Tourism Tuesdays July 18, 2017

       New amusement park a ‘game changer’ for Alabama tourism

        Alabama Tourism Department to hold marketplace for local vendors

        Southern rock band Bishop Gunn to record at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

        College football impacts state economy in a big way

        Auburn Opelika Marriott earns AAA Four Diamond rating

        Awards go to Alabama best metro, small-city hotels

        Birmingham listed among best U.S. summer destinations by travel brand

        Alabama’s on the menu when Taylor Hicks’ ‘State Plate’ makes its season 2 debut

        International travel show shooting TV pilot in Birmingham

        Rare cold war spy jet gets some love and care in Alabama

        Full-service Hilton hotel comes to Alabama Gulf Coast

        Alabama bicentennial workshop being held in Dothan on July 27

        Southern Makers event is Aug. 12-13 in Birmingham

        Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 19-22 in Birmingham

        “Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


New amusement park a ‘game changer’ for Alabama tourism

From the report by Steve Phillips on WLOX-13:

It’s expected to draw millions of additional tourists to South Alabama. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians will invest half a billion dollars in a tourist attraction and entertainment destination called OWA. And the first phase, which includes a large amusement park, opens Friday.     

Construction on the amusement park at OWA began last November. Six contractors and more than 1,000 construction workers have this portion of the project ready to open ten days from now.

“All in all, this is about a $240 million project for phase one. And we’re having about a five-year build out schedule on this. So, when it’s complete in the five-year period, it’ll be about $500 million being invested in this project,” said OWA Marketing Director Kristin Hellmich.

Roller coaster fans eagerly await the park’s opening.

“This is actually our signature coaster. This is the Rolling Thunder. It is over 600-feet long in track length and it is one of the only steel roller coasters in the state of Alabama,” said Hellmich, “So, the Rolling Thunder is actually a thrill ride, and it’s one of 21 total rides that we have here in the park at OWA.”

The Downtown District is set to open in September, featuring an array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

“And a few of those exciting retailers that will be opening: We have a Wahlburger’s, which is the second largest in the U.S. We have a Hershey’s ice cream shop and a really great sports bar.”

If you’re wondering where the name OWA comes from, look no farther than the 14-acre lake that’s at the centerpiece of this amusement park property.

“The name OWA actually means “big water” in the native language of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which is developing the project,” said Hellmich.

Lee Sentell, Alabama’s director of tourism predicts OWA will be a real “game changer” for the tourism industry.

“There’s over 6.2 million visitors that come to the Alabama Gulf Coast every year. And based on our numbers and our studies, this project will generate an additional three million visitors to this area over the next several years, so we’re really looking forward to help enhance the local tourism base and the economy as well,” said Hellmich.

The OWA project is located just nine miles north of the Alabama beaches. It is also adjacent to a new sports complex in Foley, which is expected to attract hundreds of families for ball games and regional tournaments.

For the complete article please see

Alabama Tourism Department to hold marketplace for local vendors

The Alabama Tourism Department will assist local vendors with getting their goods sold at gift shops across the state when it holds the Alabama Makers Marketplace on Thursday, July 27 in Montgomery.  The event is free and will be open to the public.

“This is a great opportunity to bring producers of Alabama-made goods together with gift shop managers,” said marketplace coordinator Leigh Cross with the state tourism department.  “Travelers are always looking for things that are authentic and represent our state. We want to make sure that the gift shops at our top tourist attractions feature items from companies that are producing goods and creating jobs here in Alabama.”

The Alabama Makers Marketplace is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on July 27 in the exhibit hall of the RSA Activity Center at 201 Dexter Ave. in downtown Montgomery.

More than 25 vendors have already registered for the marketplace including: Aunt Bee’s, Montgomery; Aqualime, Montgomery; Carol’s Botanicals, Mobile; Charmed Heirlooms, Huntsville; Cottage Industry Soap Company, Prattville; Cricket Dust Mystic Seasoning, Montgomery; Earth Creations, Bessemer; Earthborn Studios, Leeds; First Contact Sewing, Toney; Heather Baumbach Art, Madison; Helena Pepper Company, Helena; Jeffery Long Designs, Alex City; Kami Watson Studio, New Market.

