Tourism Tuesdays December 12, 2017

Hite and Malone give update on South Baldwin tourism
Global booking company sees 160% increase in ticket sales to Alabama attractions and tours
Alabama Music Hall of Fame 2018 inductees: Aldridge, Hinton, Holmes, McAnally
Walker County featured in new state travel itineraries
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Alabama restaurant voted one of 100 best in America for 2017
Another movie being filmed in Birmingham
Back Forty Beer Co. opening Birmingham brewery, restaurant in 2018
Cool Spaces: Good vibes at Mobile’s new brewery
Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion next Monday night
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Hite and Malone give update on South Baldwin Tourism
From the article by Jessica Vaughn on

The South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce brought the 2017 Leadership Series Lunch to an end on Nov. 28 with an update on tourism in South Baldwin County, focusing on hotel data. Speakers for the event were Amanda Hite, the CEO and President of STR, a privately-owned company located in Nashville that specializes in data collection from hotels, and Herb Malone, CEO and President of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.

Hite began the presentation by giving an update on South Baldwin’s hotel data as compared to Alabama’s. STR needs three numbers from a hotel to properly collect and analyze their data: the rooms available, rooms sold, and room revenue.

“With those three numbers we can calculate occupancy average, daily rate, and revenues for available rooms (known as RevPAR in the hotel business),” Hite said. “For anyone in the hotel industry, they know RevPAR is sort of what you live or die by and how you’re performing against your competitors.”

Hite stated that the hotel business has been doing well for the last six or seven years. There has been an incredible increase in demand, coming in at a 2.6 percent increase through October 2017. The supply growth is at 1.8 percent, which Hite says makes a very good supply and demand balance at this point in the cycle.

“For the amount of new development that’s coming in, the demand growth is still outpacing that, which gives us positive occupancy, positive rate growth, and positive RevPAR growth,” Hite said.

Currently in the U.S., there is a 67.6 percent occupancy rate, which Hite says is an all-time high for the hotel industry, and every month the industry is selling more rooms than ever before.

“I would say things are going to continue that way for the next few years,” Hite said. “Barring any crazy events that we can’t anticipate.”

RevPAR growth is also happening in the hotel industry, with 92 consecutive months of growth in the U.S. Hite predicted the industry would be setting a record there as well.

For South Baldwin in specific, growth has been steadily rising.

“For the state of Alabama through October of this year, $1.2 billion has been collected in hotel room revenue,” Hite said. “For Foley, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach, their portion of that room revenue is about 7.7 percent, so that’s almost $93 million in hotel revenue that’s been collected through October of this year. That’s almost 8 percent of the entire state.”

As to room nights sold, for October year-to-date, Foley has sold 147,000 room nights, while Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have sold 517,000 room nights.

“That makes up almost 5 percent of the state of Alabama room nights sold, happening in these three cities,” said Hite.

Baldwin County hosted 6.3 million guests during the last year, Malone reported on a local level. While visiting, guests spent $4.2 billion in direct spending in local businesses throughout the county. The tourism industry in South Baldwin supports 49,681 travel related jobs, such as restaurants, hotels, etc., which averages around $1.4 billion in salaries and wages.

“Despite a large amount of rain and tropical storms, by the end of May our lodging revenue was at 10 percent above last year’s,” said Malone.

Lodging revenue has shown an annual rate growth in the last three years, with a significant growth of 23 percent in the fall season, 16 percent growth in winter, 12.6 percent in spring, and 5.5 percent growth in summer.

Malone presented what he called a new paradigm, which clustered months together based on their lodging revenue numbers to demonstrate the changes over the last three years. June and July came in as the year’s highest drawing months, and made up 42.3 percent of the annual total for lodging revenue. May and August were placed together due to their similar numbers, which equaled nearly 20 percent of the annual total.

“The real takeaway there is August is not the 3rd highest month anymore,” Malone said. “May is. May has outpaced August. it has been outpacing August for the last three years.”

March, April, September, and October were placed together with 27.5 percent of the year’s total. The rest of the year, November through February, made up about ten percent.

“On lodging tax revenue, Baldwin County generates right at 30 percent of the state’s annual total when you factor in all our condos and everything,” said Malone. “So we are a major force in the state.”

The hotel industry is expected to continue to grow in the future, according to Hite. With many new hotels and rooms being brought to Baldwin County or currently in planning, the numbers are predicted to increase in the area as more people visit the county.

As Malone stated in closing: “We’ve talked about some unbelievable numbers and high dollars, but this is not just a numbers industry. It’s a people industry. You take care of the people, the numbers take care of themselves.”

