Tourism Tuesdays September 11, 2018

Alabama Tourism Department’s 2018 Fall Tourism Workshop

2018 Alabama Welcome Center Retreat set for Huntsville Marriott, Oct. 14-16

Grant Updates from Alabama Tourism Department

This Montgomery tour guide brings Alabama history to life

Take a peek at this newly renovated historic hotel

Shoals will have presence at Franklin’s Pilgrimage Festival

Ecotourism and Nature Travel to the Gulf Shores of Alabama Part 2

Huntsville makes list

The Craft Beer Trail of Huntville

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Alabama Tourism Department’s 2018 Fall Tourism Workshop 
The Alabama Tourism Department will host its semi-annual Tourism Workshop, Thurs., Oct. 11. The workshop will held be in Montgomery at the Alabama Center for Commerce Building, 401 Adams Ave., from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. This workshop is designed for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone else interested in enhancing tourism in their area. Many of ATD’s staff members will be in attendance at this workshop and you will have an opportunity for one-on-one time with each of them. There is no registration fee. For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at rosemary.judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov

2018 Alabama Welcome Center Retreat set for Huntsville Marriott, Oct. 14-16
The Alabama Welcome Center Retreat gives the Alabama Tourism Industry the opportunity to showcase our communities with the devoted staff of the Alabama Welcome Centers. Each center closes so that all employees can participate in this educational retreat. The industry trade show gives us the opportunity to share with the staff members of each center exactly what we have for them to share with their guests, the thousands of travelers stopping at Welcome Centers for travel advice. Hopefully, we will give them enough to entice their visitors to stop, see and stay a little longer with us.

The registration fee is $150 for all industry partners, with or without a table top. This fee includes a table top in the Tourism Partner’s Showcase and functions through Tuesday morning breakfast. Each additional partner pays $150 as well. This fee goes up to $175 on Oct. 1. There will be NO refunds after Nov. 1 as we will have given all guarantees to our sponsors and to the hotel by then.

For Details Contact: Patti A. Culp, Alabama Travel Council: or 334-271-0050.
Book your group rate for the 2018 Alabama Welcome Center Retreat.

Grant Updates from Alabama Tourism Department
The Alabama Tourism Department requests all Product Development Grant applications for FY 2019 be turned into the office for review and planning purposes by Sept. 30. Product Development Grants are special grants given out with limited funding at the discretion of the director of tourism. A submitted application does not guarantee that an organization will receive a grant.

The Alabama Tourism Department will also be rolling forward the Matching Grant Program from FY18 to FY19 as of Oct. 1. The Matching Grants Program provides assistance to nonprofit Alabama organizations promoting travel and vacation business to Alabama. Matching grants are given year-round, and guidelines can be found at Please remember that we need these applications at least three months before your event or festival.

For more information please contact Scott Burbank at or Leigh Cross at

This Montgomery tour guide brings Alabama history to life
From the article by Michelle Matthews on

No matter how many times Michelle Browder has tried to leave Montgomery, she keeps getting pulled back. She finally seems to have given up on any ideas of leaving and has instead gone all-in with her business, More Than Tours, and the nonprofit youth empowerment initiative she started for youth, I Am More Than.

For many visitors, she has become the face of the city, her funky, bright red cat-eye frames a familiar sight as she takes them around Alabama’s capital city, six days a week (every day but Monday). She offers three daily tours, trips from Montgomery to Selma on Sundays and private tours, either on a 20-seat bus or a five-seat electric vehicle that’s bigger than a golf cart but smaller than a van.

What makes her tours stand out, she says, is the presentation. Her tours are an experience that brings history to life, where everyone – regardless of color or origin – learns to empathize with and even walk in the shoes of the characters she introduces in the stories she tells. Her specialty is “unsung heroes and hidden gems,” she says. “There’s so much history here. We make it real.”

Her favorite places to take visitors are the historic, renovated Kress building on Dexter Avenue and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in April to commemorate lynching victims. Recently, she took a group of five white “Southern belles,” all Montgomery natives, to see the memorial and museum.

