Tourism Tuesdays May 22, 2018



  • Doubletree undergoing $20 million renovation, rebranding as UAB flagship hotel
  • 5 Awesome campgrounds for families in Alabama
  • Where ‘Great Gatsby’ writer lived, a museum with an Airbnb
  • Excelling at leisure: Local business and recreation professionals earn travel industry honors
  • Alabama Conservation Dept. appoints Ellis as Gulf State Park Community Relations Director
  • Big movie productions on the Magic City’s mind
  • Indian movie megastar Shah Rukh Khan filming in Alabama
  • Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama
  • State tourism award nominations
  • Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
  • “Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Doubletree undergoing $20 million renovation, rebranding as UAB flagship hotel
From the article by Erin Edgemon on

The Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in the Southside community of Birmingham is undergoing a $20 million renovation.

The warm chocolate chip cookies that greeted guests at the hotel are going away as the restaurant is being rebranded Hilton Birmingham at UAB.

“It is going to really be an extension and flagship of UAB,” said Lisa Castagna, general manager of the hotel.

The guest rooms, public areas and restaurants are getting upgrades as part of the renovation, she said.

The UAB Educational Foundation purchased the on-campus hotel for $6.7 million in late 2016. UAB already owned the land where the hotel is located at University Boulevard and 20th Street South.

Two new restaurants are being added, including one casual, grab-and-go Hilton concept called Herbn Kitchen, Castagna said.

Another yet-to-be named restaurant will be more upscale and a destination for outside customers and guests, she said. The name of the restaurant is expected to be representative of UAB.

Renovation of the hotel’s 298 guest rooms started about a month ago. They include upgrades associated with the Hilton brand, Castagna said.

The new decor of the rooms will be UAB inspired with green accent walls and splashes of green in the artwork and throw pillows, she said.

Room renovations are expected to be complete in September.

Next month, upgrades will begin in the hotel lobby, and the decor will be representative of UAB in the seating and artwork, Castagna said.

The long front desk inside the lobby will be converted to front desk pods. The meeting space and flooring will also be upgraded.

The city of Birmingham Design Review Committee approved new signage for the hotel on Wednesday morning.

The UAB Educational Foundation retained Pyramid Hotel Group in 2016 to manage the hotel.

“The hotel occupies an important location and is uniquely suited to meet demands of the university campus,” Jodie Mote, Educational Foundation treasurer and controller, said in a statement from 2016. “The significant planned upgrades will transform the facility to better support UAB and the broader community’s needs.”

For the complete article please see

5 Awesome campgrounds for families in Alabama
From the article by Sarah Baumann on

Pitching a tent with the family is a great way to truly immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Alabama. The Yellowhammer State is home to an abundance of parent-approved, kid-friendly campsites with boundless activities to keep everyone in the family active. Whether you love spending time in the water or you’re interested in exploring the woods, there is something fun to look forward to at these family-friendly campgrounds in Alabama.

1. Lake Guntersville State Park, Guntersville, AL
Lake Guntersville offers the perfect opportunity to share your love of the water with your kids. Lake Guntersville has a lovely campsite that is perfect for kids of all ages, with access to hiking, fishing and boating. For older kids with a sense of adventure, the park has a zip line that zooms through the gorgeous greenery.

2. Lake Jackson RV Park at Florala, AL
If you’re looking to camp a night on your way to Florida, stop by the Lake Jackson RV Park on the border. Your kids will love the spacious play areas and fresh swimming water. The campsite is close to a number of Victorian-style mansions and restaurants with classic southern cooking for more family fun.

3. Gulf State Park, Gulf Shores, AL
Looking for a compromise between kid-friendly and beach haven? Gulf State Park campsite is the spot for you. With wide open beaches for kids to run free, build sandcastles, look for sea shells, and catch some waves, you can happily relax on the beach knowing your kids are having a fun day.

