Tourism Tuesdays February 6, 2018

Alabama pokes New Orleans with Mardi Gras billboards
Alabama Tourism names state’s most popular attractions for 2017
A Kiwi in Alabama Part 5 – Birmingham
Alabama Bass Trail reeling in tourism dollars
Alabama’s Bartram Canoe Trail offers year-round paddling
Alabama Tourism focuses on China
Tourism industry veteran Dukemineer joins Foley team
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Alabama pokes New Orleans with Mardi Gras billboards
From the article by Jay Reeves with Associated Press

Alabama likes to boast that it’s the site of America’s original Mardi Gras, and now it’s advertising that claim in the city that made the celebration epic: New Orleans.

Alabama’s state tourism agency has purchased 10 billboards around New Orleans and southern Mississippi to promote the Carnival season in Mobile, director Lee Sentell said Tuesday.

The billboards are subtle: Rather than mentioning Mobile, they tell drivers how many miles they are from “America’s original Mardi Gras.” That forces people to “do some math” and figure out it’s Mobile, said Sentell.

“We just wanted to have some fun with it,” he said.

So does Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who tweeted a photo of one of the billboards at New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreiu and said Mobile would love to “show you how it’s done!”

The pre-Lenten celebration was first held in Mobile in 1703, or 15 years before New Orleans was established along the Mississippi River. New Orleans’ rowdy celebration is now far larger than the one in Mobile, which bills itself as having a more family-friendly Carnival season.

The billboards, which will remain up through Mardi Gras on Feb. 13, are the latest jab in a friendly rivalry between the two Gulf Coast port cities. Alabama previously parked a Mardi Gras float in New York’s Times Square to promote tourism and the state’s version of the event.

In New Orleans officials didn’t seem too bent out of shape by the billboards.

Mark Romig, who heads the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, said Mobile has a “great history of Mardi Gras” and the two cities have “probably learned from each other over the years.” He did note that the New Orleans’ celebration is known the world over and extended an invitation to people from Alabama and Mobile to come to New Orleans for the upcoming celebrations.

“Competition is always good and healthy but we stand by our Mardi Gras. We’ve done it for a long time and we have a lot of good traditions,” Romig said.

When asked whether he’d be putting up any billboards in the Mobile area, Romig replied: “I don’t think we need to.”

Alabama Tourism names state’s most popular attractions for 2017
From the article on

The Alabama Tourism Department released its list of most visited tourist attractions in 2017, and a familiar sight in Montgomery made the top 11.

The Montgomery Zoo came in at No. 8 on the list of Top 11 Admission-Charged Attractions, with more than 246,000 people have visited the site last year. That attendance number was an increase by almost 8,000 people from 2016.

The ATD department said eight of the attractions on the list saw an increase in attendance from 2016 to 2017.

The other sites in front of the Montgomery Zoo were the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (Huntsville), Birmingham Zoo (Birmingham), Huntsville Botanical Gardens (Huntsville), McWane Science Center (Birmingham), Barber Vintage Motorsports Park (Birmingham), USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park (Mobile), and Point Mallard Park (Decatur) respectively. Behind Montgomery Zoo were the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo (Gulf Shores), EarlyWorks Family of Museums (Huntsville), and Vulcan Park & Museum (Birmingham).

ATD also did a list of Top 10 Free Attractions in 2017, Top 10 Events in 2017, Top 10 Parks and Natural Destinations in 2017, and Top 10 Sports Destinations in 2017.

The Alabama State Capitol was only behind Birmingham Botanical Gardens on the list of Top 10 Free Attractions. The Capitol saw close to 153,000 people in 2017. An increase of nearly 30,000 people from 2016.

The National Peanut Festival in Dothan saw 206,000 people in 2017, good enough for No. 4 on the Top 10 Events of 2017. Wind Creek State Park landed on the list of Top 10 Parks and Natural Destinations in 2017. The park came in at No. 9 with over 281,000 people having visited last year.

Montgomery Biscuits Baseball came in at No. 5 on the Top 10 Sports Destinations in 2017 list with more than 228,000 people in attendance. In front were Bryant-Denny Stadium, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Talladega Superspeedway and Birmingham Barons Baseball. Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy was No. 7 on the list.

