Tourism Tuesdays October 2, 2018


Alabama Tourism Department’s 2018 Fall Tourism Workshop

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

Registration open for the 2018 Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee Rural Tourism Conference

Gov. Ivey announces holiday schedule

Help preserve 16th Street Baptist Church

Airbnb’s largest Alabama markets set for financial windfalls after authorizing tax agreements

NPR: This is Muscle Shoals – The Playlist

Alabama Music Hall of Fame manager announces retirement

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism celebrates 25 years

Alabama non-profit launches new website with interactive trip-planning tools for anglers, adventurers

Smith Mountain added to birding trail

Gonzalez named Visit Mobile Vice President of Marketing & Communications

“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 an opportunity to showcase Alabama’s communities with the devoted staff of the Alabama Welcome Centers. Each center will close 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.

Registration open for the 2018 Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee Rural Tourism Conference
Registration is open for the 2018 Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee Rural Tourism Conference, which will be hosted at the historic Pitman Theatre in downtown Gadsden on Oct. 22-24. The Pitman Theatre will be the site of all educational sessions and the host hotel is the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. Speakers will share their experience and expertise on a range of topics including social media training, agritourism and wineries, marketing to millenials, and tourism and the digital movement.

Conference events will also be held at Noccalula Falls Park, Back Forty Beer Company and the Gadsden Museum of Art. An early bird rate of $95 per person is available until Oct. 5. Registration is $150 per person after Oct. 5. To register for the Alabama-Mississippi-Tennessee Rural Tourism Conference, visit

Gov. Ivey announces holiday schedule
State government offices will be closed Nov. 22 and 23 (Thursday and Friday) for Thanksgiving and Dec. 24 and 25 (Monday and Tuesday) for Christmas.

Help preserve 16th Street Baptist Church
16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is 1 of 20 finalists across the U.S. competing for preservation funding. Lift your voice to restore and protect this landmark symbol of civil rights. Vote for 16th Street Baptist Church every day through Oct. 26.

Voting Instructions: On the Partners in Preservation voting website, first-time voters click “sign up” and follow the prompts. Repeat voters click “log in.” On the Birmingham page, click the plus button to 5 votes, click “confirm 5/5 votes,” then click “submit 5 votes.”

Click here to vote:
•Remember you can vote daily for the 16th Street Baptist Church through Oct. 26.

This $2 million grant project is a collaboration between The National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Express and Main Street America. Voters have through Oct. 26 to vote for their favorite location and then the grant money will be apportioned to the top vote getters. The 20 sites chosen this year in some way reflect the country’s diversity, multiculturalism and fight for equality.

•Each site will host an open house weekend from Oct. 19-21 during which they open their doors to the local community and encourage people to come by and vote.  The winners will be announced on Oct. 29.

Airbnb’s largest Alabama markets set for financial windfalls after authorizing tax agreements
From the article by John Sharp on
Gulf Shores is the latest city to approve an agreement with the popular home-sharing app Airbnb, and is expected to be a financial boon for the coastal city.

The approval, could add more than $300,000 in lodging tax revenues for the city that ranks No. 1 in Alabama when it comes to Airbnb business.

The action in Gulf Shores comes less than one month after Birmingham, the No. 2 market for Airbnb, approved a similar agreement that allows the Magic City to recoup nearly $100,000 in tax receipts.

“We recognize the importance of our city to be able to work collaboratively with companies like Airbnb,” said Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft in a statement. “This agreement will provide Airbnb hosts with a seamless lodging tax collection process and will ensure our community continues to benefit from this important revenue stream.”

Gulf Shores, among the state’s most popular vacation destinations, attracted more than 27,000 Airbnb guests who generated $4.9 million in revenues for hosts, according to the hospitality platform.

Based on the city’s overall 13 percent lodging tax, Gulf Shores generates more than $630,000 annually from Airbnb business. Of that 13 percent, 7 percent goes directly to the city or $343,000, with the remainder going to the state and Baldwin County.

Tax agreements
A similar tax agreement was approved in Orange Beach in August 2017. Orange Beach, located just east of Gulf Shores, is Airbnb’s third most popular market in Alabama.

