Tourism Tuesdays Nov. 19, 2019

Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours in December

ATD attends IAGA 2019 Conference

The Hospitality Effect

Skip winter in Florida and spend it in Alabama instead

Fish added to Alabama creek to boost tourism

Inside Vulcan Park and Museum: An Interactive Experience

Bucket list book highlights Alabama attractions

The Black Belt of Alabama

“Photo Challenge” Winner Announced

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours in December
The Governor’s Mansion will be open for candlelight tours on the first three Monday nights in December from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day. The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Ave. across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The interior design companies working on decorating the mansion include Tea Olive Designs, Lynne Coker Interiors, CCI Premier ReDesign/Staging, Burrow Interior Design, Patrick Martin and Monday Morning Master Gardener Group.

Choirs and singers scheduled to perform include the Prattville First United Methodist Church Choir on Dec. 2, Albertville High School Show Choir on Dec. 9 and Kimberley and Darrell Glover on Dec. 16.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry St. in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951. The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, 9 and 16. More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours by going online at

ATD attends IAGA 2019 Conference
The Alabama Tourism Department had a booth at the International Association of Golf Administrators annual conference in Monterey, CA earlier this month as part of a larger cooperative marketing strategy to reach larger golf groups.

Pam Shaheen, ATD’s golf marketing consultant, attended and provided all 165 attendees with suggested itineraries to create member trips; specifically met with very-interested representatives from associations in Colorado, New Jersey, South Carolina, Arizona and Philadelphia; and opened up discussions to host the annual conference in the coming years.

The Hospitality Effect
From the article by Angel Coker on

When Brent Kendrick and his wife, Haley Medved Kendrick, travel to new cities, they often stay at an airbnb rather than a traditional hotel.

The Kendricks say using Airbnb – a service that allows individuals and families to offer short-term property rentals – gives them a better picture of the local culture in whatever town they are visiting.

“That’s how we got started hosting because we loved it so much when traveling,” she said. “We liked it because when we go somewhere, you stay in a hotel, you don’t get a picture of what it’s like to live there… You get a more realistic sense of what it’s like (in an Airbnb).”

The Kendricks, who rent out two bedrooms in their home in the Crestwood North neighborhood of Birmingham, recognize that’s true about the Magic City as well.

While Airbnb has drawn scrutiny in zoning debates, noise ordinances and regarding competition concerns with hotels, the growing number of local Airbnb hosts are emerging as yet another important cog in the larger effort to sell Birmingham to outsiders in support of growing population and employment in the region.

Given the backdrop of record low-unemployment, a historical brain drain that has strained the talent supply and the need to recruit more young professionals, those hosts represent another avenue in Birmingham’s bid to increase its workforce.

It’s often said the hardest part of getting someone to love Birmingham is getting them to the Magic City in the first place.

Once they are here, Airbnb hosts are playing an active role in promoting the city to potential transplants – and they are passionate about it.

Brent Kendrick loves getting to know the guests who stay in his home – why they’re in Birmingham and what they’re interested in.

The house the Kendricks rent in Crestwood stays pretty booked with guests who travel from all over the world – many on business, a lot here for UAB, some who are passing through and even several who are interested in the Civil Rights Trail.

As Birmingham natives, the couple offers a printed city guide for their guests and even more verbal recommendations for food, drink and activities during their stay.

Blakely Harnage, who stays about 94% booked throughout the year renting out two rooms in his house in Five Points South, does the same. Harnage, also a Birmingham native, said he recommends Miss Myra’s for the best barbecue, Mom’s Basement for nightlife, Railroad Park and the many breweries across the city.

The Kendricks also recommend barbecue joints, James Beard Award-winning restaurants, the Civil Rights Museum and Ruffner Mountain, among other things.

While it’s illustrative of Southern hospitality, it’s also a pretty good sales pitch for the Magic City.

And one of their previous guests – a New York City resident turned Birmingham resident – agrees.