For the complete article please see

A Kiwi in Alabama Part 5 – Birmingham
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 ,3 and 4 ran in previous editions of Tourism Tuesdays. Dec. 19, 2017, Jan. 9, 2018, Jan. 23 and Jan 30, 2018.

From the tastiest BBQ pig (the Pork & Greens at Saw’s Soul Kitchen, located in the newly trendy nabe of Avondale) to their too-cool-for-school restored pig iron foundry, there is waaay too much going on in Birmingham to fit into the barely a day, we had to spend there, particularly since our main mission was to was to enjoy a leisure dinner at the Frank Stitt’s legendary Highlands Bar and Grill.

Birmingham, once a fading old industrial town, is now teeming with creativity and young energy, led by one of the youngest mayors since 1893, who tweeted that he is “looking forward to moving our city forward.” We learned that Birmingham has more green space per capita than any other U.S. city. One perfect example is Railroad Park, an unused railroad switch field that was turned into a well-maintained, eight block green space, so popular the locals refer to it as “Birmingham’s Living Room”.

We decided that before tackling the Big 3 civil rights sights, we should fuel up first at Bottega, Frank Stitt’s stunning Italian restaurant housed in an imposing, repurposed Mid-twentieth century department store. Stitt, a nine-time James Beard Foundation finalist who was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage” in 2011, is known for his regional, down-home cooking prepared with European finesse. We thoroughly enjoyed our beautifully plated Tuscan salad, homemade chips and charred onion dip, and fried chicken livers, although after seeing the blackened-edged, sweet-smelling fennel sausage pizza our server brought to the next table, I’d order that next time.

We began at The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the largest civil rights museum in the country, which traces the struggles of Black Americans starting with the Jim Crow laws in the1800s up to the demonstrations in the 60’s. You can touch the original jail bars where King was being held when he wrote, and later smuggled out, his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in 1963.

I took a deep breath to steel myself for our tour of The 16th Street Baptist Church. I had watched Spike Lee’s film, 4 Little Girls, on my flight over so I was well-versed in this horrific story, yet nothing could prepare me for the heartbreak of seeing the where white supremacists placed the bomb that killed four African-American schoolgirls while they prepared for worship service.

For a much needed emotional break, we walked across the street to the Kelly Ingram Park, where an inscription on the wall reads a “place of revolution and reconciliation”. The park served as ground zero for many civil rights sit-ins, demonstrations and confrontations in the 60’ s.

Tune in to the self-guided, phone tour which dramatically brings to life the stories behind the powerful, life-sized sculptures placed along the Freedom Walk. Begin at the memorial sculpture for the four girls inscribed with “A Love That Forgives”.

We took a brief detour en route to Vulcan Park and Museum to pop into the new Pizitz Food Hall, which holds court in another repurposed old department store.

It’s filled with about 20 eclectic foodie pop-ups including everything from the Ghion Cultural Hall, the state’s first Ethiopian restaurant, to a tempting local offering, the Alabama Biscuit Co., which uses locally sourced sprouted spelt flour.

At Vulcan Park and Museum we saw Vulcan, the bare-bottomed, Roman god of forge and the world’s largest cast iron statue. We learned the fascinating back story about everything that goes into the making of a statue of this size, like how you even begin to erect a statue that weighs in at 1,000,000 pounds and is 56 feet tall. We were able read about the history of Birmingham and get the best view of the city.

It was finally time for our culinary pièce de résistance, dinner at Highlands Bar and Grill. Since Highlands opened 35 years ago you would think that the crowds might have moved onto newer pastures, but not so. The place was packed to the Largemouth Bass gills with a well-heeled crowd. Many seemed to be regulars, content in the knowledge that while other chefs might rest on their laurels, Stitt just keeps raising his standards.

We asked our well seasoned, server, Dawson, for suggestions on what to order. He almost magically divined just the right dishes, suggesting the flavorful Rabbit-Two Ways for me and the Mixed Grill for Jules, so she would be able to sample many different Southern specialties, including a tender farm-raised quail. Although the menu changes daily Dawson wisely insisted we try their signature stone-ground baked grits with country ham and wild mushrooms. After our delightful meal, we decided that a girl can never eat at too many Stitt’s restaurants!

We also felt that after our ten days of exploring, we had only begun to scratch the surface of Alabama’s offerings, so we’re already working on a sequel to our play.

