Moulton, Lawrence County Archives; Pell City, City Hall; Prattville, Prattaugan Museum; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Shelby, Iron Works Park; Troy, Pike County Chamber of Commerce; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore.

The tours are being coordinated by Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.  “Alabama is the only state in the nation to hold statewide, simultaneous walking tours.  These walking tours are a great way to get out and enjoy the spring weather and find out about the history of our state.  More than 32,000 people have participated in the walking tours since the beginning of the program 14 years ago and they keep increasing in popularity every year,” Jones said.

More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at

Musical heritage rooted in north Alabama
From the article by Catherine Godbey in The Decatur Daily:

To define the music of north Alabama is to tell the story of blues, country, bluegrass, rock, opera, gospel, folk and soul.

“Alabama’s culture, which includes music and literature and other forms of art comes from the tragedy and triumphs of our people,” state tourism director Lee Sentell said when the Year of Alabama Music launched. “Music evolved in rural places in Alabama as a way to tell stories and share emotions.”

With a heritage that includes Grammy Award winners, Hall of Fame inductees and Grand Ole Opry members, the Tennessee Valley’s songwriters and musicians have molded and continue to inspire generations of artists.

“Growing up in Limestone County kept me close to the earth and developed in me an appreciation for the simplicity of music. It also kept me from getting too citified,” said songwriter Roger Murrah, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Notable area musicians include the country brother duo The Delmore Brothers of Elkmont, Elvis Presley’s guitarist Charlie Hodge of Decatur, opera singer Patti Malone of Athens, blues rockers Alabama Shakes of East Limestone and Johnny Sandlin of Decatur, who produced albums by Widespread Panic, The Allman Brothers, Wet Willie and more.

From their small towns and cities, the artists took the sound crafted in the Tennessee Valley around the world. They played at the Grand Ole Opry, the White House, the Grammy Awards, in France, Germany, England, Australia and Japan.

“What I love about our sound is that you know it is from Alabama,” Brittany Howard, frontwoman for the Grammy Award-winning Alabama Shakes, told The Decatur Daily in 2011. “You wouldn’t have any thought that this came from New York. This is what Alabama music sounds like.”

One of north Alabama’s most recent musical products to find success nationally, Alabama Shakes, which started playing local bars and free festivals, won three Grammy Awards in 2016. The Recording Academy again honored the Athens-based band this year with a nomination for Best Rock Performance.

Here’s a look at other successful musicians and up-and-coming artists from Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties.

Patti Malone: Born as a slave in Limestone County in 1859, Malone graduated from Trinity School, attended Fisk University and performed opera with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. She sang for U.S. presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield, as well as King George V.

Delmore Brothers: Alton and Rabon Delmore, who were born in Elkmont and grew up singing with gospel quartets, performed at the Grand Ole Opry from 1930-37. The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted the duo as members in 2001.

Gordon Terry: A member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Fiddlers Hall of Fame, Terry, born in Decatur, recorded with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Merle Hagard and Neil Young.

Jake Hess: A native of Limestone County, Jake Hess produced 10 solo albums and 49 records with other gospel groups. The four-time Grammy Award winner is best known for “Who Am I?,” “Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey Now” and “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”

Johnny Sandlin: The owner and operator of Duck Tape Music in Decatur has produced albums by Widespread Panic, The Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Gregg Allman, Chuck Leavell and Delbert McClinton. Sandin’s resume includes five platinum albums and 10 gold albums. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame selected Sandlin as an inductee in 2016.

Charlie Burse: Nicknamed the Ukulele Kid and Uke Kid Burse, the blues musician born in Decatur recorded more than 60 tracks with Will Shade’s Jug Band from 1928-1934.

Charlie Hodge: A member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia,” Charlie Hodge, a Decatur native, served as a background vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Hodge, who died in 2006, performed with Elvis for 17 years.

Roger Murrah: Among the Limestone County songwriter’s hits include the No. 1 chart-toppers “High Cotton,” “Southern Rains” and “Southern Stars.”

For the sound of the future of local music influenced by north Alabama tunes, check out these up-and-coming artists, guitarist Ben Parker of Moulton; blues and soul singer Lamont Landers of Falkville; country singer Anderson East of Athens and Christian pop and worship singer Sarah Reeves of Limestone County.