For the complete article please see,55823

Global booking company sees 160% increase in ticket sales to Alabama attractions and tours

Ticket sales for Alabama attractions and tours sold through global booking company Viator are up more than 160 percent for 2017.

Viator, owned by TripAdvisor, has seen more than $65,000 in ticket sales to Alabama tourist sites this year compared to $24,897 in 2016.

Viator representatives Mark Garganta and Tonia Truax met with Alabama Tourism Department Deputy Director Grey Brennan at the recent Travel South International Showcase to discuss the growing interest the company has seen in Alabama tourist destinations.

“These new sales figures from Viator shows that Alabama is increasingly becoming a destination for travelers from around the world. Sixty-four percent of ticket sales were from the USA and 26 percent were from international markets,” said Brennan. The top five international markets for Alabama with Viator are Great Britain, France, Australia, Canada and Brazil.

More information about Viator is available on their website at Representatives from attractions and city tours interested in working with Viator can contact Mark Garganta at

Alabama Music Hall of Fame 2018 inductees: Aldridge, Hinton, Holmes, McAnally

From the article by Russ Corey on

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame has announced the names of its 2018 inductees who will be honored when the induction and awards show returns to the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in Florence on Feb. 3.

Inductees include: singer, songwriter and guitarist Mac McAnally, who is a solo artist and member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band; songwriter and guitarist Walt Aldridge, who has written or co-written 56 Top 40 country songs; the late civil rights champion and renowned folk singer Odetta Holmes; and the late songwriter and session musician Eddie Hinton, who composed tracks like “Cover Me” for Percy Sledge and “Breakfast in Bed” with fellow Shoals songwriter Donnie Fritts.

Hinton died in 1995 while Holmes died in 2008.

“Each one of these well-deserving inductees has brought international acclaim to our state.” Executive Director Dixie Griffin said. “The banquet celebrates everything that is great about Alabama’s rich and diverse music heritage. Several of Alabama’s music business celebrities stepped up to support the 2018 show and we appreciate that so much.”

The evening’s performers include 2016 inductee, former Allman Brothers and current Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, country artist Jamey Johnson and 2005 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. McAnally and Aldridge are also expected to perform.

For the complete article please see

Walker County featured in new state travel itineraries
From the article by Jennifer Cohron on

Several sites in Walker County are featured in a new set of printed travel itineraries highlighting points of interest around the state.

The ConnectLivity itineraries were developed around 12 themes: architecture/landscape, Alabama makers, arts, cars/motorcycles/rockets, claims to fame, civil rights, food and beverage, kids and family, Native American, natural wonders, outdoor and who knew.

Local sites that are highlighted include the stained glass dome at Jasper’s First United Methodist Church (architecture), the Bankhead House and Heritage Center (claims to fame and “who knew,” as in, “who knew that was there”), the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site (natural wonders) and Faye Whittemore Farms (outdoor).

In addition, the food brochure lists the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” which includes Green Top Cafe’s barbecue and Black Rock Bistro’s Catfish Pontchartrain.

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell, Natural Bridge and the Sipsey Wilderness are among the points of interest included from neighboring counties.

DesignAlabama, a nonprofit that promotes design and design professionals in the state, created the itineraries in cooperation with several organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

“There are things in our state that so many of us are missing,” said Gina Clifford, executive director of DesignAlabama. “We wanted to tell people what they are and how to get there. We also wanted to get community members to begin thinking about ways to promote the assets they already have and foster tourism.”

Funding for the project was provided through the National Endowment for the Art’s Our Town grant program, which “supports local efforts to enhance quality of life and opportunity for existing residents, increase creative activity and create or preserve a distinct sense of place.”

In 2016, DesignAlabama hosted six regional planning meetings in which a group of community representatives contributed ideas for the itineraries.

Jasper hosted the meeting for the Central Alabama region, which included more than a dozen counties stretching from Marion and Lamar counties on the Mississippi-Alabama line to Cleburne and Randolph counties on the Alabama-Georgia line.

Tana Collins, director of public relations for Bevill State Community College, was one of the local residents who helped select destinations for the itineraries.

Collins said the itineraries were highly curated to make them as easy to use as possible.

“We were told not to do festivals because they are only once a year and we want people to be able to use these all of the time. We also stayed away from things like historic markers; there had to be something to tour,” said Collins, who helped research folk art and art museums for the project.

Meeting participants worked in groups and began their work by thinking about who would be visiting their community. For example, Collins’ group envisioned a retired couple with expendable income and an interest in the arts.

