Tourism Tuesdays December 19, 2017

Threats of boycott become positive press: How Alabama’s Senate election swung state tourism
A Kiwi in Alabama Part 1 – Orange Beach
USA TODAY features Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q as one of ’50 gifts of taste’
Governor announces Alabama Bicentennial Schools initiative
Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours draw more than 2,000 visitors
Partner Pointer for the tourism industry website ________________________________________________

Threats of boycott become positive press: How Alabama’s Senate election swung state tourism
From the article by John Sharp on

In the days leading to Tuesday’s special Senate election, Lee Sentell and his staff at the Alabama Tourism Department were inundated with snarky tweets from people threatening to boycott vacations in Alabama.

“If Alabamians choose (Roy) Moore … Major Boycott of Alabama should ensue” one tweet said.

“If Alabama sends Moore to DC, Americans of conscience should boycott Alabama tourism,” said another.

“We had been averaging about 100 aggressive and threatening comments a day on Twitter the last three weeks of the campaign of people saying they would not come here to vacation again,” said Sentell, the state’s director of tourism. “When Tuesday night’s results came in and it was obvious Jones was going to win, it was like someone flipping a switch and the aggressive messages stopped.”

Positive headlines
Literally overnight, the social media anger directed at Alabama ended. In its place were national and international media headlines screaming “Thank you, Alabama,” or, in the case of one center-left publication in Germany, “the miracle of Alabama.”

Now, tourism officials in Alabama are embracing a rare swath of mostly positive punditry in the aftermath of a bitterly contested Senate race in which voters elected Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Moore.

Many of the boycott threats stemmed from the potential of voters electing Moore after accusations surfaced last month that he allegedly molested or had inappropriate relations with teenage girls when he was in his 30s decades ago.

The positive press came mostly from publications appreciative of deep red Alabama voting for a Democrat and against Moore. Jones’s victory marked the first time in 25 years that Alabama voters elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

“It’s free publicity and it’s good publicity,” said Dilcy Hilley, vice-president of marketing at the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We don’t always have that luxury.”

Meg Lewis, director of brand development and special projects with the Montgomery CVB, said “you cannot deny” the positive attention from outside the state. She said the election could spark interest among travelers looking to visit Alabama and learn more about Southern U.S. history, and visit Civil War and Civil Rights era attractions.

“The combination of the Senate election that raised the visibility of Alabama over those same (Civil Rights era) issues paired with the state’s bicentennial anniversary events last year and the opening of the Equal Justice Memorial … all of those things stack up,” said Lewis.

The memorial is part of a complex that will open in Montgomery in April devoted to showcasing the consequences of slavery and racial tensions.

Said Lewis, “If you look at the headlines across the country, they are saying positive things. That’s a good situation the state wants to be in. It’s not what you see every day. It also tells people that not only are things unexpected here, they are unexpectedly delightful.”

Alabama’s image
Kimberly Severt, an associate professor and hospitality program director with the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Alabama, said the post-election coverage is going to help Alabama’s overall image, which could spinoff with a tourism bump.

Severt and a colleague recently wrote a paper, “The importance of destination marketing on image and familiarity,” in which they asked visitors and non-visitors about their images of Alabama. For visitors, the No. 1 response, she said was “beaches.”

For non-visitors, Severt said “they couldn’t think of anything.”

In addition, Severt said the study shows 54 percent of people who have never visited Alabama reporting that they have “not heard or seen” an information source about the state. For visitors to Alabama, the information sources were through “family and friends.”

Said Severt: “I think we need to redo the study as far as finding out if the political impact changed the people’s image of Alabama. Now that we’ve been in the limelight, I would say that it is actually going to help our image and because it’s out there in the news, people are going to hear about us. It’s a positive.”

Sentell doesn’t believe the press coverage will affect tourism much. Alabama, for the sixth year in a row last year, set a record in annual tourism expenditure for 2016, and for the number of visitors coming into the state.

Sentell said the massive media attention on the Alabama Senate race will not equate to more visitors such as what the state experiences following hurricanes.

“After hurricanes, on the Gulf Coast, people see our beaches from the television coverage and after seeing that things were rebuilt, more people come,” Sentell said. “They’d say we had no idea that Alabama had beaches.”