Dan Bailey stayed with the Kendricks – among several other Airbnb properties – while looking for a place to live after accepting a job as a photo editor at Food & Wine magazine.

Bailey and the Kendricks remain friends, and Bailey said he has met many of his Birmingham friends through them. He said he thinks staying in an Airbnb during an interview process or while searching for your own place could help attract and retain young professionals in Birmingham.

“I felt more connected to Birmingham staying in a house in a neighborhood. I felt much more like I was integrating than if I was in a hotel,” Bailey said.

Jamiko Rose, a medical student at UAB and an Airbnb host who rents out one bedroom in her historic Crestwood North home called the Tyler House, said it would be interesting to see local companies work with Airbnb hosts to provide lodging for job candidates in an effort to immerse them in the city’s culture.

“Most people will go to a town and not know what to do. So if you had someone giving you a little push or willing to go out with you someplace, you might see more than what you expected – get a different experience and, depending on the business, get a better insight into what people actually like, what the locals see.”

Rose, also a Birmingham native, said one of her favorite things about Birmingham as a local is the many outdoor opportunities.

That, in addition to great breweries, good atmosphere, award-winning restaurants, the renaissance of downtown and the aesthetic of its old buildings, affordability and great quality of life with very little traffic, among other things, is what Airbnb hosts said they love about Birmingham.

Hosts said Birmingham should pitch itself based on those things, but the city and surrounding areas are still lacking some key things that could really boost its appeal to young talent.

One of the biggest items on their wish lists was transportation.

“All of our different neighborhoods need to be connected better,” Harnage said. “We also need more transportation options. That’s a massive barrier for lots of people.”

Rose said public transportation in Birmingham is a last resort, whereas in larger cities like Chicago, where she lived for many years, it’s a convenience.

“Here it is not a convenience; it’s an inconvenience, so you use it if you don’t have another choice,” she said. “I don’t know why we can’t use the current railroad system here … put in a tram – something that would facilitate transportation downtown.”

She and Harnage said public education needs a face-lift, too, because a lot of people leave Birmingham in search of better schools, which also impacts the makeup of its neighborhoods.

While the school system is important for professionals with families, for young talent, the Magic City’s horse and carriage transforms back into a pumpkin and mice well before midnight.

Harnage’s guest, Evan Tubbs, an audio engineer and Birmingham native who recently moved back, said the city has a lot of potential, but one of the biggest things it’s missing to attract young professionals is nightlife.

Rose said it’s difficult to go out after 8 o’clock at night.

“Not everybody is going out to have a night on the town or get drunk. There are people who just want to have a late dinner … so I feel like some of these businesses need to extend their hours a little later, in general,” she said. “Otherwise, now you’re at the chain restaurants again, so there needs to be some kind of shift with these local shops – creating more job opportunities and people can come out and spend their money.”

She said visitors are interested in what’s local – what they can’t get back home – with places like Saturn and Woodlawn Cycle Cafe.

“Back in Chicago, it’s all about what’s local, what’s in the community, and supporting small businesses, so I think that’s what always makes a place unique are the types of small businesses we have,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to create small businesses here … because there aren’t as many … People are hungry for it.”

Another thing they’re hungry for, she said, is community.

She said Birmingham needs more diverse activities geared toward different appetites for young professionals, like more festivals, free outdoor movies in the park, free concerts, free dance or exercise classes at parks and more theatre, among other things. And she said we can engage the community by having local artists paint murals on dingy viaducts to beautify neighborhoods and attract people to those sights.

“We do some of these things, but it just has to ramp up,” Rose said. “Regular things that are just fun that bring people together on a consistent basis, that builds community – that attracts people… I feel like we don’t have enough things that bring people together on a regular basis that creates the opportunity for people to create community.”

For Bailey, he said one challenge is that the city may seem a little out of the way to outsiders. But he believes others can be sold on the Magic City – just like he was.

“I think Birmingham is amazing, and once people come and see it and visit it, people love it,” he said. “Maybe it’s not a destination that most people think of, but I think it has everything it needs. It’s just a matter of time before the secret gets out and everyone wants to move here.”