For the complete article please see

Alabama Bass Trail reeling in tourism dollars 
From the article by Cary Estes on

In its fourth year, the Alabama Bass Trail has grown into a Southeastern regional tournament bulging at the seams — drawing 900 anglers for nine months of weekend competition.

The official state seal of Alabama is about as basic as it comes. There are no screaming eagles or Romanesque shields or blaring banners. Instead, the design consists simply of the outline of the state, with flowing lines depicting all of Alabama’s major rivers.

That is appropriate, because even 200 years ago, when this seal was created, it already was apparent that one of Alabama’s most valuable assets was the state’s abundant waterways. With more than 77,000 miles of streams and rivers and approximately 480,000 acres of publicly owned lakes and reservoirs, Alabama is a water-rich state.

This has turned out to be a form of liquid gold for Alabama in terms of tourism dollars, and not just from people who want to spend time in the water or lounging on the shore. Fishing has become a major financial generator for the state. According to a report from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, fishing-related expenditures in Alabama total approximately $456 million per year, and the overall annual economic impact is estimated to be close to $1 billion.

This fishing market led to the creation in 2012 of the Alabama Bass Trail, a cooperative effort among the governor’s office, the Alabama Tourism Department, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. The organization initially was designed to promote the state as a year-round fishing destination.

“We were started to be the marketing arm for the state that reached out to anglers across the country, to entice more people to vacation here and spend their dollars here,” Alabama Bass Trail Director Kay Donaldson says. “It was strictly tourism marketing. But in the fishing industry, when you call something a trail, 95 percent of the people assume it’s a tournament trail. So we started getting a lot of calls about our tournament schedule.”

As a result of all this interest, the ABT decided to begin an annual fishing tournament series in 2014. It didn’t take long for Donaldson to realize that the organization had made a major catch. She says last year’s tournament series — which ran from February through October — had 11 events at lakes throughout the state, generating an estimated economic impact of $3.1 million. Spots for this year’s series sold out last November, with 900 anglers scheduled to compete.

“It will be our largest participation yet,” Donaldson says. “We have anglers coming in from all over the Southeast and into the Midwest. We’ll have people from Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, even Idaho. It’s gotten bigger than just a Southeastern regional tournament.”

The impact is certainly appreciated by the communities located near the lakes that are used for the tournament. Since these are mostly rural areas, fishing tournaments are among the few major income-producing events the communities can attract.

These anglers come in and bring their families, and they’re staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants,” says Linda Lewis, Chamber of Commerce president for Walker County, which includes ABT tournament stop Lewis Smith Lake. “While the anglers are fishing, the family members will shop in our stores. It’s a huge economic boost to our community.

“I’ll take these tournaments any day, because of the economic impact that they have. And it’s not just for that weekend, but for the entire year. There is a carry-over (beyond the tournament). People see our beautiful lake and they want to come back. We have a lot of real estate on the lake. So not only does it help with tourism, it might entice some to buy a home on the lake.”

Donaldson says the tournaments also help improve access points to the various lakes, since parking and boat ramps have to be able to handle hundreds of professional anglers, who will be reluctant to return to a site that has inadequate facilities.

“The thing that helps us is the involvement we have with the Department of Conservation,” Donaldson says. “They’re developing new boat ramps and facilities, and they include us in those conversations. Because if you can handle an Alabama Bass Trail tournament with all the boats we have coming to an area at one time, you can handle anything.”

Indeed, putting on a major fishing tournament is an elaborate undertaking, involving much more than simply having anglers get in a boat and go fish. ABT Tournament Director Clay Baldis, who is the organization’s only other full-time employee along with Donaldson, says preparation for an individual tournament begins weeks in advance.

“Before each tournament I’ll call and talk to the local game wardens or Fish and Wildlife officials and ask them about any water hazards that might be on the lake, so we can cover that with the anglers,” Baldis says. “Then on the tournament weekend, we basically live out of a 48-foot semi-trailer that’s been converted to a stage trailer. We roll on site Friday morning and get everything functional by Saturday morning.”

Donaldson says the ABT hires about a dozen temporary workers for a tournament weekend, and often uses another dozen volunteers provided by the local communities. Saturday wake-up is as early as 2 a.m., so everything can be ready when the anglers show up before sunrise. Weather is always a factor, from the cold of a February event to the scorching heat of an Alabama summer.

