Tourism Tuesdays Aug. 6, 2019

2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Alabama Restaurant Week 2019

Voters want longer summers, survey says

Top London publication features Alabama Road Trip

Local hotel’s recognition is also recognition of a growing local tourism industry

New hotel opens in downtown Montgomery

Muscle Shoals road trip highlighted on Sounds Like Nashville music site

Dauphin’s in Mobile is one of the most scenic restaurants in America

World War II ship to dock in Decatur

New location for Freedom Riders National Monument Interim Visitors Center in Anniston

Alabama Music Hall of Fame Board approves new sign

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The 2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 17-20, 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 2019
This year, the more-than-weeklong event will be held Aug. 16-25.

With close to 150 participating restaurants last year, Alabama Restaurant Week 2019 looks to be bigger and better than ever before. This year more delicious food, flavor and fun will be spotlighted. Plan on enjoying dinning at the locally owned and operated restaurants who participate.

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

There is no cost for restaurants to participate in this statewide promotion.

For more details and sign-up information, please see or contact Courtney Austin at 334-242-4674 or

Voters want longer summers
From the article “Alabama voters want longer summer, survey says” by Trisha Powell Crain on

An Alabama lawmaker said it’s time to scale back the length of the school year, arguing that longer school years aren’t helping students get any smarter.

“We’re not any better than we were years ago academically,” said Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Talladega, pointing out school years used to be shorter.

“If you had longer summers,” Hurst said. “Kids could get jobs, they’d learn work ethics, learn some discipline, and earn some money that could help their parents.”

“The public is in favor of this,” Hurst added.

And according to a survey conducted by the University of South Alabama last year, Hurst may be right: the vast majority of Alabama voters—a whopping 85%—say they want longer summers.

In the survey, 83% said school should start either in late August or after Labor Day—more than half of those who responded preferred after Labor Day. When asked when the school year should end, 81% said before Memorial Day, with 24% preferring early May.

The survey was commissioned by the Alabama Association of Camps, a group with an obvious interest in longer summers.

“Kids can’t have summer camp without summer,” association president Allen McBride said. The group commissioned the poll to give voters a voice in the discussion, he said.

While camps offer many benefits for children, he said, “Camps are only one of many opportunities available to children when they aren’t required by the state to sit in a classroom during the summer months.”

The University of South Alabama’s USA Polling Group designed and conducted the survey. A representative sample of 622 voters from across the state participated.

But the Alabama Association of School Boards in recent years lobbied to return control over the calendar to local school boards. Calendars currently vary in length and dates between systems.

In a statement to, a spokesperson for the AASB said the group has “long held the position that local boards should have autonomy in setting school start/end dates.”

Keeping local control of that decision is a priority for the group that represents school superintendents, as well.

“That decision is best made at the local community level,” said Ryan Hollingsworth, the director of the superintendents’ group. His group will oppose any measure by state lawmakers to mandate start and end dates, he said.

“There’s a lot in the mix that goes into the calendar,” he said.

Hollingsworth said while some districts squeeze in as many days as possible with the fewest breaks possible, others choose to build in breaks for students and training days for teachers.

“I’m thinking about the months when my kids are sick,” he said, which means building breaks in during January and February. Three-day weekends help clear the air, he said, and help keep absenteeism numbers down, which is important to a school and district on report card measures.

The earlier start dates—four districts started school last week—allow more time for learning, he said.

“The earlier I start a school year, then the more instructional time I have before my spring assessments,” he said. Test results are weighted heavily on annual school report cards, he said, so time spent learning is a priority.

The later start also means it’s hard to squeeze in 90 days of school and semester exams before the winter break, he said.

Taking first semester exams in January after the break isn’t productive, he said, because of the time that’s needed to catch back up.

Hurst points to the survey suggesting Alabamians would like longer summers for a number of reasons, including more time with family, more time for family trips, and more time for camp and civic activities.

When asked if they preferred a longer summer with traditional breaks or a shorter summer with frequent short breaks during the school year, 70% chose the longer summer vacation.

In 2006, lawmakers expanded the school year from 175 to 180 days, beginning with the 2006-07 school year.

