Tourism Tuesdays Aug. 13, 2019

2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Alabama Restaurant Week kicks off across the state on Aug. 16

Alabama tops the nation in growth rate of overseas visitors

Speakers and award winners named for state tourism conference

Ten reasons you’ll be fascinated by one of America’s most famous Southern states

Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa named one of USA Today’s Top 5 historic hotels

Bicentennial cookbook out

Birmingham Zoo adopts new elephants, opens welcome center

OWA opens coastal Alabama’s first state-of-the-art eSports Center

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The 2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism starts this Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Von Braun Center and Embassy Suites Hotel 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 Restaurant Week kicks off across the state on Aug. 16
More than 150 restaurants will offer lunch and dinner discounts to encourage customers to try new dishes during the seventh annual Alabama Restaurant Week Aug. 16-25, state tourism officials announced.

The two-course lunch specials will range from $10 to $15 while three-course dinners will cost from $10 to $40, not including tax, tip and drink. Restaurants have the option of offering specials at both lunch and dinner or choosing to offer just lunch or just dinner specials.

“This is a great opportunity for people to try restaurants in their hometown and other places in the state while saving money,” said Alabama Tourism Department restaurant week coordinator Courtney Austin. “There are no coupons or discount books to buy or bring. Diners at the participating restaurants simply ask for the Alabama Restaurant Week special.”

Restaurants that have signed up to offer the specials include favorites like Cotton Row in Huntsville, OvenBird in Birmingham, Central in Montgomery, the Original Oyster House in Mobile and the Villaggio Grille in Orange Beach.

Restaurants across the state have been included in Alabama Restaurant Week. Cities with participating restaurants include Huntsville, Madison. Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

A full list of participating restaurants and the specials they are offering can be found at

The Alabama Tourism Department will be using the hash tag #DineAlabama19 on all of its social media channels to promote Alabama Restaurant Week. These social media channels include:,,

Alabama tops the nation in growth rate of overseas visitors
Alabama attracted nearly 10 percent more overseas visitors last year, the highest percentage growth in the nation, officials announced today.

Some 384,000 overseas visitors spent an estimated $585 million in Alabama in 2018 according to a report by Tourism Economics. The research organization compiled the report for Travel South USA, the regional tourism marketing organization for the southern United States.

“Alabama experienced very strong growth in both international air arrivals and foreign credit card activity in 2018,” said Tourism Economic senior economist Geoff Lacher. “Alabama had the highest state growth rate in the entire U.S. The fast growth rates from mature, typically slow-growing markets like Australia (13%), France (12%), the UK (9%) and Germany (7%) is especially impressive.”

Alabama Tourism Department Deputy Director Grey Brennan said the report showed that visitors are traveling to Alabama from every region of the world. “The Alabama Tourism Department and Brand USA, America’s destination marketing organization, worked together on several international promotions in 2018 featuring state tourism destinations including the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, Muscle Shoals recording studios, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail,” said Brennan.

The entire Alabama travel industry grew by more than $1 billion in 2018 to a record of $15.5 billion in expenditures, and increased jobs by 11,984 to some 198,890 employees. The state’s travel industry attracted more than 27.7 million visitors, which paid $954 million in state and local taxes, saving the average Alabama family $507 from additional taxes to maintain current service levels.

The overseas visitor report was conducted by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company that is one of the world’s leading providers of economic analysis, forecasts and consulting advice.

A summary of the report can be found at

Speakers and award winners named for state tourism conference
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the National Travel and Tourism Office Phil Lovas will headline the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism being held Aug. 17-20 at the Embassy Suites in downtown Huntsville, officials announced. Lovas will give an update on key policy issues of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

Mike Elkins, president of Unclaimed Baggage Center, will also be at the conference to give an inside look at successful practices for training within organizations, and Coca-Cola executive Andy Britton will discuss how to get sponsorship support for local events and festivals.

“More than 215 tourism professionals from across the state will be attending this three-day educational conference,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell. “This is our opportunity to bring in experts to present the latest trends in tourism marketing. Tourism is a $15.5 billion industry in Alabama, and it has grown $1.2 billion over the previous year,” he said.

Tourism industry awards will be presented at a banquet during the conference.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Huntsville/Madison County CVB President & CEO Judy Ryals will welcome attendees to the city during the general session on Sunday. Alabama Bicentennial Commission Executive Director Jay Lamar will discuss upcoming events for this year’s bicentennial celebration.