4. Lakepoint State Park, Eufaula, AL
Whether you’re 8 or 38 years-old, there truly is something for guests of all ages at Lakepoint State Park. Lakepoint features playgrounds for the kiddos, and is the perfect spot for kid-friendly activities such as swimming, hiking, and fishing. Not to mention, the scenery is simply stunning!

5. Blue Springs State Park, Clio, AL
If you want a kid-friendly campsite that is a little more low-key, check out the beautiful Blue Springs State Park. This hidden gem off the beaten path in Clio has long been a site for locals to cool off in the summer. The park has a well-sized playground for younger kids, and has several scenic hiking trails to wander.

For the complete article please see

Where ‘Great Gatsby’ writer lived, a museum with an Airbnb
From the article by Beth J. Harpaz on

As she sat in the house where “Great Gatsby” writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, once lived, a visitor contemplated the famous Jazz Age couple.

“I tried to imagine how maybe Scott would tell a joke and Zelda would laugh,” said Farong Zhu, a Fulbright scholar from China who translated Zelda’s only novel, “Save Me the Waltz,” into Chinese. “Everything was very beautiful. I was so excited to be close to the Fitzgeralds, I couldn’t sleep well the first night.”

But you don’t have to be a literary scholar to stay in this apartment upstairs from the F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The Fitzgeralds lived in the house in 1931 and 1932, and for $150 a night, anyone can rent the apartment on Airbnb. There’s nothing else quite like it in the rental website’s inventory, according to Airbnb spokeswoman Alyssa McEwan.

It’s also the only site on the Southern Literary Trail open to the public for overnight stays. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for travelers,” said trail director Sarah McCullough. “And of course it generates revenue,” always a challenge for historic sites.

Fitzgerald Museum director Sara Powell said she worried when rentals began in April that visitors might throw wild “Gatsby”-style parties. But those concerns proved unjustified. As McCullough put it, “Most of the people who would want to stay there probably have a great love for the writer and the writer’s work and would have great respect for the property.”

The house dates to 1910. The apartment is furnished in casual 20th century style: sofa, armchairs, decorative lamps, Oriental rug, and pillows embroidered with quotes from Zelda like this one: “Those men think I’m purely decorative and they’re fools for not knowing better.” It has two bedrooms, a working kitchen and Wi-Fi, but the ambience evokes another era, with a record player and jazz albums, a balcony and flowering magnolia trees in the yard, all tucked away on a quiet street in Montgomery’s historic Old Cloverdale neighborhood.

“It’s hard for writers to be disconnected from their own world, even for a second,” Powell said. “We’ve had people tell us it was so good to be up there, even for a couple of days. You do unplug and get out of your headspace.”

Though the Fitzgeralds didn’t live in the house for long, Montgomery was important in their celebrated, tumultuous lives. Zelda was a Montgomery native, and they met at a country club here in 1918 during World War I. She was a teenage debutante and he was stationed at a nearby military base.

Once married, rich and rootless, they moved from place to place, including Paris and New York, where a stay on Long Island planted the seed for “Gatsby.” In Montgomery, he worked on “Tender Is the Night” and she wrote “Save Me the Waltz.” It was the last place they lived together with their daughter, Scottie, who turned 10 there and later was sent to boarding school. F. Scott, an alcoholic, died at age 44. Zelda battled mental illness and perished in a hospital fire at age 47.

In the 1980s, the house was threatened with demolition to make way for condos. Local lawyer Julian McPhillips and his wife, Leslie, bought the house and established a nonprofit for it. McPhillips is a Princeton University alumnus; Fitzgerald also attended Princeton, and the museum displays a copy of his Princeton transcript, showing many dropped courses before he left school to join the military. The museum also owns 11 of Zelda’s paintings, personal belongings like an inkwell and beaded purse, and first editions of Fitzgerald’s novels.

As a tourist destination, Montgomery is best-known for civil rights history. This is where Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man, sparking a bus boycott by African-Americans that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court declaring segregation on public buses unconstitutional. That protest also turned a young Montgomery minister, Martin Luther King Jr., into the leader of the civil rights movement.