“We are getting $20,000 to $30,000 a month in lodging that we otherwise were not receiving before from Airbnb,” said Ford Handley, the city of Orange Beach’s Finance Director.

Handley said that Airbnb, during its first year under its agreement with the city, generated $238,000 in lodging tax revenue. Orange Beach has the same lodging tax rate as Gulf Shores.

“We had caught wind that they were starting to collect lodging taxes on behalf of several cities so we reached out to Airbnb over a year ago,” said Handley.

Indeed, San Francisco-based Airbnb has increased the number of cities in which it has endorsed a tax partnership to collect and remit taxes on its bookings. Overall, it has 370 U.S. tax partnerships, with seven in Alabama.

Mobile and Huntsville are the two largest markets for Airbnb without an agreement. Auburn and Tuscaloosa, two university cities that experienced a surge in home-sharing during graduation ceremonies in May, both have tax agreements in place with Airbnb.

Fairhope, which is Airbnb’s seventh most popular host city drawing, does not have an agreement but is currently considering one, according to a city official. The fast-growing Baldwin County city attracted 4,3700 guests and $602,000 in revenues in 2017.

Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop, director of economic and community development in Fairhope, said the city is “working on some internal/staffing adjustments so that we can implement and enforce doing this.”

In Foley, which is located just north of Gulf Shores, city officials are also considering a more general agreement that addresses all “residential properties and their use as short-term” rentals, according to City Administrator Mike Thompson. Foley, according to the company’s 2017 data, had 1,500 guest arrivals and generated $154,000 of income from guests. The city is Airbnb’s 13th most popular market.

Said Thompson, “Obviously, this is a more pressing issue for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, but Foley is seeing some of this activity as well.”

Business licenses
Handley, in Orange Beach, said one of the concerns they have with Airbnb is the lack of disclosure of properties doing business with the home-sharing app. As a result, Handley said, the city is unsure if Airbnb’s hosts have business licenses to operate within the city.

“We do our own audit and I feel confident we have 90 percent licensed, but we don’t get numbers from the people they collect from,” said Handley.

Gulf Shores, according to its agreement with Airbnb, specifically cites that the company will “not identity hosts/properties except on an anonymized basis” and that that Airbnb is not “required” to produce personal identifiable information regarding its hosts or guests.

Handley said the revenue boost is worth forgoing the business license.

Airbnb has entered into markets with ordinances and strict regulations, but most are large metropolitan cities. In Chicago, for instance, the city has an ordinance requiring home-sharing sites like Airbnb and Texas-based HomeAway to obtain a license before doing business so that city officials can track and limit the number of units rented on a short-term basis.

“When you’re talking about $238,000 of revenue they can collect and remit to us, that is more of a benefit to our citizens than trying to find a $132 business license,” Handley said. “But, of course, I’d love to get the information. We’ll continue to work for that in the future.”

In Fairhope, Botop said the city’s code enforcement team is screening Airbnb properties weekly. She said that the city only allows short-term rentals in areas zoned for them, but that they are prohibited in many residentially-zoned neighborhoods.

She said that all rental must carry a business license.

“It is not illegal for properties outside the allowable short-term districts to advertise on Airbnb, but it is illegal for them to accept more than one rental more frequently than every 30 days,” she said.

The activity by cities to enter into Airbnb agreements comes about two years after the Alabama lawmakers entered into an agreement to collect a 4 percent lodging tax the state assesses on all rentals.

It’s unclear how much the state, or any city, collects from Airbnb competitors. HomeAway, based out of Austin and offering vacation rentals, does not have a similar agreement in place with the state of Alabama.