Each group was responsible for creating a map that included points of interest and routes that visitors would take when traveling for a daytrip or weekend getaway.

The itineraries are structured as fold-out brochures centered around the 12 themes. Each brochure contains a map with routes to various destinations, which are ranked as must-see, site of importance or site of interest.

The routes, marked in red, pass through towns where visitors can order one of the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.”

The set of 12 brochures can be purchased now for $10 at DesignAlabama’s website, A coffee table book is also available on the site for $15. One can click and bring up the “buy maps” link on the home page.

For the complete article please see,13899

Alabama Music Hall of Fame
From the article on

It’s no secret that music is a deeply ingrained element of the Billy Reid lifestyle. It’s a core part of our annual Shindig celebration in The Shoals, Alabama, as well as our Austin Shindig and pretty much every store event and gathering. Many followers of the brand know about FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the documentary, “Muscle Shoals”, which helped bring the musical heritage of the area to recent national attention. But there’s another entity devoted to celebrating Alabama music that we hold close to our hearts. It’s the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, Alabama, one of the four towns that make up The Shoals.

The Journal talked with AMHOF’s Board of Directors member Judy Hood about the Hall’s history and dedication to preserving and celebrating Alabama natives who’ve contributed to the state’s rich musical traditions. “People are blown away by the diversity of the music that comes from Alabama,” Hood says. “The museum represents classical, opera, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, bluegrass, gospel, blues and country. We get visitors from all over the world, and I think our international visitors are particularly impressed by that. You just don’t associate Alabama with opera or classical, but when you walk into the Hall of Fame, what you’re seeing is a body of work that was produced by Alabama.”

Last year, as part of Shindig No. 8, the AMHOF hosted several of our guests, including CFDA jewelry designer Pamela Love and Tony Award-winning actor Alex Sharp for dinner and a tour of the museum. “Billy has always been a great advocate for music in general, and particularly in the Shoals area,” Hood says. “He’s such an important part of everything that’s happening here musically.”

“It’s the folks behind the scenes that are the most important people,” she says. “The team is led by Dixie Griffin, the heart and soul of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. She’s making some really great things happen out there. Lee Sentell (Alabama State Tourism Director and treasurer for the Hall of Fame Board) has been extremely supportive of the Hall of Fame, because he sees that it is a very important component of Alabama’s tourism mix, particularly where music is concerned.”

The museum features permanent exhibits including the band Alabama’s Southern Star tour bus, which visitors can climb aboard, and original costumes and memorabilia from the Commodores, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, Emmy Lou Harris, Donna Godchaux, Lionel Richie and more. One eye-catching installation is the Solid Gold Country Music Car, a 1960 Pontiac convertible adorned with more than 500 silver dollars and 12 silver guns. A pair of horns from Texas Longhorns are mounted on the vehicle’s hood. A popular feature of the museum is a small recording studio. “It’s Karaoke on steroids,” Hood jokes. Participants can choose from a selection of well-known Alabama native song lyrics, sing their hearts out into the mic, and take home a CD recording of their performance.

“My favorite things are the song lyrics that we have on display,” Hood says. “The original documents are handwritten and show where someone crossed out a line. Some of them on the back of napkins or just a piece of notebook paper.”

A recent exhibit that is still on display, is an homage to Alabama Grammy Award winners, and upcoming events include an exhibit on Alabama Hip Hop and the annual AMHOF fundraiser and Hall of Fame inductee ceremony.

“Music should be fun and interactive,” Hood says. “We wish we had a gazillion dollars, just like all non-profits,  because there’s so much more we would love to have in the Hall of Fame, to expand it, to have a performance venue, but we’re real excited with what we have. When people come in and see it with fresh eyes, it always reaffirms our notion that we’ve got something extremely special here.”

A special thank you to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Alabama Tourism for all they do for the community and their ongoing partnership supporting Shindig.

For the complete article please see

Alabama restaurant voted one of 100 best in America for 2017
From the article by Bob Carlton on

Diners using the online restaurant reservation service OpenTable have voted Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill one of the 100 Best Restaurants in America for 2017.

Highlands is the only Alabama restaurant on this year’s list, which includes  restaurants from 24 states, as well as Washington, D.C.

The states of California and New York each have 19 restaurants among the 100 best.

The list is generated solely from OpenTable diner reviews collected between Nov.  1, 2016, and Oct. 31, 2017, according to a media release. All restaurants with a minimum “overall” score and number of qualifying reviews were included for consideration. Qualifying restaurants were then sorted according to a score calculated from each restaurant’s average rating in the “overall” category.