In April, two new sites opened in Montgomery that are already attracting a lot of attention: a memorial to victims of racial terror lynchings, and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.

Powell is looking for ways to connect with visitors coming to experience these other attractions. She’s developing a workshop for 2019 looking at how race relations were impacted by an 1890s election law named for Zelda’s father, Judge Anthony Sayre, that made it harder for illiterate and semi-illiterate citizens to vote. And while Fitzgerald scholars like Zhu are a natural fit for writers’ residences, Powell is open to proposals on any topic.

Katherine Malone-France, vice president of historic sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says the Airbnb rental and writers’ residencies are great ways to keep places like the Fitzgerald house “financially sustainable and culturally sustainable” while remaining “respectful and relevant to their pasts.”

“That is the best way to preserve something: To use it,” she said.

For the complete article please see

Excelling at leisure: Local business and recreation professionals earn travel industry honors
From the article by Bullard Benjamin on

The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) has recognized three locals for shining a welcoming tourism spotlight on their corner of Cullman County.

AMLA handed out three of this year’s North Alabama Elite Tourism Professional designations to Goat Island brewery co-owner John Dean, Cullman County Parks director Doug Davenport, and Cullman County Museum director Drew Green.

The recognition targets “tourism employees demonstrating outstanding customer service and hospitality in the 16-county North Alabama region,” according to AMLA. The recent awards were timed to coincide with National Travel and Tourism Week, which extended from May 6 to May 12.

Dean, fresh off Goat Island’s recent award-winning showing at the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Lawn festival in Daphne, said it’s an honor to be recognized for telling the rest of Alabama — and beyond — about the place he calls home.

“I’m the marketing guy at Goat Island, so I’m always traveling all over the state and telling people about Cullman and about North Alabama,” he said. “I’m always telling people we’ve got a lot of good things going on here, posting pictures of what we’ve got happening at Goat Island, and I think [AMLA] kind of picked up on that.”

Not only did Goat Island earn honors at the 99 Bottles event for Best Overall Brewery, Best Alabama Brewery, and tying with another brewery for the peoples’ choice award (thanks to Goat Island’s all-new Duck River Dunkel) — it did so against national competition.

“There were beer companies from all over there: Sierra Nevada and really well established companies like that,” said Dean. “People loved our beer, and that’s been a real honor.”

AMLA presented Dean, as well as Davenport and Green, with Amazon gift cards for earning the North Alabama Elite Tourism Professional designation.

This year’s commemoration marked the 35th anniversary of the 1983 Congressional resolution that established National Travel and Tourism Week, giving the U.S. tourism industry a platform to celebrate and promote domestic travel.

For the complete article please see

Alabama Conservation Dept. appoints Ellis as Gulf State Park Community Relations Director
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) announces that J. Gary Ellis has been appointed by Commissioner Chris Blankenship to serve as Director of Community Relations and Administration at Gulf State Park.

“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to bring Gary on to the team at a critical time,” Blankenship said. “The Lodge at Gulf State Park’s opening in November gives the state a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to maximize the benefits to the entire Gulf Coast. With an investment of more than $140 million in Gulf State Park improvements, we felt it was important to bring in an experienced professional to ensure the connection between state park employees, Valor Hospitality and the various community stakeholders is achieved.”

Ellis, the founder of hospitality-focused Compass Media, Inc., has a passion for the Gulf Coast. He retired from Compass in 2016, but in his 30 years at the helm he and his team grew the company to a multi-million-dollar firm serving hundreds of clients in more than 12 Southeastern states.

“I look forward to connecting personal passions for the community and sustainability along the Gulf Coast with my business experience and the many relationships developed over the past 30 years,” Ellis said. “I am enthusiastic about this new opportunity to build a stronger working relationship between the employees of Gulf State Park, the community and Valor Hospitality Inc., the exceptional company chosen by ADCNR to manage The Lodge.”