Author Shawna Suckow will discuss trends in the hospitality and tourism industry. President & CEO Chad Emerson of Downtown Huntsville will lead conference attendants on a walking tour of the highlight the continued growth and development of the downtown area. Speaker Kristin Scroggins will do a presentation on how to hire, motivate and retain the best employees.

The staff of the Alabama Tourism Department will present an annual update Sunday afternoon on their current and upcoming marketing campaigns.

17 award winners announced
Seventeen tourism awards will be presented at the awards banquet Monday evening. The awards presentation will be live streamed at 7 p.m. at

Governor Kay Ivey will receive the Tourism Advocate in Government Award.

Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in as the 54th Governor of the State of Alabama on April 10, 2017. Gov. Ivey previously served as Lieutenant Governor and State Treasurer. Following a successful 19 months in office, the people of Alabama made history in November 2018 by electing Gov. Ivey to a full term. She is the first Lt. Governor of Alabama elected to a full term after taking over as governor due to a vacancy in the governor’s office and the first female elected governor in her own right. Gov. Ivey has worked to spur economic development across the state and has served as a strong advocate and ambassador for the tourism industry.

Steve Cox will receive the Tourism Executive of the Year Award.

Cox is one of the cofounders of the International Expeditions tour company based in Alabama. For the past several years, Cox has worked to develop tours in Alabama, especially in the Black Belt area where he is using tourism as a tool for economic development.

George W. Stone will receive a Media Advocate Award.

Stone is the editor-in-chief for National Geographic Traveler. Stone assigned writer Glynn Pogue to travel to Alabama and experience the cultural history of several key places on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The 12-page feature article titled “Southern Routes” was in the February/March issue of the magazine.

Brian Jewell will receive a Media Advocate Award.

Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel, Inc. Jewell directed the publication of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail Travel Guides for 2018 and 2019. He also wrote profile articles on the trail for both of the publications.

Kevin West will receive a Media Advocate Award.

West is a special correspondent for Travel + Leisure and Departures magazine. He wrote a 10-page feature article for the April issue of Travel + Leisure tracing his journey on a road trip through Alabama exploring the legacy and the changing conscience of the state. West visited Florence, Muscle Shoals, Birmingham, Montgomery, the Black Belt area and the Gulf Coast.

Rinne Allen will receive a Media Advocate Award.

Allen is an accomplished photographer whose work has been published in more than 15 books and in national & international magazines. She had more than a dozen photographs published in the 10-page feature article “Southern Pride, Southern Promise” by Kevin West in Travel + Leisure magazine.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice/The Legacy Museum in Montgomery will be named as the Attraction of the Year for 2020.

Designed with hundreds of monuments, the Equal Justice Initiative memorial features sculptures from African and African American artists that explore slavery, segregation, and contemporary issues of racial inequality. A few blocks away from the memorial, EJI opened The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. More than 486,900 visitors have toured the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum since they opened in April 2018 in downtown Montgomery.

Jim Inscoe will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Inscoe is a longtime board member of the Alabama Travel Council. For decades, his leadership and support of Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum have provided a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the world’s only full-scale replica of the Grecian Temple of Hera and other sculptures in a beautiful garden setting.

Grey Brennan will receive the Alabama Tourism Employee of the Year Award.

Brennan joined the Alabama Tourism Department in 2001. He serves as the department’s Deputy Director and head of the marketing department. Alabama’s international marketing program has grown from just one country to multiple international markets under Brennan’s leadership. Alabama had the #1 growth rate in the nation for overseas visitors in 2018.

Kathy Freeman will receive the Alabama Welcome Center Employee of the Year Award.

Freeman has been with the Alabama Welcome Center program for more than 20 years. She strives to make sure that each traveler has a true “Sweet Home Alabama” experience when they enter the Cleburne Welcome Center.

Bill Dowling will receive the Tourism Professional of the Year Award.

Dowling is a 35-year veteran of the hospitality industry with 29 of those years being at properties in Huntsville, Montgomery and Birmingham.

Dowling spent 19 of those years with the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham. He is currently the Director of Sales for the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Birmingham.

Travel South will receive the Tourism Partnership Award.

The Travel South regional marketing organization has a full array of marketing programs that involve Alabama including Global Partner Programs, Travel South FAMs and Travel South Showcases. In addition, Travel South was instrumental in 2018 in getting other states to contribute to a marketing co-op for the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

Frank Tyson will receive the Tourism Employee of the Year Award.

