Tourism Tuesdays January 30, 2018


Southern states band together to create first unified Civil Rights Trail
Why Mobile hotels could be first in Alabama to roll out specialized fee
‘Manny’ unveiled in Eufaula
Expedia names Mooresville a ‘must-see’ city
A Kiwi in Alabama Part 4 – Montgomery
Alabama Bicentennial PastPort project launches in Vance
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Southern states band together to create first unified Civil Rights Trail
From the article by Emilie Ikeda on

A half-century after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the very states that clung to racial segregation are now coming together to expand people’s knowledge on the Civil Rights Movement.

A dozen Southern tourism departments unveiled a unified website highlighting 110 pivotal landmarks that led to the attainment of civil and human rights for African-Americans. Dubbed the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, the digital map of historic sites stretches from Topeka, Kan. to Wilmington, Del., including 14 states and Washington D.C.

“With this new development, people are going to be able to find out more truth about what happened to African-Americans, and yet how America is growing past that and beginning to acknowledge that we’re all human beings,” King’s niece, Alveda King said.

The interactive website, which features pictures, 360-degree video, interviews with foot soldiers and explanations of the historic sites, was the brainchild of Alabama’s tourism director, Lee Sentell.

Sentell told Fox News that former National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis challenged him and other historians two years ago to create an inventory of surviving civil rights landmarks. Sentell turned to Georgia State University (GSU), he said, which compiled a list of 60 sites and paved the foundation for the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

GSU researcher Dr. Glenn Eskew had already been collecting a list of locations that the federal government, state agencies and local communities themselves identified as “important civil rights sites” for a separate project.

A dozen state tourism directors, who are members of TravelSouth USA, supplemented the remaining locations to reach a total of 110.

Eskew says this list will continue to grow, adding that “every community has something because the fight took place in every community to alter America’s oppressive racial system.”

The trail highlights renowned historic sites, like the recently expanded Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park and King’s birth home in Atlanta.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the home of Medgar Evers, who was a voting rights activist assassinated just after President John Kennedy proposed civil rights legislation, also serve as anchors along the trail.

But the tourism campaign is aimed at expanding people’s scope of the era, thus also recognizing lesser-known sites that shaped the Civil Rights Movement.

Howard High School of Technology made the list for its direct association to Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. In Kentucky, the birthplace of Whitney M. Young Jr. commemorates the civil rights leader’s tireless work to end employment discrimination.

“This movement didn’t just happen in the cities, it happened all across the region,” director of Georgia tourism Kevin Langston said. “You have to get out and see some of those sites off the main road to experience that.”

By providing this umbrella website, tourism directors hope to spark a domino effect in visitors’ interest, getting tourists to not only cross state lines but oceans to learn more about the volatility in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Southern tourism departments have received “calls all week this week from Europe about the trail,” according to Langston. They are currently working with European tour operators on developing a trip experience based on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

Sentell is expecting a conservative increase in visitor attendance at trail sites — estimating 13 million visits in 2018 and $1.62 billion in spending between tickets, travel and souvenirs. He says the heightened interest stems from the introduction of the website and the 50th anniversary of King’s death.

“2018 is a very good year for equalizing the plight of humanity,” Alveda King said. “As we explore the African-American history, what else will be uncovered?”

For the complete article please see

Why Mobile hotels could be first in Alabama to roll out specialized fee
From the article by John Sharp on

The Conde Cavaliers kicked off the state’s biggest tourism event on Jan. 26 with a rollicking parade that opened Mobile’s Mardi Gras for 2018.

The parade drew a big crowd. But what if the crowd size could rival the turnouts of Fat Tuesday, Carnival season’s final day? That’s what hoteliers are asking as they are looking at strategies to lure more visitors into town for Mardi Gras and other events.

“That last weekend (before Fat Tuesday) is jammed and we are full,” said Kent Blackinton, president of the Mobile Area Lodging Association and general manager of the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel and the Battle House Hotel. “The second weekend is also strong, but what about the dips in the middle of the week? What about the Conde weekend? We could market to those events and drive that business.”

The solution that city hoteliers are pushing is a concept new to Alabama called a “Tourism Improvement District” or TID.  “It’s a well-thought-out concept,” said Lee Sentell, the director of state tourism.