For the complete article please see

NPR: This is Muscle Shoals – The Playlist
From the article by Bruce Warren on

We were recently reminded of the enduring and powerful musical legacy of the Muscle Shoals sound by a new collection, Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Sound. This collection brings together musicians including Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton, Grace Potter, Michael McDonald, Jason Isbell and many others performing songs that were recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala. throughout the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Etta James and more. This new collection was recorded in one of the two major studios, FAME, where many of these original songs were first recorded. The other studio where many classic sides and albums were recorded was Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

During an interview on Weekend Edition in 2003, David Hood, the legendary bass guitarist in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Ala., told the story of how the musicians came up with the name for the studio. At the time, there was already a studio in Muscle Shoals called FAME, co-founded by Rick Hall, that was already recording R&B and soul artists. Hall and his fellow Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section musicians had left FAME to start their own studio. “There was a Motown sound, there was a Nashville sound, there was a Memphis sound, and I said, ‘Muscle Shoals Sound,'” Hood told NPR’s Debbie Elliott. “And we all thought that was just the funniest thing. And then after a bit we thought, ‘Heck, why not?'”

And so began another chapter in the incredible evolution of a city in Alabama with two incredible recording studios — Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and FAME Studios — that would shape the sound of some of the greatest music ever made.

The founding Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, nicknamed The Swampers, included Jimmy Johnson (guitar), bassist David Hood (father of Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers), Roger Hawkins (drums), and Barry Beckett (keyboards). The Swampers were mentioned in the lyrics of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” and are featured on the cover of Cher’s 1969 album, 3614 Jackson Highway. Rick Hall, who co-founded FAME with Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford and was known as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” passed away in January at the age of 85.

Muscle Shoals and FAME became synonymous with the sounds of Southern soul and R&B. Throughout the ’60s, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Candi Staton, Etta James, The Staple Singers and others recorded there. Over time, the sound and feel and vibe of the studios became a calling card for pop, rock, and country acts to record including Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, The Osmonds. More recent recordings have been done there by the Drive-By Truckers, Band of Horses, The Black Keys, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Jason Isbell.

For the complete article  and link to the playlist please see

Alabama Music Hall of Fame manager announces retirement
From the article by Russ Corey on

Dixie Griffin has seen good times and bad times during her 21-year tenure at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

This month marks five years since the state music attraction reopened with Griffin as manager. Last week during the board of directors’ quarterly meeting, Griffin announced her retirement.

“This board has supported me as I put new goals and events in place,” Griffin said. “I am forever grateful for this experience and the friendships that have come with it.”

Griffin said her retirement will be effective Jan. 1. Board members Judy Ryals, Judy Hood and State Tourism Director Lee Sentell were appointed to a search committee tasked with finding a new director. The board wants to complete its search by Oct. 15 and have a new director in place by the end of October so that person would have a couple of months to work alongside Griffin.

The director’s position will offer a salary between $40,000-$50,000.

“What Dixie managed to do was reinvent the place,” Sentell said. “We’ve all had some rich experiences here these past five years.”

Griffin said she came to work in 1995, about five years after the Alabama Music Hall of Fame opened. She retired about 16 years later as the attraction was about to be closed. When the state agreed to reopen the facility in October 2013, Griffin was tapped to be the director.

She said there have been many high points since the hall of fame reopened, but perhaps the biggest was the community’s acceptance of the attraction. Griffin said they were able to complete several projects, many at no or very little cost, due to volunteers and donations of materials and labor. She also praised her small, but hardworking staff.

Then there were the concerts in the lobby that were so well attended, second shows had to be scheduled. Those concerts helped raise $3,000-$6,000 each.

“People finally realized how important it was and wanted to be a part of it,” Griffin said. “It’s been a great, big dream come true.”

When Sentell hired her, Griffin said he told her she could work as long as she wanted. Nobody really expected it to remain open as long as it did and interest would wane once the buzz from the “Muscle Shoals” documentary wore off. The community, however, realized that promoting the Shoals’ music history could be a money maker.

“We can hire another director, but we can never replace Dixie,” Hood said. “It’s all in her head and her heart.”

Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood said he appreciated the relationship Griffin helped cultivate with the city.

He said Griffin made the hall of fame a place where people wanted to come and gave them multiple reasons to come to the hall of fame throughout the year.

“We’re grateful for what she’s done to make us a part of the hall of fame family, the way she connects to us,” Underwood said. “She made it very interactive and a part of our lives and Tuscumbia has benefited from that. We wouldn’t trade our relationship with her for anything.”

