Tourism Tuesdays May 14, 2019

Nominations for the 2019 Tourism Awards deadline extended

Welcome Center greeting tourism partners

Huntsville to host International Downtown Association Summit

Chinese tour group gets crash course in Shoals music

Return of an Alabama classic, the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad

Alabama’s Gulf Coast popular year-round

Memorial Day weekend celebrations across Alabama

2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Alabama Welcome Center Retreat 2019

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Nominations for the 2019 Tourism Awards deadline extended
The deadline for nominations has been extended to May 30, 2019. Please submit your nomination for a tourism professional you feel has gone above and beyond the call of duty. There are 13 categories to choose from: Tourism Hall of Fame, Attraction of the Year, Event of the Year, Governor’s Tourism Award, Tourism Advocate Media, Tourism Advocate Government, Tourism Professional of the Year, Tourism Executive of the Year, Tourism Organization of the Year, Tourism Partnership, Welcome Center Employee of the Year, ATD Employee of the Year, Rising Star, and Themed Campaigns.

Here is a list of past “Attraction of the Year” winners through the years:
2008 – Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center
2009 – The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
2010 – Alabama Music Hall of Fame
2011 – Barber Motorsport Park & Museum
2012 – The Birmingham Civil Rights District
2013 – The Museum of Alabama
2014 – USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
2015 – Gulf Quest National Maritime Museum
2016 – Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
2017 – The Park at OWA
2018 – Gulf State Park

If you have any questions please contact Cynthia Flowers at 334-242-4413 or by email:

Welcome Center greeting tourism partners
The Alabama Tourism Department-Welcome Center Program will be welcoming guests throughout the state to increase the awareness of the economic, social and cultural impact that tourism has on the local, regional and statewide communities. We invite our tourism partners to participate at each Center from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. (central standard time) by bringing special promotions, coupons, etc., and share in our hospitality on the following dates:

May 15: Cleburne Welcome Center
May 16: Sumter Welcome Center
May 23: Ardmore Welcome Center
May 30: DeKalb Welcome Center

Please contact the Welcome Center managers to RSVP.

Huntsville to host International Downtown Association Summit
Huntsville will host the International Downtown Association Place Branding & Placemaking Summit. This year, Huntsville was selected to be part of an impressive lineup of cities where the International Downtown Association (IDA) will host topical conferences around the globe!

Huntsville was chosen because it excels at telling the city’s story through creative branding and innovative placemaking.

With a vision of creating intelligently designed, innovative, and vibrant city centers, the IDA is a network of community leaders who seek to nurture and advocate downtown neighborhoods around the world.

According to IDA, it requires special attention to revitalize and sustain thriving downtowns; therefore, many cities began forming nonprofit management associations that would fulfill the needs of urban centers to enhance growth, host community events, and market the area as a whole.

Through the network at IDA, members have access to numerous resources including research tools, continuing education, trade publications, and a global network of like-minded individuals who are committed to making downtowns prosperous.

Placemaking and place branding
All it takes is a quick walk through downtown Huntsville to see what makes it so special. Among its colorful alleyways, musical trees, hidden murals, and eclectic annual events, the story of the Rocket City is told in a way that leaves a lasting impression.

Place branding is exactly what it sounds like—the process of creating a recognizable and unique brand that tells the story of your city. As one of the key focuses at the summit, an interactive place-branding session will happen where attendees can engage in real-time techniques to effectively brand an area. Successful place branding will turn a location into a destination by helping the world see the area’s vision and mission with each encounter.

Public spaces within urban areas are greatly enhanced with the addition of assets like parks, pop-up markets, rentable bikes, book stations, music, art, and other similar elements. This is where placemaking takes center stage.

Placemaking is the thought and execution that goes into reimagining public spaces. There are several examples in downtown Huntsville including the Clinton Avenue Color Walk, Washington Square Park, the Clinton Avenue piano, the musical trees on the square, and the many murals in the heart of downtown.

Special events are taking place during the summit
Wine tastings, bike tours, yoga sessions, art walks, concerts, panels, and hands-on creative sessions—these are all things attendees of the Place Branding & Placemaking Summit can expect (and much more).