A member of the University of Montevallo Board of Trustees, Ellis has been honored as an Alabama Hospitality Hall of Fame inductee and received the Alabama Governor’s Tourism Award in 2009. His professional career has worked hand-in-hand with his investment in the health of the community and the environment. He has provided leadership to organizations throughout the southeastern United States, including: co-founder of the Coastal Resiliency Coalition; co-founder and member of the board of directors for the Gulf United Metro Business Organization and Alabama Coastal Foundation board member.

A lifelong resident of Gulf Shores, he and his wife, Sally Kizzire Ellis, have five children.

For more information about Gulf State Park, visit

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. For more information, visit

Big movie productions on the Magic City’s mind
From the article by Amber Grigley on

For some time Birmingham city leaders have pushed for the movie industry to make a home in Birmingham.

The mayor and the City of Birmingham are excited to have a small part in the film industry. They believe bringing big movie productions to the Magic City will not only attract more people to visit, but be a huge economic boost.

“We’re not Hollywood, we’re not Bollywood, we’re not Dollywood, but we are Birmingham,” said Don Lupo with the mayor’s office.

It’s one of the most desired industries that many cities love to have.

“We’re having a great time entertaining these people that are coming literally from all over the country to use our architecture, use our streets, to take advantage of the beauty of the city of Birmingham,” said Lupo.

Right now, the action movie “Live” starring Aaron Eckhart is being filmed in downtown Birmingham.

The scenes may look chaotic, but to Hollywood directors, it’s simply amazing.

“I talked to the director George Galloway last week and he was bubbling over about Birmingham, Alabama and how great Birmingham is going to look in this movie,” said Lupo.

The Alabama film office has $20 million dollars each year it can offer as incentives to production companies doing business in the state. Lupo says with the production of “Live” they are already reaping the benifits.

“It’s like 9,000 times 25. So, it’s big money for our restaurants, our bars. It’s great to have full hotels. It’s great to go to restaurants and maybe have to wait a while because we are doing business,” said Lupo.

Local barbershop owner Quincy Moore agrees.

“Sometimes they stop in to get a haircut. So that’s good for me,” said Moore.

A Birmingham city spokesperson says they have already matched the number of productions from 2017, just five months into 2018. The estimated total combined budget for projects shot in the Birmingham area from 2016-2017 is $18 to $20 million.

For the complete article please see

Indian movie megastar Shah Rukh Khan filming in Alabama
From the article by Lee Roop on

Shah Rukh Khan, the top movie star in India and one of the top stars in the world, is filming his new movie in Alabama this month, producers say.

Production began this week in Huntsville of the film “Zero” starring Khan and Indian actresses Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma. Crews have filmed at Grille 29, the Huntsville Botanical Garden and the Hindu Cultural Center of Alabama in Harvest.

Film co-producer Karuna Badwal, who is also Khan’s business manager, talked about the project Thursday at the Hindu Cultural Center of North Alabama outside Huntsville, where several dozen actors and locals were dressed in traditional Indian clothes for a temple scene.

Badwal would not discuss the film’s plot in detail, but she said some scenes will be filmed at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The film will be the most expensive Indian movie ever made, she said, partly because of the technical equipment the plot requires. Producers have brought 90 people from India to Huntsville and hired another 50 from American production companies, Badwal said.

Prashant Shah, U.S. executive producer for the film, worked with the Alabama Film Office and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to arrange production of the film in Huntsville.

Friday’s filming was of a wedding blessing from a priest to a couple engaged to be married. The cast went through several takes while visitors, including U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart, watched from the back of the temple.

Khan has not arrived in Huntsville, and producers won’t say when he will arrive or how long he will be in the city.

Known in India and around the world as SRK, Khan has appeared in more than 80 films. He is the co-owner of his own film production company and has won awards for his support for children’s education and for women’s and children’s rights in India.