For the complete article please see

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism celebrates 25 years
In 1993, the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) was founded as the official destination marketing organization for the areas of Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan. In 2010, the CVB was renamed Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism; and this year, the organization is celebrating 25 years of providing a leadership role in supporting and promoting the Alabama Gulf Coast. The organization has also chosen this momentous occasion to refresh its brand with an updated logo and return to the time-honored tagline “Alabama’s White-Sand Beaches.”

“This landmark year not only symbolizes the hard work and dedication of our staff here at the CVB, but also of the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, present and past board members, and our industry partners,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. “We are so fortunate to live in a community where leaders and business owners are able to put aside competition for the betterment of our beaches, especially in times of need.”

Over the course of the CVB’s history, there have been countless times where the future of the destination has relied on the collaboration of city leaders and business owners. In 2016, the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, alongside the CVB, partnered to implement the Leave Only Footprints campaign after recognizing the need to promote continued sustainability in order to insure the safety of guests and native sea turtles, and to keep the beaches pristine. Today, these efforts have been recognized by destinations around the country.

“The city of Orange Beach has matured into a true destination for family-friendly vacationers seeking to make memorable experiences while promoting and protecting Alabama’s beaches for all to enjoy,” said City of Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon. “The regional Leave Only Footprints initiative is a great example of teamwork and effort coming together for an improved product.”

The creation of the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission in 2005 is another example of the fruitful partnerships between Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Coastal Alabama Business Chamber and local high schools.

“Since starting with the CVB 16 years ago, so much has changed, from forming the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission in 2005 to expanding our meetings offerings with The Lodge at Gulf State Park in 2018,” said Beth Gendler, vice president of sales for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism and Sports Commission. “I count it as a blessing to play a part in growing sports and meetings while watching athletes and business travelers convert to leisure guests when they fall in love with Alabama’s beaches.”

In 1993, there weren’t many who knew the beauty of Alabama’s beaches. The area housed about 7,500 lodging units along with a few restaurants and shops. Today, there are more than 17,000 lodging units as well as hundreds of shops and restaurants. What were once sleepy beach towns in 1993 now welcome more than six million visitors a year. This growth has not only benefitted visiting families and friends, but the local community as well.

“Over the past 25 years, the CVB has played an integral part in the growth of our tourism industry, which, in turn, enhances our economy and the overall quality of life for our residents,” said City of Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft. “They work diligently to promote our local businesses, organizations and annual events to the millions of guests that visit Gulf Shores each year. We are grateful for the services the CVB provides to our community, visitors and local organizations and businesses.”

Many longstanding business owners, like Brian Harris, president/CEO of Harris Properties, have been operating in the destination long before the creation of the CVB, and have enjoyed watching the growth over the past several decades.

“My parents bought the first beach cottage in 1983 when I was just four months old; and we still have guests that remember renting from my mom and dad,” said Harris. “We have been excited to see the growth because it allows us to share our beautiful beaches with guests from across the country.”

The rise in tourism has also encouraged people from all over the country to start a business and make a new home on Alabama’s beaches. Jennifer Guthrie opened Glow Yoga in May 2013 to provide a feeling of escape, restoration and stress relief for both locals and visitors.

“For us, tourists are like old friends and family that visit us repeatedly when they are down on their annual or seasonal trips,” said Guthrie. “We’ve actually had many tell us they plan their vacation to Gulf Shores because of our studio which is an incredible compliment.”

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism will celebrate 25 phenomenal years on Nov. 2 at the Coastal Alabama Chamber’s First Friday Forum. The event will be held at Orange Beach Event Center starting at 7:30 a.m. The CVB will be recognizing the efforts contributed by the community as well as unveiling its new look which includes a new logo, tagline and color palette. This event is open to Chamber members and invited guests. For media who are interested in attending this event and/or interviewing local business owners, please contact Mary Sergeant, communications coordinator for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.

The CVB has also launched a 25th Anniversary Beach Vacation Sweepstakes in celebration of this occasion. Please visit to learn more about the sweepstakes and the history of the CVB.

