Tourism Tuesdays May 16, 2017

Tourism generating billions in Baldwin County

Tourism Day highlights record year for Houston County

Southwest Airlines magazine features several Alabama destinations among the “93 ways to celebrate summer”

Memorial Day celebrations across Alabama

Breathtaking Cahaba lilies blooming on the Cahaba River

Welcome Center tourism and travel week celebrations

Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events deadline is June 30

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Tourism generating billions in Baldwin County
from the report by James Gordon on NBC-15:

Last year millions of visitors came to Baldwin County beaches spending billions of dollars.

The stage is set for this summer and the state has big plans to keep people coming for years to come. With more and more people coming the state has invested more than $80 million to improve the Gulf State Park including a $56 million lodge and meeting facility.

The money is BP settlement money. Hilton hotels will manage the property and the lodge is expected to open in the summer of 2018.

“The property is not going to be the mega project that some people hoped it would be. It’s only going to seat around 700 people for a meal function,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell.

That was by design to allow other hotels to compete on an even level. Sharon and Sergio Flores say the improvements at Gulf State Park should help keep folks coming back for more. “The improvements they’ve made in the last year with the bike paths, walking paths and now the new hotel, it’s a hidden gem,” said Sharon who is visiting from Louisiana.

New numbers show more than 6 million people booked rooms, condos and beach houses in 2016 spending more than $4 billion in Baldwin County.

For the complete article please see

Tourism Day highlights record year for Houston County
From the article by Michele W. Forehand in the Dothan Eagle:

Travelers from all over filled the Houston Welcome Center to enjoy the many vendors participating in the annual Alabama Welcome Centers Tourism Day on Thursday.

The event could not have come at a better time for local tourism officials. According to a report released Thursday by the Dothan Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2016 was a record-breaking year for tourism in Houston County.

The report indicates travelers/tourists spent $286.2 million in the county last year. The report was funded by the Alabama Tourism Department and takes into account hotel occupancy rates, travel generated employment, travel generated earnings, tax revenue and other indicators.

The $286.2 million figure is an 8.5 percent increase over 2015 and is significantly ahead of the state average of 5.4 percent.

“This increase is good news for everyone in the Dothan area,” said Robert Hillman, Director of Sales for the Dothan Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Not only are we able to provide sustainable economic impact for our city, but it is growing more than ever and employing more people than ever before.”

Thursday’s Tourism Day event at the Houston Welcome Center highlighted the impact of tourism in Houston County and around the state.

“This is a great event,” Houston Welcome Center Manager Deborah Tillis said. “All the centers in Alabama pick one day in May to celebrate Tourism Day. This event allows everyone a chance to stop in, and see what great things Alabama does have to offer.”

“Each year we have merchants from Dothan participate. We also have merchants from Montgomery, Phenix City, Abbeville and more. We could not host this event without our merchants donating their time, materials and conversation pieces. They allow everyone visiting a chance to really enjoy our sweet home Alabama. But, most importantly, this event allows us to thank our visitors. That is what this is all about, thanking our visitors for stopping and our enjoying our beautiful state.”

Scores of travelers stop by the Houston Welcome center every day. Traffic is especially heavy during the summer and March, when most states observe Spring Break.

“I usually stop at this center when traveling back home to Columbus, Georgia,” said Ron Hanks, who stopped at the center for a break. “The staff is always delightful during our stops, and that says a lot. Today, I am especially glad we made our stop. We have enjoyed the samples of the food items, as well as just talking with everyone traveling today.”

Visitors had the chance to see first-hand what experiences are available in Alabama. Information was available on dining, lodging, social activities and entertainment options located throughout the state.

“We are excited to be here today,” said Chick-fil-A, co-owner Tracy Koch. “Participating in this event allows us to give back to our community. We appreciate our visitors that come to our beautiful state, and we hope to see our visitors stop by Chick-fil-A, and visit with us. Not only are we here to refresh their hunger, we are also here, to refresh their spirit and their energy as they continue on their journey.”

