Tourism Tuesdays July 18, 2018


Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
Restaurants, sign up now for Alabama Restaurant Week 2018
What’s in a name? Millions of dollars a year, if that name is “Alabama”
Collegiate Hotel at Auburn invites Auburn community to step into history
Countdown begins to Alabama’s epic Apollo 11 celebration
Food Destination: Alabama’s Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Part 2
Dr. Barrick to retire from Bellingrath Gardens
Vacation rental firm enters Alabama market with Gulf Coast acquisition
Sloss Docks Back Forty Birmingham is now open
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 4-7 at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa.

Early Bird Registration and Early Bird (Convention Block) at the Renaissance Montgomery end on July 20.

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

Restaurants, sign up now for Alabama Restaurant Week 2018
Restaurants, sign up and be a part of the locally owned and operated restaurants that participate in Alabama Restaurant Week 2018. This year the more-than-weeklong event is Aug. 10-19. Last year almost 100 restaurants were a part of the event showcasing local food, fun and flavor.

Participating restaurants will receive in-store promotional items and be listed on the website along with their meal offerings. Participating restaurants set meal prices at $10, $20, $30 and $40 for dinner and $10 and $15 for lunch. In all cases, the price is per person and does not include tax, tip and drink. Restaurants have the choice of offering one or more meals at the preset price.

There is no cost for restaurants to participate in this statewide promotion. For more details and sign-up information, please contact Courtney Austin at or 334-242-4674.

What’s in a name? Millions of dollars a year, if that name is “Alabama”
From the article by Charlie Ingram on

Lee Sentell remembers when he and other tourism officials were at an evening party during a trade show in Las Vegas that was pretty much ho-hum. But then the deejay who had been spinning records without much reaction from the crowd played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s iconic “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Almost everybody in the nightclub cheered,” recalls Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department. “And we thought, ‘Pay attention to this.’”

That experience 12 years ago got the big wheels turning in Sentell’s head. Would it make sense, he wondered, to see if the song’s widespread popularity could help promote tourism in Alabama?

On the heels of that Vegas trip, the Alabama Tourism Department and its ad agency at the time worked to answer that question. Online testing told them the phrase “Sweet Home Alabama” was much more popular than other taglines, or slogans, used in previous Alabama tourism campaigns, including “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Now This You Gotta See” and “Alabama Has It All.”

Usage rights were negotiated with the song’s owner, and the deal was sealed. Alabama Tourism had itself a new marketing tagline, and it’s served the state well for 11 years now.

Last year, for example, Alabama had 26.6 million visitors, 21 percent more than in 2008, which is when use of the “Sweet Home Alabama” tagline started. Money spent by visitors in the state hit $14.3 billion in 2017, up 7.5 percent from 2016 and almost 50 percent more than 2008.

To be sure, the tagline is only part of Tourism’s overall marketing each year. But it would be hard to question its lasting value. Five years ago, for example, “Sweet Home Alabama” became the only song released before 1975 to break more than 3 million downloads.

In addition to its adopted use by Alabama Tourism, it has appeared on Alabama license plates since 2009, and it also now appears on large Alabama signs welcoming interstate motorists to the state.

“Because of the 1974 song and the 2002 movie of the same name, the phrase is linked to our state around the world,” Sentell says. “When an Alabama family was vacationing in Dublin, Ireland, a few years ago they rode in three taxis. Of those three, when they told the drivers where they were from, two said, ‘Ah, sweet home Alabama.’ No doubt many Alabamians have enjoyed the same experience.”

For the complete article please see

Collegiate Hotel at Auburn invites Auburn community to step into history
From the article by Elizabeth Hurley on

Community members filled the refurbished lobby of the new Collegiate Hotel at Auburn, previously Wittel Dormitory, Friday night for a grand opening celebration.

Owners Kim and Brian Wirth ushered guests into the lobby and invited them to look into the open rooms on each floor. Hotel staff members checked in guests for their stay at the hotel.