“While the winning restaurants this year are each distinctive, they all consistently deliver exceptional dishes, impeccable hospitality, and a meal to remember,” Caroline Potter, OpenTable’s chief dining officer, said in the release. “This year’s honorees have risen to the challenge of providing outstanding experiences time and again to a nation of discerning guests.”

The 100 best restaurants are not ranked but listed in alphabetical order.

Earlier this year, the food and dining website Eater selected Highlands Bar and Grill as one of the 38 best restaurants in the country on its annual list of America’s Essential Restaurants. It was the second year in a row for Highlands to make Eater’s essential restaurants list.

Highlands, which is co-owned by Birmingham chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, also has been a James Beard Foundation Award finalist for the most outstanding restaurant in America for nine consecutive years.

To see OpenTable’s complete list of the 100 Best Restaurants in America, go here.

For the complete article please see

Another movie being filmed in Birmingham
From the article by Bob Carlton on

Scenes from a movie starring Josh Hartnett of “Black Hawk Down” and the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful” and Margarita Levieva from the HBO drama “The Deuce” are expected to begin filming Thursday in the Birmingham metro area.

The movie, “Inherit the Viper,” is described as a crime thriller centered around the prescription drug epidemic in West Virginia, according to the Hollywood trade publication Variety.

Casting directors are looking for actors, models and other talent to work on scenes that will be filmed in Birmingham from Dec. 7 through Dec. 13, according to a post on the Project Casting website. More details are available on the website.

Swiss filmmaker Anthony Jerjen is making his feature film directing debut in “Inherit the Viper,” which is based on an original screenplay by Andrew Crabtree, according to the movie website Deadline Hollywoood.

Hartnett and Levieva play West Virginia siblings who support themselves by dealing drugs, but when they try to get out of the business, they discover it is a vicious cycle to escape, according to Deadline Hollywood.

“‘Inherit the Viper’ is a visceral story of a family fighting to escape its destiny,” producer Michel Merkt said in the Deadline Hollywood report.

It is at least the third Hollywood production to film in the Birmingham area in the past few months.

“Bigger,” a drama about the pioneers of the sport of competitive bodybuilding, filmed here earlier this fall, and this past summer, John Travolta and Shania Twain were in the Birmingham area to film the dirt-track racing movie “Trading Paint.”

For the complete article please see

Back Forty Beer Co. opening Birmingham brewery, restaurant in 2018
From the article by William Thornton on

Just across the street from where the first sample of Back Forty Beer was ever poured at Magic City Brewfest, the Gadsden brewery plans to open its first satellite location.

And it could be the first of many. Back Forty Beer Co. – Birmingham is expected to open in mid-2018 as the anchor tenant at Sloss Docks off First Avenue North.

Back Forty founder Jason Wilson said Gadsden will remain the headquarters of the brewery, but the Birmingham location will serve the familiar brands, such as Truck Stop Honey, Naked Pig and Freckle Belly, as well as some unique flavors. The location will feature a full restaurant featuring Executive Chef Russ Bodner, and will offer what’s being called casual and creative pub fare. There will also be an outdoor beer garden with live music.

“This is something we’ve been talking about for five years really,” Wilson said. “But the laws kept changing, and we’d have to go back to the ABC Board and craft a new plan. But we’ve come full circle.”

Douglas Brown will be the owner of the Birmingham location. Brown, who previously worked as a consultant, has a masters from Auburn University in brewery science. He said his original passion, many years ago, was to start a brewery. Then years later came the opportunity with Wilson.

“I’ve always been a fan of their beer,” Brown said. “I love the branding and the concept. And we worked together on the concept for this location for several months.”

Formerly a warehouse for UAB, Brown said the location has been vacant for about a year. The $1.3 million project will employ about 20 people.

Wilson said the restaurant follows the familiar economic development model for breweries – refurbishing vacant industrial property as a way to revitalize an area. And both he and Brown said they see the Back Forty brand of restaurant expanded to other locations in Birmingham and throughout the South.

“What we’re looking to import here to the City of Birmingham is a world-class Back Forty experience,” Wilson said.

For the complete article please see

Cool Spaces: Good vibes at Mobile’s new brewery
From the article by Michelle Matthews on

When he was 19 years old, John Serda remembers driving across the Bayway with a date, headed to a party at the Gulf, and telling her he planned to own a brewery and his own island one day.

“She thought I was unrealistic,” he says. “I told my dad that story, and every time I went on a date after that he told me not to tell it again.”