From the moment they step foot off the plane and are welcomed into Huntsville, guests will see what makes our city one-of-a-kind.

The conference is happening May 15-17.

For the more information please see

Chinese tour group gets crash course in Shoals music
From the article by Russ Corey on

American music fans from Shanghai, China, got a taste of Muscle Shoals music Tuesday with tours of FAME Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

While it wasn’t the first group of Chinese tourists to visit Muscle Shoals Sound at 3614 Jackson Highway, it is the first group brought in by the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau.

One of the studio’s founders, bassist David Hood, said they’ve hosted tourists from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

His wife, Judy Hood, said the studio has hosted guests from 44 countries outside the United States.

David Ming Zhang, of the Shanghai Media Group, organized the trip for members of Shanghai Gorgeous Culture, a group of entrepreneurs who visit other countries to learn about their cultures.

Zhang said the visit to the Shoals is part of a larger tour that included stops in New Orleans, Louisiana, Memphis, Tennessee, Birmingham, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, and various sites in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Chinese people are very familiar with American rock ‘n’ roll and blues, but not this place,” he said. “This place is very special.”

The Chinese visitors were joined by two visitors from France and two from Frankfort, Germany, who were visiting a variety of cities known for their music history. There were also visitors from Colorado and Louisiana on the 10:30 a.m. tour.

Ralf Schneider and his wife, Nicole, have made other trips to the U.S. to visit music sites, but this was their first visit to the Shoals. The Schneiders’ tour began in New Orleans and includes stops in Kentucky to hear some bluegrass music, in Nashville and Atlanta, Georgia.

“I’m a musician, and we play a lot of these songs,” said Schneider, a guitarist who also plays blues harp.

Zhang said Chinese people are more familiar with American pop music than the type of music Muscle Shoals is known for, but tour guides Terrell Benton and Chase Brandon gave them a 50-minute lesson in the Muscle Shoals sound.

The tour began in the studio basement, which is plastered with the covers of albums recorded at the studio. The group watched the trailer for the “Muscle Shoals” documentary, and Benton discussed the first three sessions after the studio opened in 1969 — Cher, Lulu and Boz Scaggs.

In the studio proper, Brandon discussed some of the more popular songs recorded at the studio, playing clips that drew reactions of recognition from the group.

Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau President Susann Hamlin said the group arrived Monday and will leave Wednesday.

She said it’s the first group Zhang has brought into the area.

Hamlin said if the tour group had a good visit, it could lead to additional visits from larger groups.

She said the Chinese are also big fans of American country music.

Benton said the majority of Muscle Shoals Sound’s tourists come from Europe, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Judy Hood said the renovated studio has hosted about 50,000 visitors since it opened in 2017.

For the complete article please see

Return of an Alabama classic, the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad
From the article by Bob Carlton on

A spring and summer classic is back in season at Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club.

The restaurant’s famous Hot and Hot Tomato Salad returned to the menu on May 3, but its arrival this year was not without a little suspense.

Hot and Hot Fish Club executive chef Chris Hastings typically gets his early-season tomatoes from growers in Immokalee and Ruskin, FL., by way of his broker at the Alabama Farmers Market on Finley Avenue West.

“There are certain tomato farmers down in that part of the world that allow the tomatoes to vine-ripen a little bit more so that they develop a little more flavor,” Hastings says. “And they pack these tomatoes by hand, lay these tomatoes in boxes very carefully, just like little cherubs.

“When they arrive on the market, they’re red, they’re beautiful, they cut beautifully, and they taste just exactly like a good tomato should — good acid, juicy, not mealy, all those things that you want in a really, really good tomato.”

But this year, after Hastings discovered his longtime tomato supplier had retired, he had to scramble to find a new supplier for his Florida tomatoes.

“It took me a while to finally get it figured out, but the good news is, the tomatoes that we picked up are unbelievable,” Hastings says. “And all the other components of the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad are all there, as well — the beautiful okra, beautiful field peas, and then, of course, all the sweet corn coming out of Florida right now is just unbelievable.”

The tomato salad has been a seasonal favorite at Hot and Hot Fish Club since Hastings and his wife, Idie, opened their restaurant on Birmingham’s Southside in 1995. It is typically available from early May through the end of summer.