As the hotel began to fill and conversations grew louder, community members stopped their conversations mid-sentence to admire different aspects of the hotel.

“I think that’s [the history] the classist part of it,” said Jay Skipworth. “To give it the update and that boutique feel, but also to maintain that things that made it the dormitory and a part of Auburn.”

The historical value of the property and how it was combined with the modern look of the hotel was a big hit among attendees.

“I think it is a fantastic addition to the Auburn community,” Skipworth said. “I’m glad to see it here. I think it’s going to be a very welcome spot for families and visitors, but also just for folks locally.”

Brian and Kim spent the last year refurbishing the Wittel Dorm and designing the 40-room boutique hotel.

“We saw that the Wittel property was for sale and it’s a great location,” Kim said. “We love the history of it. We’ve restored a lot of historic buildings before. It had kind of run its life as a dorm, and we we’re excited to turn it into a boutique hotel.”

Brian and Kim wanted to incorporate the history of the property while keeping true to its location.

“When you walk in you really get a sense of history because the floors are actually 78 years old,” Kim said. “We were able to keep the original marble fireplace. When we added the front desk, we also added Gloms, starting in the 1930s all the way up to recently.”

From the navy blue couches that sit next to burnt orange stools in the lobby reception area to the burnt orange doors on each room, there are orange and blue touches and breathtaking views of Auburn’s campus in each room.

“There’s a lot of touches of our history and Auburn,” Brian said. “And the vision of turning the Wittel Dorm into the hotel.”

Orange and blue aren’t the only touches of Auburn in the hotel. Kim and Brian commissioned several works of art to pay homage to the Wittel Dorm and Auburn.

“This is an art piece an artist from Memphis did,” Kim said as she gestured toward the large sequence eagle that fills the wall above the front desk. “It’s called ‘A Spirit that is not Afraid.’ We actually did it obviously to honor the ‘War Eagle’ tradition, but really the work at the Raptor Center.

”Several local artists made a collection of pieces to be displayed throughout the hotel, including in the guest rooms.

“I have several pieces that are scripture inspired and are abstract pieces,” said Lauren Duncan, one of the local artists featured in the hotel. “I know one piece is on the suite on the second floor.”

The one-of-a-kind pieces of art are not the only reason each of the rooms are unique. Kim and Brain worked together to make each room its own masterpiece.

“With my background in hotels, we’ve always been trained that you can’t do individuality in the rooms,” Brain said. “Kim, the way she did it, by taking a lot of similar things but making certain tweaks to them really allowed it to have that uniqueness that you don’t see in a lot of hotels.”

The hotel has four floors of rooms, including the ground floor with the 334 suite. The top floor is a rooftop garden with views of Samford Hall, the Haley Center and Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The rooftop garden is adorned with large couches and is complete with two large TVs that are just waiting for the first kickoff of the 2018 football season.

“I think all the Auburn students and community need to go up to the roof and check out the view,” Brain said. “It is a view like no other in Auburn.”

The hotel also includes a lobby bar and wrap-around porch on the first level that is open to community members.

“It’s for the community to enjoy,” Kim said. “I want to invite everyone to come out and see it [the hotel] for themelves. We want to be a part of the community. It has a great history, and we want it to have a great future.”

It is important to both Kim and Brian that the community gets just as much use out of the hotel as visitors do. They want the hotel to become a part of the Auburn family just like they are.

“We tell everybody you spend 5 years going to school here and trying to get out and 20 years trying to figure out how to get back,” Brain said. “So that’s why we decided to come back.”

The Collegiate Hotel at Auburn is now accepting reservations.

For the complete article please see

Countdown begins to Alabama’s epic Apollo 11 celebration
From the article by Lee Roop on

Did you know Americans left the Earth 49 years ago this week to make the first moon landing on a rocket designed and largely built in Alabama? Did you know Americans are going back on a rocket being developed now in the Rocket City of Huntsville?