Also coming are: Koontz, Greensboro; Made In The Shea, Daphne; Patriot Strong, Florence; Piper & Leaf Tea Company, Huntsville; Poppyseed Paper, Vestavia Hills; Priester’s Pecan, Fort Deposit; Regina K’s Cobbler’s, Leighton; Smokehouse Market, Boaz; To A T Embroidery, Montgomery; To Your Health Sprouted Flour Company, Fitzpatrick; Todd Farms, Headland; Who,What,Where Art, Athens; Woodwizard, Tuskegee.

Southern rock band Bishop Gunn set to record at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

The iconic recording Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama is preparing for an epic five-night recording session with up-and-coming Southern rock band Bishop Gunn. The band, which performed for a capacity crowd at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in 2016, considers this area “the mecca of music.” They are quickly gaining regional and national recognition and are considered the “band to watch” by many music business executives.

 The sessions will take place July 20-25. Since opening in January, Dan Auerbach, Donnie Fritts, and Musician/Actor Keiffer Sutherland have recorded in the studio.

 Grammy-winning producer Mark Neill and Grammy-nominated producer Casey Wasner will be in the control booth for the recording sessions. Neill produced the Grammy-winning Black Keys, “Brothers” album in 2009 that was in large part recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound. Neill is excited about working in the Muscle Shoals area again, “It’s going to be great to be back. My time at Muscle Shoals Sound was surreal and super creative. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again and being involved in a killer record with this team.” Wasner is multi-talented with credits in producing, engineering, songwriting, and as a musician touring with Keb Mo.

 Bishop Gunn frequently visits the Shoals and the musicians say they have been inspired by the Muscle Shoals documentary and local recording studios including FAME, the Nutthouse and Muscle Shoals Sound. Lead singer Travis McCready said they are awed by the world-class records that were recorded here. “I consider it a privilege and an honor to record at this studio because it is an integral part of the legendary sound.” Band leader and wildly energetic drummer, Burne Sharpe sees it as a rare opportunity to record in the area where so many of his influencers made hit records, “It is such a special place and we can’t wait to get in the studio and let the funk of Muscle Shoals blend with our Southern rock and roll.” Guitarist Drew Smithers said, “It is my hope to make the kind of lasting mark on music as those great artists that have recorded in Muscle Shoals.” Ben Lewis completes the band as bass player.

 “These guys are destined to become rock stars,” said Muscle Shoals Music Foundation chairwoman Judy Hood. “The first time I saw them they were performing at a Pilgrimage after-party in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee and the crowd was spellbound. We are beyond thrilled to have them recording at 3614 Jackson Highway.”

 Bishop Gunn is fast becoming part of the Muscle Shoals community and will be on hand for the Studio’s ribbon cutting Friday July 21 at 2 p.m. A meet-and-greet with the band will take place on the studio grounds on Saturday, July 22, at 3 p.m.

 The studio is open for tours seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.  The recording sessions will begin after 5 p.m. to accommodate the hundreds of visitors who come to the studio each week.

College football impacts state economy in a big way

From the report by Rosanna Smith on WSFA-12:

Football isn’t just a sport, it’s part of the culture down South. With the start of the college football season right around the corner, fans are gearing up, and they aren’t the only ones.

The return of college football is a time of year most people in Alabama live for. No matter how your team does on the gridiron this season one thing is certain: the state will come out with a win.

“We have people coming from all over the Southeast and all over the nation into our state every year,” said Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department. 

Alabama has a big appeal because there is not only the University of Alabama and Auburn University, but a number of other universities in different conferences who have fans ready to spend their money.

“When someone goes to a football game they are not just driving in, going to the game and leaving. When they are coming in from other states they are staying for the weekend. They are staying in hotels, they are eating in restaurants, they are shopping,” said Jones.

While it is estimated travelers spent more than $13.3 billion last year in our state, the exact economic impact of college football in our state is unknown.

The most recent study dates back nearly five years when state economists estimated between UA and AU the economic impact was somewhere near the $500 million mark.

“It is really tough to come up with one number. The impact is huge. To some degree in Auburn we want to say it is triple what a normal weekend would be throughout the year,” said John Wild with the Auburn Opelika Tourism Bureau.