“When I brought them to the back door of Kress, each one began to cry,” she says. “They had no idea there were white-only and colored-only entrances. They asked, ‘How could we be so naive? How could we allow something like this to happen?’ That blew me away. To really come to terms with it is empowering.”

Though it’s obvious she loves her job, she never imagined herself doing it. “I’m an artist,” she says. “This was not on my radar.”

Born in Denver, Michelle moved to Verbena, AL, in the 1970s when her father, Curtis Browder, was appointed by Gov. George Wallace to be the first black prison chaplain in the state.

She studied graphic design in college and was working in Atlanta when her parents called her home to Montgomery in 2002 because “they needed help” with the Montgomery Rescue Mission. Despite her protests, the Browders insisted she return – and she couldn’t say no.

Michelle created their “brand” and handled public relations for the organization that provides food and shelter for the homeless. Having always had “a heart for children,” she saw a need to add services for youth, which became her specialty. For a few years, she operated a restaurant that employed high school students, homeless people and former prisoners.

In 2012, she had decided it was time to leave Montgomery. But before she left, she took a group of 56 underserved kids she’d been working with to Washington, D.C., to see Bryan Stevenson, a black lawyer and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, argue a case, Evan Miller vs. Alabama, before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the case, the court held that it is unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole.

That trip was life-changing for the students, who had never been outside of Alabama. They were “deeply touched by the case and the people arguing it,” she says. “The entire experience opened their eyes to a whole new world.”

When they returned to Montgomery, one of the students started crying. “We want more,” she said, and others agreed. They wanted to do community projects. They wanted to learn to be entrepreneurs. They wanted to create a better future for themselves.

Michelle helped them create some conversations in the community with notable speakers. The first was Stevenson himself, in June of 2012, followed by Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, and political activist Angela Davis.

By 2015, Michelle’s I Am More Than group organized an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march. “We invited people from around the world to be part of it,” she says. She helped book hotels and provide transportation for 10 busloads of people.

The Alabama Tourism Department took notice of what she was doing and “took me under their wings and showed me the ropes,” she says. They told her that what she was doing was tourism. Michelle just knew she had helped create “a beautiful event,” which included a moving speech from Fulton.

The trip impacted Michelle as much as it did her students. It was supposed to be her last hurrah with them, her parting gift. Instead, she says, “My farewell, so long, bon voyage turned into the reason I decided to stay.”

And so, two years ago, her business, More Than Tours, was born. She donates 50 percent of the proceeds back into the youth organization.

Sometimes the truth on display in her tours is “hard to swallow,” she says. But she has learned to look for the positive in Montgomery’s history. “As ugly as it is, there’s still beauty in it,” she says. “I love the history, the resiliency of the people who changed the world,” she says.

It’s no wonder she can’t leave such a place. Instead, she’s teaching others to appreciate its bright side.

“Montgomery, Alabama, taught the world how to love in spite of all the hate,” she says.

For the complete article please see

Take a peek at this newly renovated historic hotel
From the article on

On Aug. 29, the historic (and AAA Four Diamond) Grand Hotel near Fairhope, Alabama, became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels. Rebranded as the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa, the property has undergone a three-year renovation, adding new amenities and dialing up the style of existing ones. The hotel first opened in 1847 as a two-story building with 40 rooms. Over the years, it has changed hands and expanded, recovering from hurricanes, fire, and a war or two. In 1864, part of the Grand became a Confederate hospital; you’ll find a cemetery for 300 soldiers near the 18th tee of the Azalea golf course. During World War II, the Army Air Corps used the hotel as a training base. (Guests still get to hear a patriotic cannon salute at 3:45 each afternoon.)

Rich in History
Presidents George H. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford have stayed at this elegant, old-school gem, which still serves high tea and has an activities lawn for croquet, horseshoes, and corn hole games.

Dive In
The resort’s feature adult and indoor pools- all renovated. Private cabanas at the adult pool include fans, TVs, refrigerators and pool butler service.