With the political coverage, Sentell said, “this was all politics and not about tourism. I think Alabama will be last week’s news.”

Joanie Flynn, vice-president of marketing with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach – the tourism arm of coastal Alabama – said in her 30 years working in the industry, she’s never seen a political election impact a region’s tourism in either a positive or negative fashion.

She said her agency wasn’t overwhelmed with negative comments ahead of Tuesday’s election, though there were some. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are the top two tourism cities in Alabama, and the state’s beaches are its biggest draw.

“We were concerned we might and we monitored it, but we did not see a major outcry,” Flynn said.

Now that the election is over, Flynn said it’s “hard to tell” what impact may arise from the Jones win.

“If it makes people willing to look at Alabama as a vacation stop to travel to, I think we will compare very favorably,” she said.

For the complete article please see

A Kiwi in Alabama Part 1 – Orange Beach
From the article by Janice Nieder on

Travel writer Janice Nieder takes a fascinating road trip to Alabama, and discovers “small towns and cities sizzling with a new energy, cultural excitement, compelling historic offerings, and some damn fine eating!”

“A year ago the theatrical revival of “An American in Paris” was a huge hit, however, I think I could write a much livelier version (although I might have to cut out the dancing) about my latest trip that I would name “A Kiwi in Alabama.” Granted, it doesn’t immediately conjure up iconic pics like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or Notre Dame, but it was equally memorable in a different way.

I first met Julie, a journalist from a small town in New Zealand, a few months ago on a rather esoteric press trip viewing the great gardens of Northern Ireland.

On one of our many estate walks Julie, aka Jules, an award-winning travel writer, mentioned that although she has been all over Europe, she has never been to the USA and (which really shocked me) she had no desire to see anything here! During our travels I found out that she is an avid quilter, so I asked her if she knew about the quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, which she had not. After I returned home I sent her an article I had written about them a few years ago.

Next thing I know she emails me that she just booked a flight to Alabama so she could meet them. I asked her if she also wanted to see NYC, Chicago, L.A. etc. but, nope, she only wanted to spend a few days visiting me in San Francisco and then spend the rest of her trip (with me in tow) in Alabama, which struck me as so funny-hence the remaking of “An American in Paris” to “A Kiwi in Alabama.”

It turned out to be a fascinating road trip, filled with many discoveries including small towns and cities sizzling with a new energy, cultural excitement, compelling historic offerings, and some damn fine eating!

Orange Beach
Although Jules is nowhere near as food-obsessed as me, I decided the perfect way to begin our road trip was by attending The World Food Championships- the ultimate food competition in the world! It was being held in Orange Beach, AL. which consists of 32 miles of gorgeous turquoise water and a sugar-white sandy beach lining Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Since it’s surprisingly undiscovered, you can enjoy solitary beach walks taking in that fresh ocean breeze while claiming all the best shells for yourself.

It was a long flight from New Zealand so Jules was thrilled to sprawl out in our humongous, luxurious, 2300 sq. ft. Turquoise Place beachfront condo, complete with a private balcony equipped with a BBQ, a bubbling hot tub and stellar sunset views.

We spent the next few days embroiled in some serious foodie furor, watching some of the best chefs in the country, if not world, compete for the title of World Food Champion. Now in its sixth year, the $300,000 World Food Championships is really coming into its own, assembling almost 500 teams from 17 countries and 43 states, all battling it out for the chance to win the ultimate food crown, to say nothing of fame and fortune, since, so far, WFC has spawned 30 TV food stars and awarded $1.5 million in prize money. We witnessed the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat-the human drama of athletic (make that culinary) competition” enthusiastically rooting on our favorites while eagerly sampling some of the 8,862 dishes in the competition.

One of my favorite cooks was 18-years-old Michael Mengelkamp, one of the youngest contenders, who was here with his mom and teacher.

“I’ve been cooking since I was 5, when my grandpa taught me how to make eggs,” he told me. He took a job washing dishes in order to earn money for his airfare here.

I also liked one of the oldest challengers, a “granny” who caught the competitive cooking bug only three years ago yet has already racked up over 60 wins and is becoming a popular tv personality.