Hindu center President Rashpal Thakur said having a movie shot at the center “is a new experience,” but he said it was “a very thrilling experience to share our religion and culture.”

The Huntsville area has a large Indian and Indian-American community with many members employed by the city’s aerospace and defense industries. Thakur said the center has 1,000 families on its roles with about 500 active at any given time.

For the complete article please see

Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama
Family fun and live entertainment highlight Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama. Events include everything from one of the Southeast’s largest hot air balloon festivals in Decatur to an outdoor symphony concert in Montgomery.

Other celebrations include the Smith Lake Park Memorial Day Festival in Cullman, the RXR music festival in Alexander City, the LuLu Palooza music event in Gulf Shores and Art on the Lake in Eclectic. Special Memorial Day tributes are planned at the American Village in Montevallo and at Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following Memorial Day weekend events. For a complete calendar of events listing see

Beach Ball Drop at The Wharf- Orange Beach
May 25 at The Wharf in Orange Beach. The Wharf celebrates the start of summer with a concert by country star Craig Campbell, live entertainment, rides, and the 5th annual Pepsi Beach Ball Drop. This year 5,000 beach balls will be released at the ball drop. Free Admission.

Montgomery Symphony Jubilee Pops Concert- Montgomery
May 25 on the lawn of the Alabama Archives and History Building across from the Alabama State Capitol in downtown Montgomery. Picnic baskets, coolers, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome at this outdoor Free Admission.

Coalfest- Brilliant
May 25-26 in Brilliant. Live bands, food, arts & crafts, and children’s activities at this annual Free Admission.

RXR Festival- Alexander City
May 25-27 at The Town Green at Russell Crossroads. Coolers, lawn chairs and dogs on leashes are welcome. Local and regional musical acts. Free Admission.

LuLu Palooza- Gulf Shores
May 26 at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. Live music all day on the outdoor boat stage. Free Admission.

Smith Lake Park Memorial Day Festival- Cullman
May 26 at Smith Lake Park. Live entertainment, arts & crafts and food vendors are part of this annual event on the Free admission.

Memorial Day Tribute- Gulf Shores
May 26 at Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores. Historical interpreters dressed in U.S. Army uniforms from different eras will conduct special guided tours and give demonstrations throughout the day. Artillery, small arms and other presentations will give visitors a glimpse of what military life was like at Fort Morgan through history.  Admission Charged.

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival- Decatur
May 26-27 at Point Mallard Park. This festival is one of the largest free hot-air balloon gatherings in the Southeast, featuring more than 60 balloons with races, key grab, tether rides and a balloon glow. Free admission.

Art on the Lake- Eclectic
May 26-27 at Children’s Harbor on Lake Martin. More than 40 artists from across the Southeast will be on hand to display and sell their artwork. Canvas art, pottery, jewelry, rock work and more. Free Admission.

Memorial Day at the American Village- Montevallo
May 28 at the American Village. Events include musical tributes, historical re-enactments, wreath-laying ceremonies and special tours. Visitors can experience the National Veterans Shrine and Register of Honor. Free admission.

State tourism award nominations
Nominations for Tourism Awards are now open. There are 14 categories. Nominate your favorite person, event or business for one of the following awards.

Attraction of the Year
Tourism Hall of Fame
Alabama Organization of the Year
Alabama Welcome Center Employee of the Year
Event of the Year
Alabama Themed Campaign of the Year
Tourism Advocate (Media) Award
Tourism Partnership of the Year
Alabama Government (Advocate) Award
Tourism Executive of the Year
Tourism Professional of the Year
Alabama Tourism Employee of the Year
Rising Star
Governor’s Tourism Award

The awards will be presented at this year’s Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism in August. Nomination forms can be located at For criteria information contact Cynthia Flowers by email or call 334-242-4413. Nominations are accepted until June 20.

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 4-7 at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa.
The conference 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
Would you like to be featured in the 2019 Alabama Vacation Guide? Login to your Partner account and submit your events by June 30.


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