Room to Roam
The Grand sits on 550 acres. Resort chefs harvest fresh produce from the newly expanded estate gardens.

Peaceful Nights
Once a small, privately owned hotel, the Grand now features 405 renovated guest rooms in five buildings.

Get Pampered
Can you imagine a better view to enjoy while you soak, chill, and get sandal-ready

Eat Well
The Grand just opened six new restaurants and lounges: Jubilee Poolside Grill, Bayside Grill, Southern Roots, Grand Hall, 1847 Bar and the Local Market. Popular Bucky’s Lounge got a remodel.

Picture Perfect Every Time
The real attraction at the Grand? That’s easy: Sunsets over Mobile Bay.

For the complete article please see

Shoals will have presence at Franklin’s Pilgrimage Festival
From the article by Russ Corey on

When the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival gets under way Sept. 22 in Franklin, Tennessee, a group from the Shoals will be on hand to share stories and entice visitors to come experience the Shoals.

Florence-Lauderdale Tourism President/CEO Rob Carnegie will join Judy Hood and Debbie Wilson, of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, at the Americana Music Triangle Experience, a tent dedicated to the cities and sites that are part of the Americana Music Triangle.

Allison Stanfield, the tourism bureau’s operations manager, Anna Hyde, of Muscle Shoals Sound, and Rick Harmon, publications director for the state Department of Tourism, will also help spread the word about Alabama and the Shoals. It’s the second year the Shoals has had a presence in the triangle tent.

“Our booth was a big hit last year,” Wilson said. “Anna and I will be there the entire time along with rotating staff members from the studio. We want to immerse our staff in the experience as well.”

Now in its fourth year, the two-day Pilgrimage Festival is held at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin. This year’s headliners Jack White and Chris Stapleton will be joined by Alabama Music Hall of Fame inductee Lionel Richie, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, and Bishop Gunn, who recorded their debut album at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

Underneath the tent, which was created by American Pickers and Antique Archeology, festivalgoers will be treated to the music, history and living culture found along the Americana Music Triangle, a driving route which maps the collective towns where the first chords of the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, soul, rhythm and blues, Cajun, zydeco, and country music were first played.

The story will be brought to life by town vignettes, musical performances, passionate scholars and colorful storytellers.

In addition to the state and the Shoals, there will also be a presence by Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, Clarksdale and Tunica, Mississippi, Franklin, Tennessee, Tupelo, Mississippi, The Country Music Hall of Fame and historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

“It’s sort of a joint effort this year to have a larger presence in this pavilion,” Carnegie said. “They want to make it casual and laid back. It just gives you a taste of the area.”

Wilson said the exhibit will be promoting the Shoals and the “Sweet Home Alabama” brand.

“The Americana Music Triangle Tent is like a ‘cultural gumbo’ of experiences that celebrate the music, history and lifestyles of 13 unique Southern and global municipalities,” Hood said. “The Muscle Shoals music exhibit was extremely popular last year. David Hood and Jimmy Johnson gave a presentation and then they sat at our booth signing autographs, posing for pictures and telling stories that celebrate our rich music heritage.”

Hood said this year, she and Wilson will be giving a presentation called “Rocking The Doc,” which will share the story of how the “Muscle Shoals” documentary has impacted the Shoals in the best possible way and “reignited the spark that made this the hit recording capital of the world.”

“Our remarks will center around the rapidly growing music tourism market and we will discuss the economic and cultural impact that the movie has generated,” Hood said.

Carnegie said the documentary will be shown, and live music will be featured in the tent. They will also have some Shoals swag to give out. Wilson said the “Alabama Jammer,” a custom-made Gibson guitar with a body shaped like the state of Alabama, will also be on display.

Carnegie said he hopes the area will benefit from the travel writers who are expected to be in attendance.

For the complete article please see

Ecotourism and Nature Travel to the Gulf Shores of Alabama Part 2
Editor’s note: This article has two parts. Part one ran in the Tourism Tuesday Newsletter on Aug 28.