Tyson has worked with the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau for 15 years. As the Information Specialist at the Birmingham CVB’s main downtown visitors center, he has devoted himself to promoting the greater Birmingham area and the state of Alabama.

The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association will receive the Tourism Organization of the Year Award.

The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association represents more than 1,200 members including restaurants, lodging, tourism and hospitality service companies. The association is a long-standing member of the Alabama Tourism Partnership and is a strong legislative advocate for the hospitality industry.

Constitution Hall Park Bicentennial Celebrations will receive the Tourism Event of the Year Award.

Constitution Hall was named by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission as the first Alabama Bicentennial Legacy Project in 2016. The newly renovated Park opened on June 1, 2019, almost 200 years to the day after President James Monroe visited Huntsville to get a first-hand look at his soon-to-be-confirmed newest state.

Jamie Rainey will receive the Rising Star Award.

Rainey is the Director of Tourism Development for Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports. She has excelled at her position, helping to recruit more events to the area. She has also distinguished herself by taking on significant roles with Leadership Tuscaloosa and other area organizations.

The North Alabama Waterfall Trail will receive the Tourism Themed Campaign Award.

The North Alabama Waterfall Trail is a successful marketing campaign created by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. The trail features 14 locations and serves as an excellent guide for travelers in search of scenic locations and hiking destinations.

Ten reasons you’ll be fascinated by one of America’s most famous Southern states
Editor’s note: British travel writer Tina Walsh visited the state in February 2018 on an Alabama Tourism Department press trip. The trip was organized by Surinder Manku, Verna Gates and Brian Jones. Her article “Sweet Home Alabama” appeared in The Mail on Sunday (the UK’s largest weekend newspaper with a 1.2 million circulation), The Mail on Sunday– Scotland (with a 71,000 circulation), and the Mail Online (with 210 million unique monthly visitors).

From the article “Sweet Home Alabama: From the glorious to the grim- ten reasons you’ll be fascinated by one of America’s most famous Southern States”:

Nicknamed the “Heart of Dixie,” Alabama is one of America’s most famous Southern states and played a key role in the American Civil War and the civil rights conflict.

In addition to a fascinating, often dark history, it has vibrant cities, world-class museums, a thriving music scene and 60 miles of white-sand beaches along its Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Here are 10 reasons why you should go.

1. Visit the famous landmarks along the Civil Rights Trail which covers the 14 states that played a pivotal role in the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. In Alabama, they include the church in Birmingham where the Ku Klux Klan murdered four black schoolgirls in 1963; Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where police attacked peaceful marchers on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in March 1965; and Dexter Parsonage, the white clapboard house in Montgomery where Martin Luther King Jr. lived with his family. It is now a museum.

2. Indulge in some musical nostalgia at the Hank Williams Museum in the state capital Montgomery. Williams, America’s first country music superstar, was born in Mount Olive, Alabama, in 1923 and sowed the seeds for what would become rockabilly and other music styles. Exhibits include 20 of his hand-made suits, a 1937 Gibson guitar and his beloved 1952 baby-blue Cadillac.

3. Meet high-school history teacher, tour guide and ‘foot soldier’ Barry McNealy over ribs, chicken fingers and fries at Rib-It-Up, an African-American-owned restaurant in Birmingham. The foot soldiers were ordinary men and women who marched behind the civil-rights movement’s charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King and Joseph E. Lowery, and Barry has some riveting stories to tell.

4. Let your hair down at a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Birmingham’s Marble Ring is dedicated to Alabama-born socialite and novelist Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Zelda was an anti-establishment figure and flapper girl who made a point of flouting the strict rules imposed on the consumption of alcohol in America between 1920 and 1933. She loved a mint julep or two, and the Ring’s come with a kick like a mule. The entrance is via a telephone booth in the adjacent Hot Diggity Dogs restaurant. There are plenty of naughty murals on the walls.

5. Marvel at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. The center, the biggest of its kind in the world, displays real rockets and technological hardware, including examples from the Apollo missions. The Saturn V test rocket, housed in the enormous Davidson Center, is the only one designated as a National Historic Landmark. There are more than 1,500 exhibits.

6. Look out for alligators on a Gators After Dark boat tour with Wild Native Tours, which take place from June to September in the rivers and tributaries around the Gulf Coast city of Spanish Fort. Tours last 90 minutes with commentary from a nature guide.