If you somehow didn’t know, or even if you did, here’s some news: Huntsville has a huge 50th anniversary celebration of that earlier historic launch planned for you in the golden anniversary year of 2019. It’s starting soon as a countdown, and it will also be a climax of Alabama’s own 200th birthday celebration in 2019.

City leaders met beneath the Saturn V at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Monday to announce a stream of events leading up to the 50th anniversary of the liftoff of the Saturn V carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. That launch was July 16, 1969.

“And we’re going party like it’s 1969,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, rocket center CEO and chair of the golden anniversary committee.

July 20, 1969 was the day humans first stepped on the moon, and Barnhart said that will be a huge celebration with a lot of national attention on Cape Canaveral, Houston and Washington.

“But the launch day was July 16, and we’re going to claim launch day as our own,” Barnhart said of Huntsville.

“The great thing is Huntsville played a pivotal role in taking us to the moon, making these engines right here,” Mayor Tommy Battle said gesturing at the F-1 engines above him on the rocket center’s Saturn V. “And today we’re working on a pivotal role in producing the new engines that will take us back into deep space, to the moon and to Mars.”

There will be daily moon landing re-enactments at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, panel discussions citywide, classic car shows, a “big homecoming dinner” at the rocket center next summer, concerts, special exhibits at the Huntsville Museum of Art and a “Dancing in the Streets” party Friday night, July 19, 2019, 50 years from day of the moon landing.

Special honorary chairpersons for the event will be the family of Dr. Wernher von Braun, who led NASA’s Apollo development in Alabama.

The committee is also asking “everyone, every club, every company, every church, every synagogue, every social and professional group to plan and celebrate in the way that’s most fun and most meaningful to you,” Barnhart said.
Planners hope all of those events will be logged on to the tourism bureau’s website to create a public calendar of events.

For the complete article please see

Food Destination: Alabama’s Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Part 2
From the article by Lisa Kivirist on

Editor’s note: Part one ran in the July 10th edition of Tourism Tuesday Newsletter.

Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores in Alabama are experiencing a culinary renaissance, embracing a fishing hook-to-table mantra, covered in part 1. For some restaurants, it crosses over to the décor, too, with a coastal version of shabby chic. Imagine the movie, Castaway, but definitely not on a lonely island, since these places are packed with boaters, beach combers, families and ecotourists winding down after a day of birding, biking or kayaking. While one restaurant adds to its kitchen space and storage by re-purposing shipping containers, another seemingly hobbles together driftwood, drapes canvas umbrellas and recycled surfboards.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010, currently the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history, this coastal community has buckled down, cleaned up, and emerged even more vibrant than before. The disaster led to massive legal settlements from BP, leasing the rig from owner and operator Transocean, funds which helped communities and businesses affected to recover.

Today, sea life in the Gulf of Mexico, while still being monitored, seems to have rebounded. The great news for foodies travelling here is that the seafood is safe to eat, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Gulf’s marine life, however, continues to be threatened by plastic waste and the growing “dead zone” caused by chemical agriculture runoff flowing into the Gulf from the Mississippi River and other waterways.

“What used to be wax paper and fried everything, has become flip-flop fine dining,” laughs Kay Maghan, Public Relations Manager for Gulf Shores and Organic Beach Tourism, eager to share how the area is quickly becoming a food travel destination. “We create an atmosphere here like you’re dining with family and friends while keeping the quality and creativity of what’s on your plate like something you’d expect at top restaurants in the city.”

What photographer John Ivanko and I found on a recent trip here confirmed this sentiment, deliciously so. Wear what you want, but don’t let that beachy casual style lower your expectations on what’s on your plate.