“The argument is that we need to get kids educated,” Hurst said, but there’s no proof that adding days has improved achievement.

Hurst said he’d like to see more collaboration between K-12 and community colleges during summer breaks.

“If we had longer summers like we used to have and set up something at the two-year schools,” he said, “from ninth to twelfth grade, kids could go to learn some type of trade during the summer.”

Hurst said with only 40% of Alabama’s graduates headed to college, the remaining 60% need to get experience in the job market.

“If I felt like going to school every day would get them educated, get them good jobs, make them a good citizen, I’d support that,” he said. But that hasn’t happened, he said.

Hurst said the longer school year is hurting the tourism industry by cutting the season short. “The biggest growing dollars in the state of Alabama are tourism dollars,” he said.

Hurst said starting later also addresses worries about students riding non-air-conditioned buses in the August heat.

Hurst said if just 30 minutes were added to each typical school day, a full school year could be completed in 166 days.

Currently, each local board of education decides its own calendar, and the only requirement is that schools offer 1,080 hours of instruction during the school year. Students will attend school this year from between 174 to 180 days, depending on the district.

The last time schools were restricted by law was for the two-year period of 2012-13 and 2013-14. Under the Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012, Alabama schools couldn’t start school before the middle of August and had to end before the Friday before Memorial Day. That’s when requirements went from a rigid 180 days to requiring 1,080 instructional hours.

But education organizations pushed back, and the start and end date restrictions were not extended.

Survey responses were gathered from across the state, with 46% from north Alabama, 47% from south Alabama, and 7% from Madison County, where McBride said there was organized opposition against longer summers in previous years. Forty-one percent of survey participants had children in school, and 31% had grandchildren in school.

Three states—Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan—restrict school start dates to no earlier than Labor Day, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit policy organization. Another eight states have start dates spelled out in state law.

Hurst said the mandate is clear. “The survey’s been done,” he said. “We know what voters want.”

For the complete article please see

Top London publication features Alabama road trip
Editor’s note:  British travel writer Sarah Lawrence visited the state in June on a road trip to Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana.  This is the first in a series of articles she is writing about her trip.  “Swamps, Smoke, and Spirituality: Your Guide to the Deep South” was featured in Square Mile magazine. Square Mile is the number-one lifestyle brand for the affluent financial district of London area that is referred to as the “square mile” (similar to the Wall Street area of New York).  Square Mile’s printed magazine has a readership of 300,000 and their website averages more than 620,000-page views per month.  The Alabama Tourism Department worked with the Deep South partnership to assist Lawrence in the planning of her trip.

From the article “Swamps, Smoke, and Spirituality: Your Guide to the Deep South” by Sarah Lawrence in Square Mile magazine:

More musical history is found in Muscle Shoals, on the banks of the Tennessee River in northern Alabama – about a five-hour drive from Blackberry Farm. This sleepy place is the somewhat unlikely ‘hit recording capital of the world’ thanks to the local FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Legendary bands and singers including Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Paul Simon and Cher flocked here to work. Stay at the Gunrunner Boutique Hotel in downtown Florence, where all suites are musically themed with vast beds and then tour the studios, getting lost in endless nostalgic beats.

Ninety minutes south is Birmingham, Alabama, a city which played a crucial role in the Civil Rights movement. Any self-respecting foodie must make a pilgrimage to Highlands Bar & Grill, ‘America’s Most Outstanding Restaurant’ according to 2018’s James Beard Awards– known as the Oscars of food. The Southern-accented French cooking is exquisite and the service, décor and sophisticated yet relaxed vibe all ramp up the deep level joy. Not only did the exceptional team clinch the big award but pastry chef Dolores Miles also won in her category – her next-level coconut cake will live on in your mind long after you hoover up the last bite.

Next up is a night at 919 Felder Avenue in Montgomery, two hours away. This is the preserved Jazz Age home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald who wrote portions of Tender Is The Night and Save Me The Waltz here in the early 1930s.

Downstairs is a museum dedicated to their lives and legacies and literature lovers will be thrilled to discover the two apartments upstairs are now available to rent on Airbnb.