From the article by Lisa Kivirist on

Alabama’s Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores are becoming a natural playground. Joined by my photographer-husband John Ivanko during a recent trip here, we discovered so much more than sandy beaches and plentiful sunshine. Sure, we kicked off our sandals, splashed around in the Gulf, and grabbed an Adirondack chair to catch the sunset and count shooting stars at night.

But in Orange Beach, you’re just a few minutes’ drive away from some of the best birding along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easy to disappear into some of the many natural areas set aside as parks and preserves. As we covered separately, the area is also becoming known as a food-traveler destination.

This is the second post, covering our additional ecotourism adventures and several accommodation options, including the new The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a LEED-certified property soon to open.

Hiking, Biking or Yoga in the Gulf State Park
Nestled between the communities of Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores, the 6,150-acre Gulf State Park has it all, pristine beaches, inland lakes, maritime forests and coastal marsh for hiking, biking and even yoga during the annual Awakened Life Yoga Festival in April.

We had a chance to grab a yoga mat and experience a portion of the three-day Awakened Life Yoga Festival. It provides a well-organized portal to experience nature through a yoga lens, offering a variety of offerings for beginners to seasoned yogi, including power to peaceful yoga asana, meditation and kirtans.

“We want to create a unique space where we can bring together an amazing group of teachers, coaches and artists to help folks connect to their own creativity and spirit,” explains Jen Hammond, yoga instructor and the event’s organizer. Need a pick-up after a yoga session? Head over to Soul Bowlz for their organic acai smoothie bowls made with fresh fruit.

While not in the Gulf State Park, for a bird’s-eye view of the coastal area as well as an adrenalin boost, Hummingbird Ziplines at The Wharf offers eight ziplines, traversing more than 6,000 feet. In contrast to what’s offered at many of the other shops at The Wharf, Hummingbird’s gift shop even features Fair Trade items.

Eco-Lodging at The Lodge
While Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores are populated with high rise condos, a great option if you want to cook your own local seafood in your kitchen while taking in the breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico, there are also more quaint beach houses, both reserved through Meyer Vacation Rentals. If you’d rather unwind in the peace and quiet in nature, try the more rustic cabins, cottages or camping at the Gulf State Park.

Graced by a panoramic view of the beach and ocean, The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a soon-to-open luxury eco-hotel also nestled inside the park, promises to offer one of the most environmentally sensitive lodging options not only in Alabama, but perhaps the entire U.S. Although it is a state park, it is operated by Hilton Hotel and Resorts. The Lodge grew out of an extensive collaborative community effort after Hurricane Ivan destroyed the area in 2004. A master plan for the state park was developed that shepherds both the environment and economy.

The result is a LEED Gold certified high-end, 350-room luxury hotel. Each step of the planning and building process involved a commitment to stewarding the ecosystem in a way that still provides the lodging experience Hilton guests expect.

“The community and partners came to a decision early on that this was not going to be another hotel on the beach and we were going to do this right,” explains Chandra Wright, Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives at the Lodge at Gulf Sate Park. “For example, we know that sand continually moves and a way to help naturally preserve the dunes was to build in a way that sand can move under the Lodge. You’re not going to see any manicured lawns anywhere here and instead experience a Lodge right in the middle of an active dune system.” The Lodge will also be built to withstand a category five hurricane, or “tropical occurrence” as they are dubbed in the local tourism world.

Such innovation requires pushing the envelope within typical Hilton expectations and requirements as well. You won’t find any single use plastic items on the property, including no straws or plastic bottles. Guest bathrooms will have bulk dispensers instead of individual shampoo and toiletry containers.

“What you will see are lots of educational components on why we’re doing what we’re doing throughout the property,” adds Wright. The Interpretive Center on the property is taking the bar higher and going for LEED Platinum designation, aiming to generate more power than it uses.

The Lodge and all of the increasing eco-experiences and awareness germinating on the Gulf Shores serve as more than a fun vacation destination; they remind both the community and visitors alike that we are all an active, integral part of our landscape and play a vital role in preserving it.