7. See Alabama through the eyes of a local. Author and tour guide Verna Gates was born and bred in Alabama and organizes bespoke tours, as well as literary, nature and wilderness trips.

8. Try a hot dog at Chris’ Hot Dogs in Montgomery. The city’s main street, Dexter Avenue, has been named the “most historic street in America.” The diner, owned by the same family for more than 100 years, is straight out of central casting, with tiled walls and round red leather bar stools. Notable past patrons include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Elvis Presley.

9. Party in Mobile, a port city on the Gulf Coast known as the “Paris of the South” and home to the original Mardi Gras. Dine on oysters (“fried, stewed and nude”) at Wintzell’s Oyster House on Dauphin Street, a city institution since 1938. Afterwards, take a tour on a trolley bus around the neighborhood’s antebellum houses, built between the end of the 18th Century and the start of the Civil War in 1861.

10. Take a guided tour of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, the recording studio in the town of Sheffield founded in 1969 by four session musicians known as The Swampers. Many of the world’s biggest musical icons, including the Stones, Cher and Paul Simon, have recorded there.

For the complete article please see

Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa named one of USA Today’s Top 5 historic hotels
In today’s travel landscape dotted with sparkling new resorts and ultra-modern skyscraper hotels, a bit of history is often welcome.  A national panel of hotel experts reviewed industry awards and guests reviews to nominate 20 historic hotels. The public voted online for nearly a month to select the Top 10 historic hotels and the poll closed on July 29. The results were announced and The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa made the top 10 list, placed number four.

Here is a link to the Top 10 Historic Hotels:

“This prestigious honor is a true testament to the quality of our associates and the exceptional service they provide every day,” said Scott Tripoli, General Manager of the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa. “With the support of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, we were able to undergo a massive transformation and raise the quality of our resort experiences. We would like to thank all of our past guests and everyone who voted for us in the poll,” said Tripoli. “It is great to bring such prestige with a Top 5 finish to the shores of Mobile Bay and the entire state of Alabama. The Queen of Southern resorts reigns again. ”

Bicentennial cookbook out
The Alabama Bicentennial Commission announces the publication of “Time to Eat, Y’all: Celebrating the Culinary Heritage of Sweet Home Alabama.”

The commemorative book includes recipes and family stories from Gov. Kay Ivey, constitutional officers and elected officials, including every member of the Alabama State Legislature.

Author Danna Standridge will have book signings throughout the state, and Gov. Ivey will help launch them on Sept. 18 when she will join Standridge for an 11 a.m. book-signing event at the Goat Hill Museum Store, located inside the Capitol.

The book features cherished family recipes come from every county in the state. West Indies Salad evokes Alabama’s Gulf Coast, while Sorghum Syrup Skillet Cake is a treasured North Alabama family recipe. Some, such as Executive Chef of Alabama Jim Smith’s Lane Cake, are uniquely Alabama.

Standridge weaves the recipes together with funny, heartwarming stories featuring her own family, which has called Alabama home since 1818. From making do in hard times to graduating from “the children’s table” to soldiers coming home from the war, Standridge shows how food is at the heart of our history no matter what part of the state we call home.

“I hope it encourages everyone to celebrate our first 200 years by cherishing family traditions and making new ones,” Standridge says.

Proceeds from the sale of “Time to Eat, Y’all” ($20) support the Alabama State Capitol.

“Our bicentennial is the perfect time to think about preserving our history,” notes Alabama Bicentennial Commission Executive Director Jay Lamar. “The proceeds from the cookbook will contribute to keeping the Capitol beautiful for generations to come.”

Standridge, an accomplished home cook and avid cookbook collector, is a former teacher and Alabama Cooperative Extension employee. As president and chaplain of the Alabama Legislative Club, she worked to create the Alabama Legislative Art Gallery, which features Alabama artists and is housed in the Capitol. Standridge and her husband, Rep. David Standridge, live in Blount County.

Order “Time to Eat, Y’all” at For information about upcoming “Time to Eat, Y’all” book signings and other bicentennial events, visit

Birmingham Zoo adopts new elephants, opens welcome center
From the article by Bria Bailey on

Two new residents at the Birmingham Zoo recently made their debut for guests.