Betsey Marshall, director of sales for Comfort Suites also attended this year’s event.

“This is a great way to welcome everyone to our state,” Marshall said. “Alabama Tourism Day allows all of us here, a chance to thank everyone for stopping by. It also allows us a chance to tell them to hurry back for another visit. This is just a great way to show everyone visiting what Alabama does have to offer.”

The Houston Welcome Center is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It is staffed Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For the complete article please see

Southwest Airlines magazine features several Alabama destinations among the “93 ways to celebrate summer”
The May issue of Southwest: The Magazine features the Irondale Café, the World’s Longest Yard Sale, Vulcan Park & Museum and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in the article “93 Days of Summer- Here’s how to celebrate every one of them” by Tommie Ethington, Kathryn O’Shea-Evans, and Chaney Kwak. The article features a different destination for each day of summer (June 21-Sept. 22).

July 20/ Try fried green tomatoes.
Alabama’s Irondale Cafe inspired Fannie Flagg’s iconic novel.

Aug. 4/ Scour the world’s longest yard sale.
Stretching 690 miles from Gadsden, Alabama, to Hudson, Michigan, the 127 Corridor Sale snakes through six states, spans four days, and promises plenty of quirky finds.

Aug. 29/ See the world’s largest cast- iron statue.
Vulcan Park & Museum shares the story behind the 56-foot Roman god’s arrival in Birmingham.

Sept. 1/ Meet the Swampers.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama, is famous for its house rhythm section, “the Swampers,” which helped produce hits by Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and the Rolling Stones.

Southwest: The Magazine is the official in-flight publication of Southwest Airlines and reaches more than 5 million readers each month.

For the complete article please see

Memorial Day celebrations across Alabama
Family fun and live entertainment highlight Memorial Day celebrations across Alabama.  Events include everything from one of the Southeast’s largest hot air balloon festivals in Decatur to an outdoor symphony concert in Montgomery.

Other celebrations include the Smith Lake Park Memorial Day Festival in Cullman, Bluegrass on the Plains in Auburn, the LuLu Palooza music event in Gulf Shores and Art on the Lake in Eclectic. Special Memorial Day tributes are planned at the American Village in Montevallo and at Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following Memorial Day weekend events.  For a complete calendar of events listing see

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival- Decatur
May 27-28 at Point Mallard Park.  This festival is one of the largest free hot-air balloon gatherings in the Southeast, featuring more than 60 balloons with races, key grab, tether rides and a balloon glow.  Free admission.

Smith Lake Park Memorial Day Festival- Cullman 
May 27 at Smith Lake Park.  Live entertainment, arts & crafts and food vendors are part of this annual event on the lake.  Free admission.

Coalfest- Brilliant
May 26-27 in Brilliant.  Live bands, food, arts & crafts, and children’s activities at this annual festival.   Free Admission.

Memorial Day at the American Village- Montevallo 
May 29 at the American Village. Events include musical tributes, historical reenactments, wreath-laying ceremonies and special tours. Visitors can experience the National Veterans Shrine and Register of Honor.  Free admission.

Montgomery Symphony Jubilee Pops Concert- Montgomery 
May 26 on the lawn of the Alabama Archives and History Building across from the Alabama State Capitol in downtown Montgomery. Picnic baskets, coolers, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome at this outdoor concert.  Free Admission.

Art on the Lake- Eclectic 
May 27-28 at Children’s Harbor on Lake Martin.  More than 40 artists from across the Southeast will be on hand to display and sell their artwork.  Canvas art, pottery, jewelry, rock work and  Free Admission.

Bluegrass On The Plains- Auburn
May 29-June 4 at the University Station RV Resort in Auburn. This annual festival includes all-star bluegrass bands, arts & crafts and horse rides.  Admission charged.