For the complete article please see

Huntsville makes list
From the article “Most Underrated Town in Every State” on

The U.S. has dozens upon dozens of well-known cities, but it also has a few treasures hiding in plain sight. So, what are the most underrated towns in America? Some are obscure mountain towns and beach getaways, others are full of history and culture, have booming economies, and offer a delectable food scene.

Huntsville, Alabama
Appropriately nicknamed “The Rocket City,” Huntsville is most widely known for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Its rich space history has influenced nearly every aspect of Huntsville including its burgeoning craft beer scene. Some of the more popular breweries like Straight to Ale, Rocket Republic Brewing, and Salty Nut Brewery all have ties to the space and defense industries.

But Huntsville is more than just spaceships and beer. Positioned in the lower region of the Appalachian Mountains, this city is home to Monte Sano State Park. With 20 miles of trails and 14 miles of biking paths, this park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. And don’t forget about the Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment building. Previously a cotton gin, this 171,000-square-foot building has been turned into the largest privately owned arts facility in the country. With a focus on visual arts, this historic factory has been redeveloped into 148 working studios, six galleries, a theater, and various performance venues.

For the complete article please see

The Craft Beer Trail of Huntsville
From the article on

What is the Trail?
With 12 craft breweries (and growing), the Huntsville, Alabama area is one of the Craft Beer Capitals of the South. For craft beer fans, downtown Huntsville is the epicenter of this exciting movement with seven craft breweries and four craft beer stores located in downtown and others within just a few miles of the city center. Downtown Huntsville, Inc, working closely with the Huntsville CVB, developed and implemented a strategy to connect the downtown breweries and stores via the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail.

How does the Trail work?
To get started on the Downtown Craft Beer Trail, simply pick up a free “Trail Card” from any of the “Trail Stops” or the Visitors Center. You then visit either all seven craft breweries or all four craft beer stores (the “Trail Stops”) and receive a stamp on your Trail Card at each location. Once you have received all the stamps, you are awarded a free Trail Boss bottle opener! The stops do not have to be completed all at once, you are welcome to explore each one over a single weekend or any other time frame that fits your schedule. Every Trail Stop location has Trail Cards available and has a stock of Trail Boss bottle openers, so you can start and finish at any location. We love to see people experiencing the Trail, so share your pictures and journey using Facebook and the hashtag #craftbeertrail

Who is it for?
This is a great experience for any adult. Craft beer is obviously one of the main focuses of the Trail however, most Trail Stops also offer food, entertainment, games or even alternative craft beverages such as locally-distilled spirits. This is a great way to explore Huntsville and experience our artisans and craft beer makers.

At many of the Trail Stops, you can also find unique Huntsville features like quirky murals, eye-catching sculptures and interesting architecture.

Highlights include:
Campus No. 805: a former middle school, the campus now hosts two craft breweries, three bars that feature craft beer, three restaurants, a public performance lawn (great for kids and pet-friendly) and other quirky destinations like a pinball arcade and axe-throwing lanes.

The Downtown Core: Home to four of the Trail Stops, the historic downtown area is a relaxing and interesting place to walk, jog (we love our regular Craft Beer Pub Runs!) or bike among the different Trail Stops. This includes the new Downtown Huntsville BlueBikes—a Pace-operated bikeshare with 12 stops and nearly 100 bikes in the downtown area. Plus, on Thursdays through Sundays (Noon to 11p.m.) the Downtown Huntsville Entertainment District’s open container rules allow you to stroll around downtown and explore unique features like the Secret Art Trail, Painted Pianos, Clinton Row ColorWalk and beautiful Big Spring Park with your favorite craft beverage in hand.

The Craft Beer Trail is a great way to experience the unique and eclectic lifestyle that makes downtown Huntsville such an interesting destination. Come enjoy this unique experience with friends, colleagues or even on your own throughout the year in the Rocket City Center.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Be sure to keep your page up-to-date with current information, photos and events. This increases your chances of being featured elsewhere on the Alabama.Travel site.

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