His brewery has opened. His island still awaits (though he does live on the water, “so that’s close,” he says). And one day, he says, he’ll name his yacht “Unrealistic,” in memory of that long-ago derisive date.

His father, Ed Serda, and his brother, Matt Serda, along with Tim Mahoney and Todd Hicks, director of brewing operations and head brewer, are partners with John Serda in Serda Brewing, which held its grand opening Dec. 1.

Serda is a familiar face in downtown Mobile, where his last name has become synonymous with coffee. Long before he pursued the brewery dream, he opened Serda’s Coffee in Tillman’s Corner in 2006, moving the coffee shop to Royal Street in downtown Mobile in 2008. Last year, he opened a second Serda’s location in Daphne.

Like his coffee shops, the new craft beer microbrewery needed to be a laid-back, inviting space. After searching for four years for just the right spot to house the brewery he’d been dreaming of since he brewed beer as a teenager (“until my mom made me stop,” Serda says), he finally found it in a former tire shop on Government Street in downtown Mobile.

“It’s misleading, because you don’t know how much space there is until you walk in,” Serda says of the 11,000-square-foot former Goodyear building.

“At first, it didn’t seem like part of downtown,” he says. “But now it seems like we’re pulling downtown this way. And we have a lot of cool neighbors.”

Team Serda hired Steve Stone of dakinstreet architects in Mobile to design the brewery and Vance McCown Construction to complete it. The facade along Government Street still has the garage doors – but beyond that, the building is unrecognizable now that it’s been transformed.

“It had a ton of potential,” Stone says.

The one-acre property extends all the way back to Conti Street, with a large parking lot at the rear. The existing building was already divided into three distinct areas, Stone says – “which fit in perfectly for the future taproom, brewhouse and cellar.”

Now that the work is done, Stone couldn’t be happier with the result. He loves the way there are “varied spaces for folks to experience,” he says. “The taproom leans a little cosmopolitan, the under-the-oaks front porch has a great beer garden feel, then there’s the bright, tropical-colored brewhouse, and the lit-up food-truck alley that doubles as an informal entrance from the parking lot.”

In the food-truck alley along South Warren Street, as many as three food trucks will sell snacks to go along with the brews. Lights are festively strung in a lattice pattern overhead.

Between the front and rear garage doors is the brewhouse, where the raw materials in beer (water, barley and hops) are processed in two shiny, 1,000-gallon stainless-steel vats, and the liquid is pumped overhead into the cellar for fermentation. After a long series of processes that Hicks patiently explains to curious guests, the beer is eventually held in two more tanks inside, ready to fill kegs or bottles.

A giant, drive-in cooler can store 12,000 gallons of beer, and future plans already call for producing more, says Hicks.

The pet-friendly “front porch” area is topped with triangular sails for shade, and includes locally made tables and comfortable seating arrangements near fire pits. Stone designed wide planters between the porch area and Government Street to brighten the space and separate it from the street. Reclaimed wood from a Kentucky barn covers the top of the building’s facade, and wrought iron left from the tire shop has been repurposed to hold boxes of succulent plants.

In the tire store’s former showroom, the 2,500-square-foot taproom has “kind of a contemporary rustic feel,” says Stone.

The taproom features a 40-foot curved concrete bar that seats 20, as well as additional seating for 70 people. A merchandise wall in the back has countertops made from the same recycled barn wood. Acoustic sound clouds suspended from the ceiling give the room a punch of color while absorbing some of the echo created by all the hard surfaces. Stained plywood covers the walls and vinyl flooring that looks like concrete give the room a clean, modern feel.

Since the brewery’s opening, Stone has enjoyed watching customers flow from space to space – just the way he envisioned it. “Seeing it finally open and people enjoying it is the absolute best thing about architecture, bar none,” he says.

Because it’s in a prime spot on the parade route, the brewery is sure to be packed during Carnival season. “This is going to be the Mardi Gras space,” says Serda.

For the complete article please see

Candlelight Tours continue at Governor’s Mansion next Monday night
The second Monday of the candlelight tours attracted a crowd of more than 600. Gov. Kay Ivey will open the Governor’s Mansion for the last night of the candlelight tours on Monday, Dec. 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the tours. “This is the people’s house and I want to share it with them during this special Christmas season,” said Ivey.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day. The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Southern Posies, Lynne Coker Interiors, Invision Events, Hollyhock Gallery, Limerence Design, Hibiscus House & Interiors and Katherine Trantham Interior Design.

The Prattville First United Methodist Church choir is scheduled to perform on Dec. 18.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951. The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18. More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours at

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