Re-purposed containers house the hip bar and restaurant, The Gulf
If there ever was a restaurant that captured a sense of living the good life on an island, The Gulf would be it with its al fresco dining experience, deliciously crafted seafood dishes by Chef Wesley True, and outdoor bar with mixologists shaking craft cocktails to order. The boxy blue settlement overlooks the sugar-white strip of beach head of Alabama Point East, the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Perdido Pass Bridge, under which a steady flow of dolphin-watching and fishing boats pass. There are numerous outdoor couches around fire pits, rows of picnic tables under palms and twinkling lights and a family and dog friendly vibe.

The restaurant itself is a grandiose example of re-purposing at its finest. The kitchens are constructed inside shipping containers, cleaned up and all painted a deep coastal blue and stacked like Legos. Call this castaway-like décor “shabby coastal chic” with tables made from reused wood and creative use of other salvaged materials, like a hanging lounge chair constructed out of driftwood.

Does this use of shipping containers exempt the restaurant from some building code requirements? Of course not. This place is Spartan clean. One thing is clear at The Gulf: they take pride in doing things according to their vision and values. They create a welcoming, comfortable spot, offer generous portions of made-to-order dishes prepared with local ingredients when possible, and serve craft cocktails from outdoor bar. Folks gather and relax, especially when the music sticks to their well-curated vinyl collection.

Be prepared for a winding line while ordering at counters. But that’s a good sign when the locals eat as well as the out-of-towners do. Grab a cocktail from the bar as you may need to linger in line at this popular joint. Sometimes, the bartenders will even put on a show when making their signature blackberry infused Mojitos or bloody Mary’s.

When you do get to the ordering counter, you’ll have a range of options: fried-grouper sandwiches, tacos, fresh cut fries to share alongside unexpected combination salads like a watermelon and shrimp salad mixed with watercress, farro, feta cheese and a dressing of mint, almonds, carrot yogurt and red wine. Chef True likes to mix it up, keep it fresh and unexpectedly gourmet, especially when you consider you can dine with your toes in the sand.

Oyster abundance at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club
Don’t be misled by the “Yacht Club” name. The Flora-Bama Yacht Club takes flip flop fun to the extreme as this legendary spot brings together all the classic elements you’d want in a waterside, beach bar dining where guests arrive by boat, paddle board, kayak or car. The weathered wood, graffiti pitted and rambling structure offers local seafood and their own variation of the bushwacker with a cherry infusion. Geographically defining its name, the restaurant straddles the Alabama-Florida state line.

Chef Billy Highland joins a team of area chefs and activists who run the NUISANCE Group, which stands for “Nuisance, Underutilized, and/or Invasive, that are also Sustainable and Available, through Noble Culinary Endeavors.” He and other chef leaders serve up education with your meal as he has a mission to creatively cook underused and underrated local fish including Lionfish. NUISANCE now organizes a Lionfish Festival that features some of Chef Highland’s innovative ways to use Lionfish such as in nachos.

“On a good night, we go through about 1,200 oysters,” laughs Jacob, wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and a smile. Alabama has historically been the largest processor of oysters in the country; the warmer waters of the Gulf give these local oysters a softer consistency and a sweeter flavor than those from the north that might be tougher and saltier. New to oysters? Test the waters with one of the grilled or roasted dishes, including char-grilled Louisiana oysters topped with Sriracha-cured bacon, butter, New Orleans BBQ sauce, and cheese.

The Flora-Bama Yacht Club is a proud member of the new recycling program that helps the environment through healthy oyster beds. Run by the Alabama Coastal Foundation, oyster shells collected through this program go back into Alabama waters to help more oysters grow, provide habitat, limit erosion and improve water quality.

For some authentic Southern entertainment after dinner, stroll across the street to the Flora-Bama Lounge and Package, where country and blues jam into the wee hours of the morning and where bras are draped across the stage. Hey, what happens in the Flora-Bama Lounge, sometimes, stays at the Flora-Bama Lounge.

For the complete article please see

Dr. Barrick to retire from Bellingrath Gardens
Dr. William E. Barrick, Executive Director of Bellingrath Gardens and Home, has announced plans to retire in the summer of 2019.