“We have had new to the market retail, we have new lodging opportunities, we have more reasons for people to spend money while they are in Tuscaloosa then we did before. It stands to reason that the economic impact is even greater than it ever has been,” said Jim Page with the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

The official start of the College Football Season is Aug. 26.

For the complete article please see

Auburn Opelika Marriott earns AAA Four Diamond rating

From the report by Bethany Davis on WSFA-12:

As the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship prepares to tee off at the RTJ Grand National golf course, the hotel on the grounds there is celebrating a prestigious honor. The Auburn/Opelika Marriott at Grand National received the Four Diamond Award rating from AAA.

“Fewer than six percent of the nearly 28,000 properties approved by AAA achieve this prestigious distinction,” said Michael Petrone, content development director for AAA publishing. This is the first time for this honor to be granted to a hotel in the Auburn/Opelika area.

“The Four Diamond recognition was the result of the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s investing in a world-class hotel,” said Kevin Cross, general manager for the Auburn/Opelika Marriott. “In addition to great structure and amenities, our Associates continue to go the extra mile to bring this hotel to life.”

Triple-A’s diamond rating system is the only system that uses professionally trained inspectors to evaluate each property. It uses guidelines available to all establishments and evaluates more properties than any other rating entity.

“Four and Five Diamond lodgings represent the best the hospitality industry has to offer,” said AAA Spokesperson Clay Ingram. “These properties consistently deliver a high level of personal comfort and attention to every guest. To achieve and maintain these ratings is a commendable accomplishment.”

Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel & Spa and Wetumpka’s Wind Creek Casino & Hotel are also AAA Four Diamond hotels.

For the complete report please see

Awards go to Alabama best metro, small-city hotels

From the article by William Thornton on

Six Alabama hotels have been honored by HotelsCombined with their Recognition of Excellence awards.

An Australian hotel price-comparison platform, HotelsCombined is in its second year of naming the top hotels in each state after bestowing similar honors in Australia, the UK and Europe.

Among hotels in metropolitan areas, Mobile’s Fort Conde Inn took the top honors as Alabama’s best hotel, with The Lattice Inn and Red Bluff Cottage Bed & Breakfast of Montgomery named finalists.

In the Best Small City Hotel category, Hotel Finial of Anniston was named the winner, while finalists were Pursell Farms of Sylacauga and the Hotel at Auburn University.

Finalists were identified by customer experience, scoring at least 9 out of a possible 10 points, placing them within the top 10 percent of hotels in the U.S. Other criteria include quality and quantity of user reviews, customer rating, the absence of recurring or unresolved issues, social media posts, blogs and forums.

Chris Rivett, a travel expert at HotelsCombined said the finalists represent “the best of the best.”

“A lot of hard work goes into ensuring guests have an exceptional experience and this is our chance to showcase and reward the hotels, resorts and B&Bs that are at the top of their game,” he said in a statement.

For the complete article please see

Birmingham listed among best U.S. summer destinations by travel brand

From the article by Hanno van der Bijl in the Birmingham Business Journal:

 The Magic City was nominated one of the “15 Best U.S. Cities to Visit When the Temperature Soars” by an award-winning travel guide book publisher.

DK Eyewitness Travel placed Birmingham as the seventh of 15 best U.S. cities to visit during the summer. DK’s travel experts selected the cities based on their crowd frequency, music festivals, hotels and spas. “Not everyone wants to make a beeline for the mountains or the shore in summer, only to fight the crowds and rub elbows with every other trail hiker and sun-seeker,” said Georgina Dee, publishing director of DK Travel. “Instead, go where no one else thinks to go — cities that turn up the heat during the summer.”

The travel guide highlights Birmingham’s Magic City Brewfest, Sloss Music & Arts Festival and Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. With regard to food, it recommends Big Spoon Creamery, Steel City Pops, Saw’s BBQ, and Hot and Hot Fish Club’s summer tomato salad. Tourists are also encouraged to tube down the Cahaba River.

DK has more than 200 travel titles under the Eyewitness Travel and Top 10 brands.

For the complete article please see

Alabama’s on the menu when Taylor Hicks’ ‘State Plate’ makes its season 2 debut

From the article by Mary Colurso on

Taylor Hicks will showcase food from Alabama when his INSP series, “State Plate” makes its season two debut on Aug. 11. And that’s really no surprise, considering that Hicks, a Hoover native, is a staunch advocate for the cuisine of his home state.