“One year we had 11 inches of snow at Lake Guntersville,” Donaldson says. “When it’s cold, the ramp freezes, so you have people out there putting down salt. In the summer if there’s a drought, the water is going to be down. So are you going to be able to get boats in the water at that ramp? There are a lot of things like that to think about ahead of time and prepare for early on.”

The anglers will fish all day, and then there is the official weigh-in followed by the awards ceremony. Baldis says they usually don’t leave the site until about 9 p.m.

“It makes for long days,” Baldis says. “It’s almost like a traveling show, like roadies. We’ll put everything up, have the tournament, tear everything down, go to the next site and then put it all back up. It’s a tough job, but it’s a fun job. It’s a labor of love.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama’s Bartram Canoe Trail offers year-round paddling
From the article by Katie McKy on

The 200-mile Bartram Canoe Trail in Alabama lets you glide down mellow, sinuous waterways into the 260,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the nation’s second largest. The trail has many access points along Hwy 59 between Tensaw and Stockton, Alabama, making it easy to tailor a trip to your schedule whether you’re looking for an afternoon jaunt or a multi-day journey. Daytime temperatures in the area rarely top ninety degrees or fall below sixty, no matter the season. As such, the delta offers year-round paddling opportunities. It’s also an incubator for birds; 110 species nest there and the area is home to 300 species overall.

Common trees in the delta are swamp tupelos and bald cypress. Raccoons and squirrels nest in the hollowed limbs and trunks of the tupelos, and bees feed on their flowers. The tupelo’s leaves are lustrous, looking a little like holly, and turn brilliant red and purple in the fall. The cypress trees have ‘knees’ growing out of their roots. Some believe that the knees, which look like rows of knobby isosceles triangles, help the roots breathe. Whatever their function, the bald cypresses are a species that makes poets wax, well, poetic. Longfellow saw bald cypresses as “towering and tenebrous boughs” that “waved like banners that hang on the walls of ancient cathedrals,” whereas John Muir wrote of “the dark, mysterious cypress woods which cover everything.”

When it comes to covering everything, Spanish moss also does its part, making a celadon haze in the swamp. The birds are blurs and splashes of color against that green. The painted bunting competes, color-wise, with any macaw, with its purple head, orange chest, red belly, and chartreuse wings. The tricolored heron goes the subtle route, with a mauve chest, heather silver neck, and golden beak. The red-headed woodpeckers deliver both color and rhythm, but the best of the birds might be the swallow-tailed kite, which some consider the coolest bird on the planet. It’s the Lamborghini of birds, both in appearance and performance. They’re so efficient they rarely flap and so fast they chase and eat dragonflies, speedsters themselves that can dart up to 60 mph. The swallow-tailed kite is easy to spot, with its white body and wings trimmed in black and its deeply forked tail, which provides such supreme control that this predator can pluck snakes off tree limbs in flight.

It’ll be tempting to keep looking up at the canopy, but look down too. Alligators sun themselves on the banks and slip into the water to dine on fish. Human anglers will fare well too. There are numerous tail-walking bass, while even tastier bream and crappie abound. For pure sport, bowfish are abundant. Hook one and their dogged fight will have you wondering if that’s where they earned their alternate name: dogfish.

The Bartram Canoe Trail was named after the naturalist, William Bartram, who in 1773 at the age of 34, took a four-year hike and paddle across the American South. He wrote a book about this trip with a title longer than two tweets: Travels through North & South Carolina, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws, Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians.Surprisingly, the book with the longwinded title was a bestseller in Europe, as the Old World was thirsty for tales of America’s backwaters.

Ahaya the Cowkeeper, a Seminole chief, gave Bertram the nickname, Puc Puggy, or the flower hunter. His paddling wasn’t entirely peaceful. A wolf stole his lunch, and one point and he met a warrior intent on killing the next white man he encountered until he was overcome by Bertram’s good humor.

Later, he saw two alligators duke it out beside his boat. Bartram wrote, “They suddenly dart upon each other. The boiling surface of the lake marks their rapid course, and a terrific conflict commences. They now sink to the bottom folded together in horrid wreaths.”