Male African elephants Luti and Gadze explored the zoo’s habitat for the first time in July. The zoo adopted Luti, 9, and Gadze, 10, from San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The elephants are a part of the zoo’s unique program that specializes in bachelor elephant husbandry.

“Right now, we’re giving them some time to get used to the habitat, heat and humidity before we do any big introductions with Bulwagi. Bulwagi is our 38-year-old male elephant and the anchor of our program,” said Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade, vice president of Living Collections. “Once we see the signs that they’re comfortable, and we expand the amount of time that they’re out, then we start looking at introducing other new variables.”

The Birmingham Zoo is collaborating with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in maintaining species survival programs and helping global elephant conservation efforts.

“There’s so many different threats toward elephants in the wild right now,” Slade said. “Not only are we involved in range country research, looking at the behavior and conservation in animals in country, we also do a lot with 96 Elephants. This campaign is a global conservation effort in making people more aware through education of what is the plight of elephants.”

The elephants aren’t the only additions to the park. For the past four years, the zoo has been working toward updating its welcome center.

“It’s very important to have a welcome center because the zoo has been growing in its attendance,” said Chris Pfefferkorn, Birmingham Zoo president and CEO. “We also needed to grow the amenities and build on our guest experience. Our old building was falling down and could not handle the number of folks that were coming to the zoo.”

The new entrance is now a two-story building that includes a new gift shop, ticket booths with eight lanes, restrooms, two family rooms and a sensory inclusive room for children with autism, along with other features to accommodate guests of all ages.

Several projects are also in the works for the zoo, such as a new golden eagle exhibit, a red panda exhibit and renovations to the flamingo exhibit so guests can better interact with them.

“It’s very exciting to see everybody come back and enjoy the new space,” Pfefferkorn said. “We would love to always be building animal exhibits, but we also have to build people spaces at the same time so that we grow together.”

For the complete article please see

OWA opens coastal Alabama’s first state-of-the-art eSports Center
OWA’s newest entertainment attraction is Clash eSports Center (Clash). It is a high-end video gaming facility located within Downtown OWA—the complex’s entertainment, dining, and shopping area.

Inside the center, visitors will find 26 state-of-the-art PCs, equipped with Corsair chairs, headsets, and everything else needed to complete the ultimate video gaming experience. Grab a group of friends and enjoy Xbox or Nintendo Switch play in Clash’s “living room” setup. From cozy chairs to cup holders, it’s just like being at home—except with larger TVs, more than 50 total games, and the competitive eSports atmosphere!

“Clash eSports Center has allowed OWA to tap into the ever-growing eSports space,” said Kristin Hellmich, OWA’s Director of Marketing/PR. “This addition will continue to make OWA the area’s go-to entertainment destination. With so many games and affordable pricing, it’s a fun and safe place for kids, teens and adults to have fun.”

Clash kicks off its Grand Opening party on Saturday, Aug. 17 with free food and drinks, plenty of game time, and an epic tournament with Clint Comer. Known on social media as “Clintus McGintus,” he is a Twitch broadcaster and YouTuber with more than 45,000 followers and 760,000 subscribers, respectively.

In addition to the Grand Opening festivities on Aug. 17, Clash will be hosting an Apex Legends Tournament with Clintus. Qualifying Rounds for the tournament will start the day before on Friday, Aug. 16. The Top 24 participants in Friday’s Qualifiers will move onto the Finals, where they will compete against Clintus and the rest of the qualifying players during Saturday’s Grand Opening.

Tournament participation is open to the public, pre-registration is $10 (taxes/fees included) and available online at through Aug. 15. Day-of registration on Aug. 16 is $20 (taxes/fees included) per player and subject to availability. Prizes for the tournament are: 1st place – $300; 2nd place – $150; 3rd place – $50.

Saturday’s Finals will begin at 11 a.m. inside Clash. Guests are encouraged to come out and watch, hang out, or even hop on a console and play a few games. Prices for Clash’s PCs and Playstation 4s start at just $8 for one hour. Living room and console play starts at $15 an hour for a group. More information on Clash, its Grand Opening, or how to sign up for the Apex Legends Tournament can be found at and

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Alabama Restaurant Week begins this Fri., Aug. 16 and runs through Sun., Aug. 25. To participate, update or create your Partner page and complete the Alabama Restaurant Week portion of your listing where you will include menu information and request promotional materials.

Ready to sign up? Head over to today to update or create your Partner account for Alabama Restaurant Week.



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