The country-soul singer and former “American Idol” winner, 40, vowed to bring the series to Alabama from the get-go, and Hicks will make good on that promise with an episode that airs at 7 p.m. CT.

“This particular episode of ‘State Plate’ is going to be really special to me,” Hicks told in March, during a filming session at Saw’s Juke Joint in Crestline. “I hope it’s special for the people of Alabama who love the show and watch it.”

Four Alabama locations will be featured on the episode, including Birmingham and Gulf Shores, and each will contribute items to the plate. Although details on the specific foods remain under wraps, Hicks revealed that Gulf Coast seafood will be showcased, plus two popular side dishes and a classic dessert. At Saw’s, where Hicks is one of the restaurant’s owners, it’s likely to be something essential to Alabama barbecue.

 “(Alabama) is a place where I grew up. It is a place where I grew up playing,” Hicks said. “It’s obviously a place where I grew up eating. I could really tell my own story about the state from a culinary perspective. It’s just really nostalgic for me.”

As the host of “State Plate,” Hicks travels the country with a production crew, expanding his culinary horizons and learning about iconic American foods. Each episode focuses on foods from a single state, filling a plate with an appetizer, entree (with side dishes) and dessert.

Under the show’s formula, Hicks is hands-on, going from farm to table, boat to table, ranch to table and other spots where foods originate. In season one, which initially aired in 2016, he shucked clams in Massachusetts, herded sheep in Arizona, tossed pizza dough in Illinois, went on a cattle drive in Texas, visited a sauerkraut factory in Wisconsin and more. 

Season two will crisscross the map to encompass 24 states, including North Carolina, Vermont, New York, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Oregon and Washington.

For the complete article please see

International travel show shooting TV pilot in Birmingham

From the report by Bree Sison on WBRC-6:

With a wanderlust in her heart, Paulina Vallin, currently of Los Angeles, is determined to find a new culture to love and adopt as her own. She’s documenting her search in a travel TV show tentatively called “RunawayHeart.” Her first stop? The Magic City.

Vallin, who was born in Sweden, says the American South has long been on her travel bucket list and that she really wanted to see fireflies. Birmingham turned out to be a great place to shoot her first episode with photographer and producer James Ossey. The pair intended to spend three days filming in Alabama but have been here for a full week.

“We’ve done everything from etiquette classes to meeting Miss Teen Alabama,” Vallin said. They visited many restaurants, learned to cook grits, spent time at Oak Mountain State Park, visited American Village and she even received a “Southern makeover” from GLOW.

The project aims to explore the world from a female perspective, going beyond tourist attractions to get a feel for what it’s like to live in another culture. The biggest takeaway on Birmingham culture, they say, is that Southern Hospitality is real.

“Doing a lot of work in Los Angeles, it’s like pulling teeth to ask ‘hey can I shoot five minutes in your store?’ Here owners are like ‘oh come on in! I’ll do an interview! Here’s some free food!’” says Ossey. “People have gone completely out of their way to help us create this.  Every single person has thanked us for choosing to come to Birmingham.”

Birmingham will serve as the ambassador for U.S. culture on RunawayHeart. There are plans to film in several other countries including Albania, India, Sweden, Japan, and parts of Africa. Vallin and Ossey are shopping the project to networks like Travel Channel, Lifetime, Bravo or possibly even marketing to companies that provide in-flight entertainment.

For the complete article please see

Rare Cold War spy jet gets some love and care in Alabama

From the article by Lee Roop on

“Every day, thousands of cars go by and don’t realize what they’re looking at,” retired Air Force Lt. Col. Nick Van Valkenburgh said in Huntsville Friday. “They’re looking at one of the most classified programs the CIA ever had.”

Van Valkenburgh was talking about the long, stiletto-shaped airplane behind him on a pad in front of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The plane is an A-12 Oxcart capable of flying 2,000 miles per hour at 90,000 feet to spy on American Cold War enemies like Russia.

Friday’s event was a celebration of the A-12’s restoration. Now fully repainted and preserved thanks to donations by S(3) and PPG, the A-12 will be mounted on pedestals in front of the rocket center on Interstate 565.