Featured on the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” the Hot and Hot Tomato Salad features a small stack of sliced tomatoes, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette, and served with field peas, corn kernels and fried okra and crowned with applewood-smoked bacon. It is available as an appetizer for $16.

However, this will be the last season for Hot and Hot Fish Club diners to enjoy the tomato salad in the location where the restaurant and its iconic dish began 24 years ago.

On Sept. 30, the Hastingses will close the doors at the restaurant’s longtime home at 2180 11th Court South to move into a new location at 2901 Second Ave. South in the Pepper Place development. The restaurant should reopen in its new space a couple of weeks after they close the old one, Hastings says.

“The tomato salad naturally goes away at the end of September, and we will also turn out a light at the end of the day on Sept. 30th and then begin the move into our new location,” Hastings says. “So, it’s very serendipitous in that way. And very poignant.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama’s Gulf Coast popular year-round
From the article by Victor Block on The

My first thought was that I must have taken a wrong turn. The scene outside the car windows — Dollar Stores, Waffle Houses and tattoo parlors — hardly matched the almost poetic name of my destination: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala. Small, aging wooden houses, some of which had seen better days, lined the narrow lanes off the main road.

Before long, though, I came upon glitzy high-rise condominium buildings standing shoulder to shoulder along a broad stretch of sugar-white sand. Then it dawned on me: I was in a something-for-everyone kind of place.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, perched on the southernmost tip of Alabama, combine the usual list of to-dos and to-sees of many sun-and-sand destinations, but they have some unique surprises.

Folks who want a respite from the sun can explore a historic fort or museums devoted to Native Americans or naval aviation. For foodies, the area’s restaurants range from elegant to beach-dive casual. And those who like to commune with nature have plenty of ways to do so.

For beach bums and active hikers
Of course, the beach, lapped by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is the reason most people visit Gulf Shores, a town of about 12,000 residents, and nearby Orange Beach, about half that size.

Between the two towns lies what many locals consider to be the best of Alabama’s 22 state parks: Gulf State Park. While the park is home to the shortest stretch of beach in the region, its other claims to fame account for its reputation and popularity. Nine distinct ecosystems in its 6,000-plus acres include pine forests, coastal hardwood swamps and freshwater marshes.

A 27-mile backcountry trail complex, accessible to people with varying abilities, leads walkers past boggy streams and three spring-fed freshwater lakes. Hikers may spot white-tailed deer, an alligator basking in the sun or even a bobcat.

The park’s nature center and butterfly garden offer a glimpse of colorful wildlife. Boats and fishing gear are available for rent, as well as lakeside cabins, cottages and campsites.

Museums, cruises, fishing
Nearby Fort Morgan, a state historic site, has a 14-mile seashore. Visitors can sit on the beach, bike, fish, kayak, picnic or visit a pentagon-shaped fort, completed in 1834. The structure occupies a strategic location, where Mobile Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, and was built to strengthen the coastal defense of the United States following the War of 1812.

The site contains historic military buildings; artillery batteries constructed between 1895 and 1904; and a museum displaying uniforms, weapons, photographs and letters of solders who served there. To top it off, the fort fronts the same kind of broad, gentle, snow-hued beach that is characteristic of the area.

If you prefer to take to the sea without any effort, you can book a sunset, dolphin-watching or dinner cruise instead of kayaking or paddle boarding.

For fishing, some try their luck off a pier that stretches 1,540 feet over the Gulf of Mexico.

Snorkelers and divers who prefer to be in, rather than above, the water can explore a system of artificial reefs with experiences geared to everyone from children and beginners to advanced divers.

Golfers will find 14 courses in the area, including Craft Farms and Kiva Dunes, which rank high on Golf Digest’s “best courses” lists.

Plenty for history buffs
For those who want to learn, not burn, a good place to start is the Gulf Shores Museum, located in a historic beach house. Permanent exhibits tell the story of 19th-century settlers in the area and of hurricanes, including how they originate and how a community rebuilds after a storm.

Housed in a former school built in 1910, the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum provides introductions to the area’s Native American and fishing heritages.

Battleship Memorial Park, about an hour away in Mobile, is home to the massive USS Alabama, which saw action for 37 months during World War II, as well as a wartime submarine and a collection of historic aircraft.