For Mobile, the district would assess a $1 fee to all overnight bills at hotels with 40 rooms or more. Mobile has 60 hotels which qualify. The aim: To generate revenue earmarked for tourism marketing, untouchable for any other government purposes.

Estimates are that the hotels could generate $1.5 million per year. As proposed, the fee would begin on March 1, and have a sunset date of Sept. 30, 2022.

The Mobile City Council is expected to vote on it on Feb. 20.

David Clark, president and CEO of Visit Mobile – the convention and visitors’ arm of the city – said he hopes the influx of money can boost Mobile County’s hotel occupancy rate, which was 62.5 percent in 2016.

Alabama’s overall rate was 59.6 percent that year, with Madison County (64.7 percent) and Montgomery County (64.1 percent) leading the way. Of course, hotel occupancies fluctuate, and tourism hotspots like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores report summer occupancy rates well above 75 percent.

“We need to drive that up and it needs to improve,” said Clark. “This is a great way for our lodging stakeholders knowing that together they can get more accomplished.”

While the district would be a first in Alabama, it’s hardly a new concept. Tourism improvement districts, which are formed similarly to the one proposed for Mobile, have been around since the 1990s. West Hollywood, California, became the first city to authorize the district in 1992.

Since then, the concept has spread throughout states where tourism is an economic driver, such as Nevada. Clark said there are 165 districts today, generating $380 million for marketing efforts.

The districts are popular among hoteliers because they establish self-assessed fees collected beyond lodging or hotel bed taxes.

The TID concept first surfaced a few years ago and before the time the city slashed $650,000 from Visit Mobile’s budget.

The $1 extra would not be assessed on any other purchases within the hotel, and would presumably be borne by out-of-towers, for the most part. And then it would go to efforts to bring more guests.

“All of the research shows that it’s minimal in the guests’ perception,” Clark said.

Additional surcharges and fees are not uncommon, though they can be unpopular. Georgia, for instance, tacked on a $5 fee to hotel bills in 2015, as a way to generate revenue for road projects. The fee has been blamed for having an adverse effect on some cities’ bottom lines, and some lawmakers are looking to rescind it.

For the complete article please see

‘Manny’ unveiled in Eufaula
From the article by Tiffiny Morelli on

Eufaula cemented its self-proclaimed title as the “Big Bass Capital of the World” last week with the dedication of the city’s newest attraction-a 10-foot bass statue appropriately named “Manny”.

“We had about 40 suggestions on what to name the new statue,” said Mayor Jack Tibbs at Tuesday’s unveiling of the new attraction. The ultimately chose “Manny” to honor Eufaula fishing legend Tom Mann.

“We have already gotten tons of press off of (the bass statue) before it was even done,” said Tibbs.

Tibbs credits Alabama State Tourism Director Lee Sentell for coming up with the idea as a way to promote Eufaula as a tourism destination. Tibbs and Main Street Director Ann Sparks thought up the design of the statue and relied on Replica Plastics of Dothan to make their vision come to life.

“It’s been a pleasure from the first call with Ann Sparks to really build a landmark,” said Replica Plastics owner Jenny Hendricks. “We couldn’t be more honored to take this vision and see it come to life.”

Also unveiled a few yards away from the new bass statue was a historic marker honoring the big fish’s namesake, William Thomas “Tom” Mann.

Mann’s grandchildren, Tripp Dixon and Alanna Meadows read the wording placed on the front and back of the marker, respectively.

“Tom Mann achieved fame as a fishing lure designer/manufacturer and helped put Lake Eufaula on the map with his popular television shows,” the inscription states. “With an investment of $5, he and his wife, Ann, started Mann’s Bait Company in 1958. Later, he would launch Humminbird Industries and Southern Plastics…he made Eufaula the hub of the fishing lure industry.”

Mann was inducted into the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2003 and was named by the Alabama Tourism Department as one of Alabama’s “most unforgettable faces.”

Those attending the dedication included several members of the Mann family, including his three daughters Nelda Mann Culpepper, Cindy Mann Blocker, and Sharon Mann Dixon; fishing legend and long-time friend of Tom Mann, Ray Scott, Alabama State Tourism Director Lee Sentell; young anglers from the Lakeside and Eufaula High bass fishing teams, and many more.