There were 12 single-seat Oxcarts and one two-seat trainer built in the CIA’s code-named “Archangel” program. Hence, the designation A-12. The rocket center’s was the seventh off the assembly line, and the entire A-12 program was the predecessor of the Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird.

By chance, Alabama has three of the surviving seven A-12s. One is at the Battleship Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile, and one is at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham.

“To this day, no other jet has flown faster,” Van Valkenburg said. But the Oxcart holds no official records, because it was a secret. “If you don’t exist, you can’t hold records,” he said.

The A-12’s last flight was over North Korea looking for the captured U.S. Navy ship Pueblo, Van Valkenburgh said. “You might want to Google that,” he added.

Rocket center curator Ed Stewart explained a painstaking restoration process that starts with “doing as little as possible.” He meant, “Do as much as we can that can be reversed in case there’s a better way in the future.”

Stewart explained the challenges of painting an airplane made “almost entirely out of titanium” and the care taken down to the plugs inserted into the exhaust outlet. They are made of inert material and will not rot or stick to the frame. The labels and numbers painted on the A-12 are “as accurate as we can possibly make them,” Stewart said.

Visitors to the Space & Rocket Center’s parking lot can see the A-12 for free. Admission is charged to the museum and its rocket and space shuttle parks.

For the complete article please see

Full-Service Hilton hotel comes to Alabama Gulf Coast

From the article by Hanno van der Bijl in the Birmingham Business Journal:

A 10-story hotel has opened on Orange Beach.

 After a multibillion-dollar renovation, Hotel Equities opened the Island House Hotel Orange Beach. The Double Tree by Hilton hotel has 161 rooms and suites with large private balconies overlooking the ocean.

 The hotel features the Beachside Bistro & Bar along with 6,000 square feet of meeting, ballroom and banquet facilities.

 The hotel is located at 26650 Perdido Beach Blvd. Area shops and attractions such as the Wharf, Gulf State Park, Waterville USA, Adventure Island and others are close by.

 The hotel is managed by Hotel Equities and owned by Island House Inc.

 For the complete article please see

Alabama bicentennial workshop being held in Dothan on July 27

The fifth regional community workshop for the bicentennial will be held on Thursday, July 27, 9 a.m. at the Wiregrass Museum of Art, in Dothan. The workshops have been developed by the Alabama Bicentennial Committee to share information, resources, and funding opportunities regarding Alabama’s three-year bicentennial commemoration. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required.

“We have many partners in Dothan, Elba, Enterprise and Daleville but hope to have the opportunity to make more connections throughout the wiregrass,” said Jay Lamar, Executive Director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission.

From family reunions to school service projects, from museum exhibitions to common reading programs and from recipe collections to oral-history interviews, there will be many ways that individuals, groups and communities can involve themselves in the state’s milestone birthday.

The workshops are co-sponsored by Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism, Alabama League of Municipalities, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, Main Street Alabama, Design Alabama, Alabama Historical Commission, Black Heritage Council, Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Association of Regional Councils, Alabama Communities of Excellence and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

In 2013, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission was established by the governor and the legislature to begin planning for the state’s 200th anniversary. For more information about the bicentennial, visit, or call 334-242-4537.

Southern Makers event is Aug. 12-13 in Birmingham

Tickets are on sale for the fifth annual Southern Makers, a two-day event on Aug. 12-13 at the historic Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham.  The event moves to Birmingham for the first time this year after previously being held in Montgomery.

More than 100 of Alabama’s top makers, including nationally renowned fashion designers, textile artists, screen printers, jewelers, brewers, winemakers, contemporary artists, farmers, woodworkers, chefs, bakers, architects, industrial designers, preservationists and entrepreneurs, will come together in Birmingham to celebrate Southern creativity and innovation. For more information and to purchase tickets please see

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 19-22 in Birmingham

The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 19-22 at the Sheraton Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

* Please note that the secured room block at the Sheraton Birmingham will end on July 18 and Early Bird Registration of $350 will end on July 20.  Register and make your reservations today.

The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and celebrate achievements.

For an agenda, list of speakers and registration information please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Mark your calendars! Alabama Restaurant week is Aug. 11-20. Make sure your restaurant can be found on by creating a partner listing for it today.

Need to touch up your partner account? Go to today. To learn more about Bicentennial, visit




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 newsletter please contact Brian Jones at:

Alabama Tourism Department