An hour drive in the other direction leads to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL, the largest such museum in the world. Despite its name, the collection of more than 250 aircraft represents every military branch.

The complex also is home to the famous Blue Angels, the aerobatic team of aviators from the Navy and Marines that thrills onlookers.

Not surprisingly, the area has been recognized and highly ranked in “best of” lists compiled by the likes of USA TodayReader’s Digest and Travel + Leisure.

Battleships, historic airplanes, golf and a historic fort would seem to have little in common with an inviting beach destination. That’s the point.

Inclusion on “Top 10,” “Best Places” and “Most Beautiful” lists is based upon the magnificent stretches of beach as well as the long list of other attractions that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer those who visit.

As one repeat visitor told me, “I came here the first time for the beaches. Now I return for everything else.”

If you go
Given the nature-friendly environment of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, the most inviting place to stay fits very comfortably into that theme.

The Lodge at Gulf State Park is a trendsetter when it comes to sustainability and environmental protection. In small ways and large, its owners have incorporated numerous innovative efforts into its design, construction and operation.

The building contains 20 percent recycled materials, and three-quarters of construction waste was recycled rather than going to a landfill.

The lodge was designed in a way to protect the sand dunes. Invasive plants were replaced with native species that thrive without irrigation, chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Condensate water from the guestroom air conditioning system is filtered and used in the swimming pool.

Straws in the restaurant are made of reusable wood, and words on pens in guest rooms bear the message, “I used to be a newspaper.” Rates at the Lodge begin at $129.

Of an estimated 200 restaurants in the area, only a couple of handfuls are chain eateries. The upscale Perch dining room in the Lodge at Gulf State Park has great views of the Gulf. Try the Gulf gumbo ($9) or jumbo prawns ($20). Stuffed quail ($28) is one of several land options.

First-time diners at Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar soon understand why the modest eatery is a local legend. Many regulars go for the signature fried shrimp ($17). Others opt for the “create your own” seafood platter (from $21) or fried chicken basket ($9-$13).

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is a year-round vacation destination. During summer, the sea breeze provides relief from high temperatures and humidity.

Winters generally are sunny and mild, with daily highs close to 60 degrees. The ocean is warm from May through November, with temperatures often in the low 80s.

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 a fireworks show at OWA in Foley. 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

Montgomery Symphony Jubilee Pops Concert- Montgomery
May 24 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 concert. Free Admission.

Coalfest- Brilliant
May 24-25 in Brilliant. Live bands, food, arts & crafts, and children’s activities at this annual festival. Free Admission.

RXR Festival- Alexander City
May 24-25 at The Town Green at Russell Crossroads. Coolers, lawn chairs and dogs on leashes are welcome. Local and regional musical Free Admission.

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival- Decatur
May 25-26 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.

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 6th annual Pepsi Beach Ball Drop. This year 5,000 beach balls will be released at the ball drop. Free Admission.

LuLu Palooza- Gulf Shores
May 25 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 25 at Smith Lake Park. Live entertainment, arts & crafts and food vendors are part of this annual event on the lake. Free admission.

Living History Memorial Day Tribute- Gulf Shores
May 25 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. A wreath laying ceremony is planned for the Tecumseh. Artillery, small arms and other presentations will give visitors a glimpse of what military life was like at Fort Morgan through history. Admission Charged.

Memorial Day Weekend Celebration at OWA- Foley
May 25 at Downtown OWA. Memorial Day celebration with a spectacular firework show and the kickoff to OWA’s summer-long nighttime DJ Downtown OWA admission is free.

Memorial Day at the American Village- Montevallo
May 27 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.

2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The 2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is August 17-20, at the Von Braun Center and Embassy Suites in Huntsville. 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.

Registration and Reservations at

Alabama Welcome Center Retreat 2019
Alabama Welcome Center Retreat 2019 will be held at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, October 27-29. 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. The Welcome Centers close so each employee can participate in this educational retreat.

Information and Registration coming soon!

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Would you like to be featured in the 2020 Alabama Vacation Guide? Login to your Partner account and submit your events by June 30, 2019. Be sure to include an image.


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