Your paddle on the Bartram Canoe Trail won’t be as challenging as it was in Bartram’s day. There are two land-based campsites, which require no reservation, and four covered, floating platforms, which do require reservations. They rent for $20 a night and hold up to eight paddlers. You can reserve a platform at One big benefits of the floating platforms is the promise of deep sleep, as they’ll put you above and away from the 46 mammals, 69 reptiles, and 30 amphibians that inhabit the swamp.

A fine map can be downloaded at, which suggests day and overnight trips and marks campsites, landings, and must-see sights, such as Indian mounds. One of the niftiest qualities of the Bartram Trail is the range of water you’ll enjoy, from rivers to streams to lakes to sloughs to bayous, depending upon your path. For northern paddlers who’d rather skip the long, busy drive to the Everglades, the Bartram Trail offers temperate paddling through most of the winter, with the average highs in November, December, and February in the low-to-high sixties. Even January reaches nearly sixty degrees, with average highs of 59, which makes for fine, bug-free paddling. Fall is another fine time to go, as the bald cypresses match the fire of the swamp tupelos.

Go paddle the trail and you’ll understand why Bartram wrote: “What a sylvan scene is here.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama Tourism focuses on China
The Alabama Tourism Department will be focused on the Chinese market during much of March with three key events.

Two key travel writers will travel through the state of Alabama to post information back to their followers in China on a trip to 6 Alabama cities during March 5th – March 10th. Cities on the schedule include Huntsville, Florence/Muscle Shoals, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Mobile.

From March 25-27 the Alabama Tourism Department will meet with Chinese tour operators at the Active America China show in Atlanta. Alabama will also participate in the Travel South evening event “East meets South” The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp will be a featured attraction at this event.

A group of eight Chinese Tour Operators attending the Active America China show will tour several Alabama cities after the Atlanta event. The tour operators will visit Huntsville, Florence/Muscle Shoals and Birmingham from March 28-March 31.

China is one of Alabama’s fastest growing tourism markets. Tourism Economics estimates that Alabama received 22,100 Chinese visitors in 2017 putting us as the 5th highest Chinese visitation state in the 12-member Travel South region. Of all international visitors to Alabama, Chinese visitors rank #2 with spending of 51.8 million in 2017 and ranked number as #4 in visitation to Alabama.

For more information on the Chinese market, contact

Tourism industry veteran Dukemineer joins Foley team
Foley Sports Tourism (FST) is continuing to gather steam and build a reputation as a world-class sports destination. To forward that mission, the department hired industry veteran Don Dukemineer as Deputy Director of Sports Tourism.

Dukemineer is joining the team after more than ten years as the Convention Sales Manager focusing on sports and education markets for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Also the current chairman of Alabama Sports Initiative, Sports Alabama, he will utilize his strong understanding of the industry to captain the sales and marketing arms of Foley Sports Tourism. Dukemineer aims to draw more economically impactful events to the city by focusing on relationships and experiences.

“Our goals will be to continue developing the relationships the current team has established and build upon the great accomplishments Foley has achieved in attracting sporting events,” Dukemineer said. “The trust we build with sports events planners will be of utmost importance to our team as we share our story within the industry. Our ultimate goal is to get visitors and travelers to come to Foley because once they experience all it has to offer, we know they will want to return.”

Dukemineer said he hopes to achieve these goals by focusing the staff on working as a team, a vision that is shared by Foley Director of Recreation and Sports Tourism, David Thompson.

“Don will be an integral part of our team,” Thompson said. “He brings a wealth of industry knowledge and experience. We are lucky enough to have a strong team in place that has helped us get where we are. Don coming on as the Deputy Director of Sports Tourism is the perfect complement to the team. I have no doubt with him coming on board we can fully realize the potential of Foley Sports Tourism.”

Dukemineer will oversee Sports and Sponsorship Sales Manager, Christy Raley, and Marketing and Communications Manager Stephanie Donald. While his main focus will be the sales and marketing side of the department, the new Deputy Director will be a team player in all facets of the business. Foley Sports Tourism knows he has an extensive knowledge that can positively impact the organization.

Dukemineer is slated to begin his new role on February 20, 2018.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Are you new to Partners? First things first, join an organization. Groups of Partners with similar tourism affiliations makeup organizations. Next, you’ll create a location. This information will populate to the Alabama.Travel site and create your page. Finally, begin adding events. You can login and edit information, add photos, update events, etc. at any time. It’s that easy!

Click here to get started:


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