For the complete article please see

Destination barbecue restaurants send smoke signals to the rest of the country
From the article by Ashley Graves in The Decatur Daily:

Bread. Juicy pulled pork. A pickle and a side of white sauce.

It’s a meal that’s almost as Southern as sweet tea.

In Alabama, barbecue has become a culture all in itself. The state serves some of the nation’s best, with iconic and award-winning restaurants. And for Chris Lilly, pit master of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, it’s something he knows a thing or two about.

“We’re riding an exciting wave with Southern barbecue,” he said. “I see it every day in the restaurant with people who are visiting from out of state, and even out of the country.”

Lilly’s career began in 1991 following graduation from the University of North Alabama in Florence. As part of the fourth generation of the Big Bob Gibson family, he was able to learn the art of operating a barbecue restaurant and the recipes that have been passed down for over 90 years. Since then, Lilly has represented the restaurant by making appearances on the Food Network and the “Today” show, as well as South Beach Food & Wine Festival, NASCAR events, Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and New York City’s Big Apple Barbecue Party, among others. He recently just returned from Louisiana where he catered an event for Duck Commander.

“Never would I have dreamed I would be where I am today,” Lilly said. “It’s fascinating. All I do is cook barbecue. It all started in 1925. It’s an art form that has been passed down, and when you look at it, it’s special. My only hope now is that I can carry it on to my two sons – Jacob, 26, and Andrew, 24.”

In addition to TV and event appearances, Lilly also has been heavily involved in the competitive side of barbecuing, which has seen a peek in interest in recent years.

“When I started traveling and doing competitions in 1997 is when I really saw the interest in barbecue ramp up,” Lilly said. “Now we’re seeing it being served in your white table, high-end restaurants.”

To tell you just how big barbecue has gotten in the South, the Alabama Tourism Department launched the Year of the Alabama Barbecue in 2015. The year-long campaign included a website and smartphone app, a traveling photo exhibit featuring legendary Alabama pit masters, a documentary film, and the announcement of the first inductees into the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame, which Gibson and Whitt’s Barbecue in Athens were part of.

“A survey revealed that barbecue restaurants make up the highest percentage of restaurants in Alabama, which rivals any other state,” Lee Sentell, state tourism director, said in a 2015 news release issued by the governor’s office. “Travelers are looking for an authentic barbecue experience, and we want to help drive business to these great local establishments.”

So what exactly is it that makes Big Bob Gibson so special? Lilly believes it’s a few things.

“We do a lot that makes us special,” he said. “Whole chicken, pulled pork, but what’s unique is that all of our cooking is done on a hickory pit. We also have barbecue white sauce, a secret sauce that is still served today. That’s something that has recently popped up on menus across the U.S. It’s something north Alabama has to hang its hat on.”

Lilly and the Big Bob Gibson team will try its luck at becoming the first five-time grand champion in May when they travel to Memphis for the prestigious Memphis in May barbecue competition.

For the complete article please see

Huntsville featured on popular Chinese social media channel WeChat
By Grey Brennan

Another major Alabama city destination is being featured on the WeChat social media platform under the Travel South USA account.  This second Chinese language posting on Alabama centers on Huntsville and went live on Feb. 15.

The Huntsville information begins with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp.  A total of three full-color photographs and a large section of information are included in the posting.  The Huntsville Botanical Garden is also featured with two beautiful photos and copy.

Also featured were Point Mallard Park in Decatur, the Dogwood Manor Bed and Breakfast in Huntsville and two restaurants; Greenbrier Bar B Que in Madison and Simp McGhee’s in Decatur. Each recived a photo and copy.

An earlier posting on Travel South USA’s WeChat account gave an overview of the state with 12 colorful photos and a feature on Birmingham with 17 photographs.

Chinese visitors made up an estimated 21,300 room nights in Alabama in 2016. That number is expected to grow to 41,400 by 2023.

After travel ban, interest in trips to U.S. declines
From the article by Shivani Vora in The New York Times:

The impact was immediate: Following President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, the demand for travel to the United States took a nosedive, according to data from several travel companies and research firms.

The airfare prediction app Hopper, for example, analyzed 303 million flight searches between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1 and found that flight search demand from 122 international countries to the United States dropped 17 percent after the implementation of the travel ban, compared with the first three weeks in January.