Alabama non-profit launches new website with interactive trip-planning tools for anglers, adventurers
A revamped Alabama Scenic River Trail website ( is bringing fresh maps, user data and site-specific logistical information to the public.

The website will make it easier for anyone to navigate the more than 5,300 miles of waterways included in the river trail. A central feature of the new site is an interactive map, which links to more detailed maps and information about waterways across the state.

Much of the site-specific logistical information included on the website was collected by the Alabama Scenic River Trail in 2017. The publication of the new site brings the information to a single source online.

“We were like a giant museum collection operating out of a storage shed for a long time” said Executive Director Jay Grantland. “Now we have a great show- case that is worthy of all we have to show. I urge anyone curious about our state’s recreation or history to go enjoy the unique knowledge and experience we have built into this new website.”

The launch of the website coincides with the launch of an organizational newsletter, which users can sign up for using a “newsletter” button on the new site. The website also allows users create profiles and to submit photos, maps and stories for each waterway that is part of the river trail.

Smith Mountain added to birding trail
From the article by Cliff Williams on

It was supposed to be on the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail when the trail opened in 2011 but it was not. Now Smith Mountain joins one of nearly 300 official birding locations in Alabama.

“The Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail launched in 2011 without Smith Mountain, as construction was not completed and volunteers were unsure when it would be completed,” Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail project manager Joanne Ninesling said. “We reluctantly removed Smith Mountain from the opening group. Then spring 2017 applications were accepted. In late 2017 and 2018 we welcomed Smith Mountain. It only took nine months to publicly announce this.”

Smith Mountain and its geologic formations already attract visitors according to Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail’s Harold Banks.

“This place is busy on the weekends,” Banks said. “There are 7 miles of trails.”

The Lakeshore, Tower Loop, Little Smith Mountain and Island Hop trails take visitors across the exposed quartzite rock forming part of what is called “The Devil’s Backbone.”

“It is in between two fault lines and in some places less than a mile apart,” Banks said. “From the tower you can see it. This formation brought gold bearing ore that was mined until the gold rush in California.”

Being placed on the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail will bring even more people to visit the area. It is none too soon for birding enthusiasts like Joe Watts with the Alabama Birding Trail and the Birmingham Audubon Society as Smith Mountain joins the rank of other fire towers in the state.

“We are happy to have Smith Mountain as part of the birding trail,” Watts said. “We are officially welcoming another fire tower at Flagg Mountain later this month.”

Wednesday local birders were joined by guests from Birmingham Audubon Society and others from the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail. Birds spotted on this excursion included turkey vultures and pine warblers.

Smith Mountain joins many other birding locations on the map for birders to view the many types of birds in the state.

“It becomes one of 281 locations in Alabama,” Watts said. “Alabama has more than 450 species of birds and you can regularly see some 350. It is still a lot of birds.”

Watts said other states may have only 200 to 300 birds in the state.

“We really are one of the great hotspots that does not get much attention,” Watts said.

For the complete article please see

Gonzalez named Visit Mobile Vice President of Marketing & Communications
Visit Mobile announces the hiring of Emily Eiland Gonzalez as Vice President of Marketing and Communications.

Gonzalez brings a wealth of knowledge in marketing and communications steeped in tourism in the Coastal Alabama area. For the past 9 years, Gonzalez has worked for Kaiser Realty by Wyndham Vacation Rentals, serving the last 5 years as Senior Director of Marketing and Public Relations in Gulf Shores for the Alabama area. Previously, she worked as the Marketing Director at Cumulus Broadcasting in Mobile for 5 years.

Bringing experience in tourism, hospitality, marketing, public relations, leisure, advertising, branding, social media, digital marketing, analytics, communications and leadership, the position is a perfect match. Gonzalez excels at connecting the leisure traveler to Coastal Alabama and engaging with stakeholders, chambers, CVB’s, city officials and is a servant to the community and tourism industry with leadership on various boards and committees. Gonzalez was a great asset to Gulf Shores/Orange Beach during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis, teaming with colleagues and appearing on CNN, Fox News as well as other networks to share their recovery story.

Gonzalez graduated from the University of Alabama with Cum Laude honors.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
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