100 days of Summer Kickoff- Orange Beach
May 26 at The Wharf in Orange Beach.  The Wharf celebrates the start of summer with a concert by country star Blaire Hanks, live entertainment, rides, and the 4th annual Pepsi Beach Ball Drop. This year 5,000 beach balls will be released at the ball drop.  Free Admission.

LuLu Palooza- Gulf Shores
May 27 at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores.  Live music all day on the outdoor boat stage.  Free Admission.

Memorial Day Tribute- Gulf Shores
May 27 at Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores.  Historical interpreters dressed in U.S. Army uniforms from different eras will conduct special guided tours and give demonstrations throughout the day.  Artillery, small arms and other presentations will give visitors a glimpse of what military life was like at Fort Morgan through history.  Admission Charged.

Breathtaking Cahaba lilies blooming on the Cahaba River
From the article by Joe Songer on

The breathtaking Cahaba lilies are blooming along a three mile stretch of the Cahaba River at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County. You can see the lilies from now through mid-June.

The Cahaba lilies are blooming a little early this year due to the warmer than normal winter according to Dr. Randall Haddock, field director with the Cahaba River Society. “I would go see them now,” Dr. Haddock told me.

He was right. the Cahaba lilies are beautiful right now. I saw several huge mats of lilies scattered through shoals on the river. I waded out to several lily clusters and saw that some of the flowers had bloomed out but there were far more buds that haven’t bloomed yet.

The Cahaba lily is found only in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina; the Cahaba Lily requires swift current and direct sunlight to flourish. A type of spiderlily belonging to the amaryllis family, the Cahaba lily is noted for the striking beauty of its three-inch-wide white flowers.

The largest stand of this flower in the world is located at Hargrove Shoals, about 2.4 miles south of a good canoe put-in located at the Co. Rd. 24 bridge near Piper, AL.

If you want to go and see the Cahaba lilies for yourself, here are the directions to get to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuse:

1. Take I-59 South from Birmingham for about 30 miles to the Hwy 5 West Blocton/Centreville exit (Exit 97).

2. Hwy 5/Hwy 11 is four-lane for about 3 miles where Hwy 5 turns abruptly south (to the left) as a two-lane. Watch for this turn!

3. Travel about 8 miles south on Hwy 5 to a blinking yellow light. Turn left (onto County Road 24) to West Blocton.

4. Continue straight at the stop sign (passing West Blocton High School and West Blocton Elementary on the right) for 5 miles.

5. Look for the Refuge sign on the right (not the 1st wooden sign which is a sign for the Wildlife Management, but the 2nd sign). Shortly after the sign is a dirt road on the right, River Trace, leading directly into the Refuge.

Celebrate the Cahaba lily at the Cahaba Lily Festival on Saturday May 20, 2017 on Main Street in West Blocton, Alabama.

Canoe trips to see the Cahaba lilies are offered by the Cahaba River Society each year.

For the complete article please see

Welcome Center tourism and travel week celebrations
The eight state welcome centers will celebrate National Tourism and Travel Week on different dates during the month of May to give tourism industry partners the opportunity to attend several of the events.  The goal of the events is to help kick-off the vacation season and show appreciation to guests stopping at the centers by offering special promotions to local attractions, hotels and restaurants.

The welcome centers and days of the remaining celebrations are: Ardmore Welcome Center- May 18, Cleburne Welcome Center- May 24, DeKalb Welcome Center- May 25, Grand Bay Welcome Center- May 26.  Each celebration will take place from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on the date scheduled.

Vacation Guide/Calendar of Events deadline is June 30
The deadline for submitting items for the printed version of the Alabama Tourism Vacation Guide and Calendar of Events is June 30.  Use the Alabama Tourism industry partners website at to enter and manage events/attractions in the database. If you need assistance please contact Pam Smith at 334-353-4541 or email at

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Did you know that you can update/refresh your event for the its web listing anytime? If something changes or you just want to spice it up-you can edit your event listing in the partner site whenever you please. These changes will be seen within 24 hours.

Not a partner yet? Sign up today at


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