Demand bounced back slightly after the ban was temporarily lifted on Feb. 3 but was still down by more than 10 percent as of Feb. 10, compared with the first three weeks in January, said Hopper’s chief data scientist, Patrick Surry.

The online travel site saw international searches for flights to the United States drop following the ban; searches were down 38 percent from Jan. 27 to 29 compared with the previous weekend, and down 16 percent from Feb. 10 to Feb. 14 compared with the average volume in January, said Emily Fisher, a spokeswoman for the company.

“This drop was more than a seasonal swing,” she said. “It was most notable in the days right after the ban was enacted.”

In addition, the Swedish travel search engine analyzed 2.5 million flight searches made on its website and app the weekend following the announcement of the travel ban and found that searches to the United States declined by 47 percent, compared with the same period the year before.

Flight bookings to the United States also declined following the ban, according to ForwardKeys, a travel research company in Valencia, Spain. The company looked at 16 million flight reservations a day between Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 and found that international bookings to the United States were down 6.5 percent, compared with the same period last year.

Some travel companies, too, saw a dip in requests and bookings for trips to the United States.

Responsible Travel, a tour operator in Brighton, England, had a 22 percent decrease in trip inquiries to the United States following the travel ban. In contrast, the company’s overall business is up 30 percent this year, compared with the same period last year, said its chief executive, Justin Francis.

“Prior to the ban, the U.S. was one of our best-selling destinations, but our customers are now choosing to travel to other countries,” he said.

And from Jan. 27 to Feb. 16, the tour operator Intrepid Travel saw a 21 percent decrease in sales for trips to the United States from travelers in Australia and a 30 percent decrease in sales from travelers in Britain. This is a stark contrast from early January, when the company saw record booking numbers from travelers in these countries, said Intrepid’s North American director, Leigh Barnes.

The short-term weaker demand for travel to the United States aside, the bigger concern for travel analysts is the ban’s potential to damage the country’s lucrative tourism industry in the coming years. Statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, part of the United States Department of Commerce, show that tourism-related spending in the United States was $1.56 trillion in 2015; tourism created 7.6 million jobs in the United States that same year.

According to Adam Sacks, the president of Tourism Economics, part of the economic research firm Oxford Economicx,  President Trump’s executive order is part of a broader policy platform and “America first” rhetoric that is creating international antipathy toward the United States and already affecting traveler behavior.

Earlier this month, his group conducted a study of travel to Los Angeles County and found that the county could suffer a potential three-year loss of 800,000 international visitors as a direct result of the ban, the equivalent of $736 million in tourism spending.

“It doesn’t take a lot of uncertainty or adverse sentiment to affect travel decisions,” Mr. Sacks said.

And Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University in New Jersey, said that it’s irrelevant that the ban has been lifted. “There’s now a perception that the U.S. is a place of instability, and that view will impact visitation to this country,” he said.

For the complete article please see

White Spunner developing $500 million entertainment project in Foley
From the article by Pamela Denham on

White-Spunner Construction (WSC), a leading contractor in the Southeast and ranked as the 14th largest general contractor in Alabama in 2016 by Business Alabama, is actively completing 154,000 square-feet of retail and dining space for the first phase of a new entertainment project in Foley, recently announced by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The development’s name is OWA, which derives inspiration from the Muskogee Creek language interpretation of “water.” OWA’s “water” refers to a 14-acre lake at the center of the project that also features a themed amusement park, a 150-room Marriott TownePlace Suites hotel, and multiple restaurants and shops. White-Spunner Construction’s role in the first phase of the project will focus on retail shops and restaurants.

The first phase of the more than $500 million project is set to be complete in the summer of 2017 and is expected to cost approximately $240 million. Future plans for other phases of OWA call for a water park, additional hotels, and a resort level RV park.

“This will be an exciting new family-friendly destination for locals and visitors alike in Baldwin County,” said John White-Spunner, President of WSC. “We’re proud to be a part of such an innovative entertainment concept that will bring thousands of new jobs and draw more tourism to the Gulf Coast.”

When completed, the OWA development is expected to generate nearly 3,500 jobs (both direct and indirect) and bring in an additional one million visitors a year to the area. Located just off the Foley Beach Express and County Road 20, OWA is nine miles from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

Plans call for the development to include three themed districts that offer shopping, dining and other entertainment for all ages. OWA’s location near the City of Foley’s nearly complete sports tourism complex with 16 multipurpose fields and a 90,000 square foot event center will make it even more appealing to traveling sports teams and families.