For the complete article please see

Expedia names Mooresville a ‘must-see’ city
From the article by Adam Smith on

The town of Mooresville is viewed by some as “a walk back in time,” while others refer to it as Alabama’s “Little Williamsburg.”

For the uninformed, Mooresville was founded in 1818, predating Alabama’s statehood by a year. Though an incredibly small town of 53 people, it recently was bestowed with a big honor. Travel website Expedia recently named the town one of its “18 cities that must be seen in 2018.”

Town historian and longtime resident Shirley McCrary said she was honored the travel website chose to designate her town. It’s not the first time the town has received national attention, however. Mooresville was named one of the top 20 “Best Small Southern Towns” in 2015 by USA Today.

“The people here work to keep it like it was,” McCrary said. “We’re very proud to have been selected.”

Other towns on Expedia’s must-see list include New Orleans; Richmond, Virginia; Kansas City, Missouri; and San Antonio, Texas.

Mooresville’s old-world charms are primarily why Expedia chose to honor the town. The picture featured by Expedia is of Lyla’s Little House. The cottage was built in 1890 by Aunt Mandy and Uncle Zack Simmons, who were descendants of freed slaves.

“You might blink and miss Mooresville when you’re driving by, but that’d be a shame because there’s more to it than white picket fences,” according to Expedia’s write-up. “The pint-sized town is bursting with charm and historical significance, yet it flew under the radar for a long time.”

Expedia and McCrary both mentioned the town’s ongoing bicentennial, which include several upcoming events. Those events are part of the town’s “Behind the Picket Fence….History Lives” series.

Each Saturday in April, the town will host “Portrait of the Beginning,” where visitors can “come hear compelling life stories of residents of Mooresville who laid the cornerstone of the town we know today.”

McCrary is particularly excited about “Camped on a Stream,” allowing guests to experience Mooresville in the days of the Civil War. Tickets for the event will be available soon at

The event will feature storytelling, period music, an open-hearth cooking demonstration and a re-enactment of President James A. Garfield’s time while encamped at Bibb’s Spring with the 20th Brigade of the Army of the Ohio.

“We had a lot of Union troops there at that time,” McCrary said. “The people here were nice to them, but we didn’t want them destroying the town.”

Northerners and southerners are welcome in present-day Mooresville, which has always been a unique tourist attraction. McCrary guessed Expedia’s honor may lead to a few more visitors in the months to come.

“We’re lucky to have (Interstate) 565 protecting us on one side and Wheeler Refuge on the other side,” she said. “People turn off the interstate and discover us and can’t believe this is here.”

To see Expedia’s list, visit For more on Mooresville, visit the town’s website,

A Kiwi in Alabama Part 4 – Montgomery
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!” This is part 4 of a 5 part series. Part 1,2 and 3 ran in previous editions of Tourism Tuesdays. Dec. 19, 2017, Jan. 9, 2018 and Jan 23, 2018.

It’s amazing what a difference a one-hour drive can make. Although we were leaving the black dirt farms, grand antebellum and archetypal small Southern towns for the vibrant city of Montgomery we were still following the path of the Civil Rights Trail, since Montgomery was the original capital of the Confederacy as well as the birthplace of both the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement.

We only had one day to see all the best sights so we were thrilled to follow the action- packed agenda created for us by Meg Lewis, Director of Tourism for the Montgomery Convention & Visitors Bureau. Luckily, many of the historic sights are all within walking distance.

We started at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the only church that Martin Luther King served as pastor and the launching place for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

If Wanda is your tour guide (she is excellent) ask her to sing a gospel for you.

Next up is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited, The Rosa Parks Museum which was built on the exact spot where Parks was arrested. Through state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits, you’ll bear witness to Rosa’s arrest and learn how by “simply” refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, this brave woman ignited the Civil Rights Movement.

For our cultural fix, we darted into the newish F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum located in the last surviving home of the couple. It now houses a large collection of first editions, family photos, heartfelt love letters, and some eclectic mementos from the Jazz Age.

During our enlightening tour, we learned that Zelda Sayre was a native of Montgomery and lived here until her marriage to Scott in 1920. She was also an accomplished painter and ballerina and (who knew?) that Gatsby was considered a “flop!”