It’s a magical experience for fans like myself to mooch about reading their glorious letters before waking to the same view of the magnificent magnolia gracing their front lawn. What a place and what a beautiful thing local legends Julian and Lesley McPhillips, the people behind preserving it, have done for us all.

Drag yourself away from the Fitzgerald’s quiet, leafy, all-American neighborhood to tour the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luthor King preached. Down the street is where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on the bus.

Monroeville, quaint hometown of Harper Lee and Truman Capote where Atticus Finch’s actual courthouse from To Kill A Mockingbird is now a museum to the childhood friends, is 90 minutes along country highways dense with forest, interspersed with more churches than you’ll see anywhere.  All this literary nostalgia is compelling but it’s only an hour and a half south to Mobile, a bustling port city on Alabama’s gulf coast which is hugely proud of being the first home of carnival celebration Mardi Gras in the U.S.

For the complete article please see

Local hotel’s recognition is also recognition of a growing local tourism industry
From the editorial “OUR VIEW: Local hotel’s recognition is also recognition of a growing local tourism industry” in the Opelika-Auburn News:

The Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center recently joined the Marriott Auburn Opelika Hotel & Conference Center at Grand National as two of only about a dozen Alabama hotel properties to earn a four-diamond rating with the AAA travel-service agency.

That’s good for their business, but it’s also good for a much broader picture in the Auburn-Opelika tourism industry, as more signs continue to point toward tourism as a major economic driver in this portion of east Alabama.

The Grand National golf courses, part of the highly acclaimed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, once again lured professional golf to Opelika with this year’s LGPA event held in the spring.

More than 1,300 swimmers flocked to Opelika last week for a swimming and diving championship meet sponsored by the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association, bringing with them literally thousands of parents, grandparents, siblings, coaches and other fans and participants, most of them staying in local hotels and eating at local restaurants.

One local official estimated the economic impact of that event alone to be a near $2 million boost to the economy of Lee County.

The Gougue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University is set to kick off its inaugural season with an already sold out Aug. 23 event, and expectations are high that the center, with a stellar lineup on the books, will open to strong support from regional theatergoers.

Paired with the offerings from organizations such as the Arts Association of East Alabama, with an impressive lineup as well for performances at the Opelika Center for Performing Arts, and talk continues of having dual gateways that will draw performing-arts lovers to Lee County for extended stays.

Nearby Lake Martin continues to experience a growth boom, and with it additional tourism attractions and marketing efforts have risen.

And come September, the biggest of all local tourism attractions returns as it does annually with the kickoff of Auburn University’s home football season.

Good things are happening on the tourism front in east Alabama and specifically Lee County. Visitors are bringing their dollars to spend here, and locals are finding more reasons to keep their spending at home.

That bodes well for the economy of Lee County and all of east Alabama.

Not to mention, a positive influence from arts, entertainment, sports and recreation on the local quality of life.

For the complete article please see

New hotel opens in downtown Montgomery
from the report on WSFA-12 by Rosanna Smith:

Staybridge Suites has been open for more than one week and has 115 guest rooms, free breakfast and access to swimming pool, and other amenities. Located downtown at the junction of Interstates 65 and 85, it’s just one of close to a half dozen hotels that have been under construction or in the planning stages over the last several months in the area.

“Excitement has been building for our extended stay brand and we are thrilled to start accepting reservations. We saw the need for this segment years ago and finally get to see it come to fruition,” said Staybridge Suites General Manager George Sanders.

With the repurposing of the nearby landmark Murphy House into a new hotel, downtown Montgomery will have around 1,000 rooms available.

Sanders says they are thrilled to be part of the growth being experienced in downtown Montgomery.

The hotel, located at 275 Lee Street, is owned by Kyser Property Management and managed by PCH Hotels and Resorts under a license agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group.

For the complete report please see

Muscle Shoals road trip highlighted on Sounds Like Nashville music site
From the article “Travel to Muscle Shoals for Some smooth Southern Soul” by Chris Chamberlain on Sounds Like Nashville:

Nashville is rightly proud of its moniker “Music City,” but there’s a quartet of towns a little over two hours south that might be able to challenge for that title. The Shoals is a collective name for four Alabama towns that have their own rich musical traditions: Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia. Together they make for a great weekend trip to discover the musical history that has been an important part of the region since indigenous tribes claimed they could hear the sound of a woman’s song emanating from the Tennessee River and named it “The Singing River.”  Here are a few suggestions to help you plan out a weekend in The Shoals.