“OWA is being developed with a goal of creating a year-round tourism destination for South Alabama. To help with this massive undertaking we have employed many reputable construction firms, like White-Spunner Construction, to turn our vision into a reality by summer 2017,” said Kristin Hellmich, Director of Marketing & Public Relations for OWA.

For the complete article please see

The Wall architect Tom Hendrix dies
From the article by Tom Smith in the Times Daily:

The legend of a Yuchi Indian woman and her journey from Oklahoma back to her home along the Singing River came to life for those who listened to her great-great-grandson tell of her journey.

For more than 30 years, Tom Hendrix worked on building a rock wall as a monument to his determined ancestor. He loved to tell the story of Te-lah-nay and how it took five years for her to journey back to home.

“The Wall,” as it has grown to be known, contains rocks precisely placed one-by-one, from every state and 130 countries.

Tom Hendrix died Friday night after a short illness. He was 83.

“She did not make an ordinary journey. I did not build an ordinary wall,” Hendrix said. The wall, located in Lauderdale County, and the prayer circle within, draws a near constant stream of visitors from all over the world, including members of other Indian nations.

“She made it one step at a time, and I built this wall one stone at a time,” Hendrix said during his talk to the thousands of people who have visited The Wall over the years.

Hendrix also authored a book, “If the Legends Fade,” about Te-lah-nay’s journey.

“(The Wall) was a passion for him. He loved it, and loved to talk about it,” said his son Danny.

Danny Hendrix said his father loved to play golf as well as work on the wall.

“There were times he would go to meet his buddies early in the morning to play golf and he would show up with a truck load of rocks that he had picked up somewhere on his way,” Danny Hendrix said. “He would play 18 holes of golf and then go out and work on The Wall. To me he was The Wall. Without him, there wouldn’t be a wall.”

For the complete article please see

Gee’s Bend Ferry is going green: Alabama ferry will soon be all electric
From the Associated Press article:

One of Alabama’s best-known boats is going green.

Officials say the Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a more than $1 million grant to convert the diesel-powered Gee’s Bend Ferry into a battery-powered electric vessel.

The Alabama Department of Transportation announced Friday that it will become the first zero-emission passenger/vehicle ferry of its type in the nation, and only the second in the world.

Today, the ferry runs 362 days a year between the town of Camden and the rural community of Gee’s Bend in Wilcox County.

Gee’s Bend has been home to hundreds of descendants of slaves, including a group of black women known worldwide for making quilts, and is across the Alabama River from the Wilcox County courthouse in Camden. The original ferry ran on cables.

But its residents had to endure a car trip of more than 40 miles to get to stores, schools and doctors after the white-controlled government shut down the ferry in 1962, to make it more difficult for black residents to travel to the county seat to register to vote in the civil rights era. The state finally reopened the ferry 44 years later, in 2006.

An interim ferry will run until the power conversion is done in 2018. Funding for the conversion is part of the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program.

“It is exciting that the state of Alabama will lead the nation with the use of this clean technology,” Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for the Alabama Department of Transportation to showcase innovations, while maintaining this important passenger ferry service for the people of Wilcox County.”

For the complete article please see

TBEX North America conference in Huntsville on May 5-6
Huntsville will host the 2017 Travel Blog Exchange North America (TBEX) conference May 4-6 at the Von Braun Center.  TBEX is the world’s largest conference for travel bloggers, journalists, online content curators and other industry professionals.  Together the TBEX community reaches more than 300 million consumers across the globe.

For more information on registration and how to promote your destination at TBEX please see or contact Leslie Walker at the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, or (256) 551-2380.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Each week a new “partner pointer” will be featured in the newsletter.

Members of the state tourism industry can promote their event or location on the state tourism website by creating a free account using the partner portal.  Setting up an account allows your information to be displayed on for visitors to see and explore. In January alone, received 150,000 visitors, 30,000 of whom then connected to a partner site.

Examples of the type of locations that can sign-up include attractions, accommodations, restaurants, antique stores, boutique shops, outfitters, shopping destinations, farmers markets, amphitheaters and concert halls. Events include festivals, performances, concerts, plays, exhibits, and tournaments.

If you don’t already have a partner account- the sign up is easy.  Instructions and more information is available at

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