At the other end of the spectrum is the well-curated Hank Williams Museum, filled with a variety of music, costumes, and personal memorabilia associated with this country music superstar. They even have Hank’s 1952 Baby Blue Cadillac.

Meg had arranged a perfect day of southern dining which started with breakfast at Cahawba House known for serving Bama Bona-fide Southern Cuisine. However, we were there strictly for the fluffy buttermilk biscuits which arrived flanked by an army of local Hornsby Farm jams, ranging from Strawberry Jalapeno to Yard Pear. Ok, so we also had a little nibble of their cinnamon apple fries, a few beignets, and some Conecuh sausage, but only to add some protein.

Thankfully, we toured all over town so we actually had a little appetite when we entered Derek’s Filet and Vine, located in the historic/hipster neighborhood of Old Cloverdale, where the streets are lined, not with gold but some mighty fine eateries.

Dodge the swarms of shoppers in this specialty food deli, wine and craft beer store because you want to queue up for the “meat and three”. I opted for the greaseless fried catfish, mac’n’cheese, sweet potato casserole and collard greens as a nod to something heathy-ish. It was our fave meal of the trip!

Our dinner spot, The Vintage Year, was right down the street. What started as a wine shop in 1984 has morphed into a popular, casually elegant, full-scale restaurant due to its superb service, top-notch wine list, and creative cooking, The menu features seasonal ingredients, hand-cut meats, and fresh seafood which can be best appreciated by ordering the Gulf snapper topped with a flavorful Andouille, shrimp and crab stew.

In general, I was struck by the grand rebirth of Montgomery’s downtown area, once full of decaying old buildings that have been successfully repurposed and now house a plethora of successful restaurants, bars, galleries and boutiques. Such a great vibe here now!

For the complete article please see

Alabama Bicentennial PastPort project launches in Vance
On Friday, Jan. 26, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. and the Alabama Bicentennial Commission announced the launch of the Alabama Bicentennial PastPort.

The official bicentennial publication is designed to be a guide to Alabama’s historic places, a passport to the past. During the celebratory kickoff event at Mercedes-Benz Visitor Center in Vance, representatives from the Bicentennial Commission and MBUSI, along with co-sponsors Airbus, Verizon and Alabama NewsCenter, highlighted the rewarding opportunities the program will provide to people of all ages who want to explore the state.

“The bicentennial of Alabama is a once-in-a-lifetime moment and it demands a project that can make a lifetime of difference,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, chair of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. “These unique opportunities will inspire a younger generation to learn about the great treasures of Alabama, while fostering education in a stimulating and exciting way.”

The Alabama Bicentennial PastPort will take children — and parents, teachers, and out-of-state visitors — to every corner of Alabama. Each of the state’s 67 counties has at least one destination, and the content includes information about offerings in every region.

Jason Hoff, CEO at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, added, “This program encourages kids to learn about Alabama’s rich history by visiting the historic sites, museums and landmark locations that tell its story. We’re proud to sponsor a program that provides these learners with the resources to make these trips not only educational but also entertaining.”

There are two ways to travel with PastPort:

With the guidance of a beautifully designed printed passport that includes destinations in every county where it can be stamped, becoming the story of the traveler’s discoveries. The PastPort includes 174 pages spotlighting more than 300 places across Alabama.


Via an app with links to the online Encyclopedia of Alabama and content provided by Alabama NewsCenter. The app, which is supported by Verizon, ensures that anyone, anywhere can make a virtual visit to the state’s historic places.

The Alabama Bicentennial PastPort Project campaign officially kicks off in February 2018, and will be active through December 2019. In addition to being available at welcome centers, the Alabama Department of Archives & History and other commercial outlets, the PastPort will be available as a download to all Alabama teachers and students. Thanks to the support of Airbus, Alabama Master Teacher Lesa Roberts of Huntsville created a teachers’ guide that includes activities and applications for all grades, along with links to the state course of study.

For more information about the Alabama PastPort Project and to learn more about plans and projects that help commemorate the state’s bicentennial, or call 334-242-4537.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Spring Break season is right around the corner. With award winning restaurants, white sand beaches, hiking and biking trails galore, and much more, Alabama is a hot spot for families taking a Spring Break trip. Update your Partner page and add events to show trip planners what you have to offer!

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