But, if I only had one vote I couldn’t help but fall under the spell of Chef Anthony Serrano. Last year he received a rare “perfect score” (and $10,000) for his habanero-sauced eggs bennie. For moral support, this sweetheart of a chef brought his two-year-old daughter Lexi, whom he calls his “motivation.”

Like watching “The Voice,” it’s easy to get hooked on the contestant’s intriguing backstories such as one teenage cancer survivor who was not expected to live but managed to make it into the 10 ten!

The foodie fun continued with samplings at the Tasting Village, a Low Country Boil fundraiser and a Southern-style Bourb’N’Que.

Along with the hundreds of up-and-comers, keep your eyes peeled for some mega-star-powered cooks such as Chef Elizabeth Faulkner, who gave an enlightening cooking demo on “Major factors to consider when dealing with food allergies!”

The Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival was taking place at the same time so our evenings were filled with bar-hopping along the beach, taking in some of the 200 nationally acclaimed songwriters. It was similar to the WFC competition, as we could watch both seasoned and aspiring artists perform.

For the complete article please see

USA TODAY features Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q as one of ’50 gifts of taste’
editor’s note: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur was one of the restaurants highlighted during the Alabama Tourism Department’s award-winning “Year of Alabama Barbecue” promotion. The legendary barbecue restaurant recently began offering nation-wide shipping of their smoked meats and sauces.

From the article “50 states: 50 gifts of taste” by Susan Barnes in USA TODAY:

Alabama and barbecue go together like, well, grilled meat and barbecue sauce. Pour some southern flair onto chicken, pork or seafood with Big Bob Gibson’s Original White Sauce, which has been around since 1925. Order at

For the complete article please see

Governor announces Alabama Bicentennial Schools initiative
Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the Alabama Bicentennial Schools education initiative. The initiative is designed to encourage all public, private, and homeschool students and teachers to participate in the celebration of Alabama’s 200th anniversary of statehood in 2019.

“Just as it is important that we celebrate our past, we must also ensure future generations understand our state’s history, so that they can guide us to new heights in the days ahead,” Gov. Ivey said.

Participating schools are eligible to receive a gubernatorial commendation, a bicentennial flag and bicentennial-themed school resources for the 2018-19 academic year. Schools may apply on the Alabama Bicentennial Commission website at

The announcement was made in the Old House Chambers at the State Capitol on Alabama Day to an audience including 4th grade students from area schools, representatives of the Alabama State Department of Education and members of the Bicentennial Commission.

Ivey was joined at the announcement by state Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, Alabama Department of Archives and History Director Steve Murray and Alabama Reading Initiative Program Coordinator Karen Porter.

The Alabama Bicentennial Schools program is part of a group of education-focused bicentennial projects that also include curriculum development and teacher training on civics and social studies.

Schools may also apply to be designated an Alabama Bicentennial School by developing a school-community project. Designated schools will receive a $2,000 grant to support their project. Three high-achieving schools from each Alabama Congressional district will be recognized as Bicentennial Schools of Excellence during commemoration ceremonies held in Montgomery on Dec. 14, 2019.

For more information about the Alabama Bicentennial Schools initiative, other bicentennial related projects and an events calendar

Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours draw more than 2,000 visitors
More than 2,000 visitors toured the Governor’s Mansion during the three nights of the Christmas Candlelight Tour. The tours were held during the first three Monday nights of December from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Governor’s Mansion gift shop manager Leigh Cross said the biggest selling items during the tour nights were Alabama-themed Christmas ornaments and food items including Lindsay Farm black-eyed peas salsa from Pike Road, Jala Jala jalapeno corn relish from Huntsville and Crown Mulling Spices from Birmingham. The gift shop is located across the street from the mansion on Finley Avenue and specializes in carrying gift items produced in Alabama.

The interior design companies volunteering their time to decorate the mansion included Southern Posies, Lynne Coker Interiors, Invision Events, Hollyhock Gallery, Limerence Design, Hibiscus House & Interiors and Katherine Trantham Interior Design.

Performing at the tours were the Trinity Presbyterian Children’s Choir from Montgomery, Tuskegee University Golden Voices, Albertville High School Vocal Ease and Prattville First United Methodist Church.

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