While the region is best known for the rock and R&B music that has been produced there since the 1960’s, the area’s spot in American musical history stretches back much further than that. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia honors musicians from all over the state  with exhibits ranging from one of the fathers of the blues, Florence native W.C. Handy to the eponymous country band Alabama that ruled country radio throughout the 80’s. The Hall of Fame selects new members every couple of years to enshrine in their hall of heroes, and multimedia exhibits in various galleries trace the progression of music in the state.

For a deeper dive into Handy’s history, you can visit his birthplace in Florence, or rather you can visit the tiny cabin where he was born in 1873 and which was subsequently moved from its original location deep in the woods to a spot that is more accessible to visitors. Handy is most famous for his contributions to the early blues canon including “St. Louis Blues,” “Beale Street Blues” and “Memphis Blues.” A small museum at the site showcases artifacts from his career like early instruments and congratulatory notes from two U.S. presidents.

The most popular sites in The Shoals to visit are two iconic recording studios famous for producing some of the greatest music of the 60’s and 70’s. FAME is the center of The Shoals musical universe, where renowned producer Rick Hall made music for decades before passing away in early 2018. Make sure to not the sign over the door to the hallway that leads between the two separate recording studios that reads “Through these doors walk the finest musicians, songwriters, artists and producers in the world.” and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment.

Among those talented individuals who cut records have been Jason Isbell, Wilson Pickett, The Osmonds, Otis Redding, Ronnie Milsap, Jerry Reed, John Michael Montgomery, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson and dozens of others. Visitors can tour both studios and see some of the actual instruments that were played on legendary tracks.

In 1969, four members of FAME’s house band, The Swampers, split off to start their own studio in Sheffield which they named Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. In addition to playing on numerous albums, the musicians began to produce the records as well. Unlike FAME, which is still a working recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound only produces records occasionally, so they can offer tours almost continuously seven days a week.

The tour begins in the basement lounge where you can imagine what went on with all those musicians while they prepared to record  and then into the actual studio where the Stones sang “Brown Sugar,” Paul Simon recorded “Kodachrome” and Bob Seger sang about that “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

Music is still an important part of The Shoals, and John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, is right in the thick of the action. He has created his own record label Single Lock Records which he started with Alabama Shakes keyboard player Ben Tanner to showcase the musical talent still coming out of the region, including the popular R&B act St. Paul And The Broken Bones. White has also invested in performance venues in the area where you can see his stable of label talents perform along with other local heroes awaiting their big breaks.

If you need more advice to plan your own itinerary for a trip to The Shoals, check out Visit Florence for more suggestions.

For the complete article please see

Dauphin’s in Mobile is one of the most scenic restaurants in America
OpenTable recently released its list of the 100 most scenic restaurants for 2019. The list was generated from diner reviews collected between June 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019.  The 100 Most Scenic Restaurants list for 2019 highlights restaurants that offer breath-taking views of nature, cityscapes and travel-worthy landmarks. The list of honorees is based on an analysis of more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 30,000 restaurants across the country.

Dauphin’s restaurant in Mobile is the only Alabama restaurant to make the list and is one of only a few restaurants on the list from the Southeast. Most of the restaurants listed were in large East and West coast cities, Florida, Hawaii and Las Vegas.

Dauphin’s is owned by former University of Alabama and Miami Dolphins football player-turned-restaurateur Bob Baumhower. It is located on the 34th floor of the Trustmark building and overlooks downtown Mobile and Mobile Bay.

For the complete list of the 100 most scenic restaurants in America please see

World War II Ship to dock in Decatur
A World War II ship that participated in the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach is scheduled to dock in Decatur at the end of summer, allowing for five days of public tours and a glimpse into history. From Aug. 29 to Sept. 3 the public is invited to step aboard the USS LST 325 and take a tour from a dedicated group of an all-volunteer crew who will be on hand to educate and bring history to life.