At Bellingrath Gardens and Home, Barrick manages the 65-acre historic estate and serves as a trustee for the Bellingrath Morse Foundation, the estate of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath. Under his direction, the Gardens and Home have become a major tourist destination on the Gulf Coast, attracting 110,000 visitors each year.

“For the past 18 years, along with the able assistance of my wife, Jessica, we have had the pleasure of assisting with the perpetuation of the dreams of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath,” said. Barrick said. “I am thankful to all of the employees who have been a part of insuring that Bellingrath Gardens and Home continues to be ‘a fitting and permanent memorial to Mrs. Bellingrath.’ Bellingrath Gardens is truly one of the great Southern gardens and has brought pleasure to millions of visitors since the Bellingrath family first opened their Gardens to the Mobile community in 1932.”

Preston Bolt, Chairman of the Bellingrath Morse Foundation, commented, “Dr. Bill Barrick and his wife, Jessica, have been strong and unfailing advocates for preserving and enhancing the legacy of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath. They will leave us an indelible legacy from their inspirational work in caring for our state’s oldest public garden.”

Barrick has been Bellingrath’s executive director since 1999. Before that, he was Executive Vice President and Director of Gardens at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., for nearly 20 years.

Vacation rental firm enters Alabama market with Gulf Coast acquisition
From the article by Hanno van der Bijl in the Birmingham Business Journal:

A vacation rental management company has expanded into the Yellowhammer State.

Vacasa Alabama LLC acquired Laura’s Vacation Rentals in Alabama. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The company manages almost 80 vacation rentals in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan.

“After over a decade of running the company on my own, I realized I needed more advanced technology and marketing support to continue providing my homeowners and guests with the same great experience,” said Laura Hancock, community manager at Vacasa Alabama. “Vacasa Alabama has a very similar business model to mine but with the expertise and backing of a national company and strength of the local team right here in Alabama.”

Vacasa now provides its property management services for homeowners in 23 states.

According to the Alabama Tourism Department, the travel and tourism industry supported 187,000 jobs in the state.

“Vacasa Alabama is excited to be adding more opportunities to the local job market,” said Todd Leonard, regional director of Southeast U.S. at Vacasa. “We’re looking forward to continued growth in the Southeast region and adding more vacation destinations to the map for our guests.”

Founded in 2009, Vacasa is based in Portland, Oregon. Along with its subsidiaries, it manages more than 9,000 vacation homes in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America, and South Africa. According to our sister publication the Portland Business Journal, Vacasa was the fastest-growing private company in the city in 2014 and the largest equity funding recipient during 2017.

For the complete article please see

Sloss Docks Back Forty Birmingham is now open
From the article by Joe Singer on

A cool new place for good eats and libations in Birmingham has opened in the shadows of the historic Sloss Furnances.

The official grand opening for Sloss Docks Back Forty will be Saturday July 21, but the brewery/restaurant is open now. This family-friendly production brewery and restaurant, located within the Sloss Docks development, will be the first licensed satellite location of Alabama’s oldest packaging brewery.

The Birmingham location will have brewers, Jamie Ray and Tosh Brown, making popular core Back Forty beers (Naked Pig, Truck Stop Honey, etc.) and a steady rotation of new experimental beers only available in the local market. Chef Russ Bodner is serving up over-the-top pub food as well. Check out the photos in the gallery.

The space includes an expansive 1/4-acre beer garden and offers a great place for train watching. The 6,200-square-foot space has plenty of room and lots of seating. Owner Douglas Brown also showed me the 125×10-foot porch that is dog-and kid-friendly with a ping pong table and cornhole area.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Have you “liked” the Industry Partner’s Facebook page? Through this page we tell you exciting updates, hear your thoughts and know what you’re up to so we can share them with our networks. Follow the link, give us a “like” and get connected.


Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

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Alabama Tourism Department