The USS LST 325 is one of the last of her kind and is the only working LST in WWII configuration in the United States. The ship is now operated as a floating museum that sails to inland river cities each year as part of its mission statement to educate the public. By giving tours, the crew will educate everyone, young and old, as to the role these ships have played in our wars and honor those who built, sailed and served on these ships.

An official Alabama Bicentennial event, the USS LST 325 will arrive in Decatur on Wednesday, August 28 and will open for tours on Thursday, Aug. 29 through Monday, Sept. 2. Tours will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-17 and free for children ages 5 and under, WWII and Korean War veterans. Tours last approximately an hour.

The USS LST 325 also visited Decatur in 2014, docking at Ingalls Harbor and drawing almost twenty thousand enthusiastic visitors.

Carrying 20 Sherman tanks in their giant holds, the LST (Landing Ship Tank) was developed during World War II to land vehicles and personnel directly onto enemy shores. On the main deck they could also carry 30-40 trucks, tons of fuels, ammunition or supplies and soldiers.

The USS LST 325 participated in the invasion and occupation of Sicily on July 10, 1943 (Operation HUSKY); Salerno, September 3, 1943; and the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944 under the command of Captain Clifford E. Mosier. Between June 1944 and April 1945, the LST 325 made 44 trips between England and France to aid in the delivery of supplies to Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and the City of Rouen on the Seine River, earning 2 Battle Stars for her effort.

The use of LST’s continued through the Korean and Vietnam War due to the ship’s ability to navigate shallow waters. Through the years, the USS LST 325 has had a fascinating record of service and in 2000, she was acquired by the USS LST 325 Ship Memorial, Inc. through an act of Congress.

To learn more about the USS LST 325’s history, visit

New location for Freedom Riders National Monument Interim Visitors Center in Anniston
The Freedom Riders National Monument Interim Visitor Center has been relocated from the City of Anniston, 1128 Gurnee Ave, Anniston, AL 36201 to the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, 1330 Quintard Ave, Anniston, AL 36202 The Chamber of Commerce is open 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and visitors can pick-up a park brochure and stamp their National Park Service passport book inside the building.  Visitors can call the Chamber of Commerce for general information about Freedom Riders National Monument at (256) 237-3536.

For more information about the Freedom Riders National Monument please see

Alabama Music Hall of Fame Board approves new sign
From the article by Russ Corey in the TimesDaily:

The recognizable Alabama Music Hall of Fame sign along U.S. 72 is about to get a face-lift.

On Thursday, the hall of fame board of directors approved the purchase of a new electronic sign that will replace the scrolling portion of the sign that was installed in 1990.

The 3 feet by 24 feet sign will be provided by SunTronics LED signs of Rogersville.

It will replace the scrolling portion of the sign that provides messages to motorists passing by the music attraction.
SunTronics Operations Manager Clevey White told board members the sign would cost $49,000, plus $3,000 to install. He said a Corinth, Mississippi, subcontractor will do the installation.

Hall of Fame Director Sandra Burroughs said the organization is also working with a company to repair neon tubes on the portion of the sign that includes the hall of fame’s logo.

“As our main source of advertising, this sign is vital to our foot traffic,” Burroughs said. “With the new LED lights, we could save money on utility bills, as well as gain back our advertising.”

She said the scrolling portion of the sign was no longer functioning.

The original sign was installed by General Sign Company, which has tried to keep it serviced and repaired, but is having more and more difficulty finding parts. Burroughs said the company was scavenging parts from old signs to keep the hall of fame sign operating.

White said the new sign features 10 mm pixels, which provide the best resolution available. It will allow the hall of fame to display photos from the museum to passing motorists. He brought a portable sign that features 10 mm pixel resolution to demonstrate the quality.

He said the scrolling sign the hall has now is “totally obsolete.”

Since the company is based in Rogersville, repairs can be completed, usually in a day, and parts are kept onsite, White said.

“This is a landmark,” White said. “We did everything we could to get you the best price.”

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Alabama Restaurant Week is less than two weeks away, beginning Friday, Aug. 16 through Sunday, 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.


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.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

To subscribe to the newsletter please contact Dwayne O’Riley at:

Alabama Tourism Department