For the complete article please see

Skip winter in Florida and spend it in Alabama instead
From the article by Elizabeth Chorney-Booth on

It’s a scene that could easily take place on a remote island in the Pacific or the Caribbean, but shockingly, my quiet beach is on the mainland of the United States and it’s not in either California or Florida. I’m in Orange Beach, a small resort town in Alabama.

Yes, that Alabama. Until I visited, I didn’t even realize that Alabama had a coast — the Alabama I’d heard so much about was all about civil rights demonstrations and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. But if you look at a map, land-locked Alabama has a little foot that dips into the Gulf of Mexico, just between the Florida panhandle and southern Mississippi, which is where you’ll find the communities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. While most Canadians don’t consider Alabama as a top winter destination, with its beaches, plethora of seafood, and abundance of condo-style accommodations, the area is proving to be a good alternative to busier snowbird destinations like Florida or Arizona.

Where to stay
One of the biggest highlights of an Alabama shore vacation is the availability of condo-style hotels. My secluded beach was adjacent to the Caribe Resort, a complex with three luxurious towers surrounded by a marina, multiple pools (with a lazy river on the outdoor pool deck), a putting green, tennis, and saunas and fitness rooms seemingly around every corner. Suitable for a long-term stay or a multi-generational get-together, a three-bedroom suite with private bathrooms, an enormous living area, balconies and a full kitchen can easily accommodate up to eight to 12 guests. Similar suite-style accommodations line the shore, attracting large groups coming in to celebrate family reunions, anniversaries, and weddings.

Fruit of the sea
Alabama’s culinary scene doesn’t always get the attention it deserves and being right on the Gulf, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have more than their share of good food options, especially when it comes to fresh seafood. The old school seafood-holes-in-the-walls shouldn’t be missed. The Gulf Shores Steamer is nothing to look at either from the outside or within, but its giant platters of oysters, shrimp and crab are as fresh as can be and never come fried. The local “Royal Red” shrimp — which are ultra-buttery and almost lobster-like in texture and flavour — are the specialty here, as well as at similar spots like King Neptune’s in Gulf Shores.

The Alabama Coast isn’t all down ‘n’ dirty seafood boils, though. More upscale restaurants like the Beach House Kitchen and Cocktails or The Gulf specialize in the local bounty and laid-back beach vibes. For visitors who are into the sun but not the seafood, other American-style standards are also available.

Get out on the water
While hanging out on white sand beaches and eating piles of seafood is enough of a vacation for many, there are plenty of other ways to entertain yourself on the Alabama shore. Water sports abound — there are plenty of outfitters to get visitors out parasailing, jet skiing, fishing or out on a dolphin-watching cruise. And the dolphins are plentiful — while I was out on a nature cruise with Sailaway Charters, a pod of dolphins gleefully followed our boat as we trawled for shrimp, practically posing for photos as they wove around the boat.

Back on land, you can rent a cruiser bike to explore miles of boardwalks that snake along the shore (watch for alligators!), do some shopping or ride the Ferris wheel at The Wharf, or kick back with a locally brewed cold one a the Big Beach Brewing Company.

But… Alabama?
Political differences and Southern stereotypes may give some Canadian travellers pause, but Orange Beach and Gulf Shores feels about the same as most parts of the United States as far as safety and diversity goes. The thick Southern accents and vendors selling boiled peanuts along the side of the road provide a nice cultural element. If you are hankering for more, head to Flori-bama, a maze of a bar that literally straddles the Florida/Alabama line. With five stages (“Sweet Home Alabama” will be performed on at least one of them — trust me) and a truly disgusting signature frozen cocktail dubbed “The Bushwacker,” an hour or so at Flori-bama will cure any curiosity about Alabama’s less-refined cultural touch points.

As for getting there, there are flights from many U.S. hubs to the Mobile Regional Airport, which is an hour and a half drive to Orange Beach/Gulf Shores, though the International Airport in Pensacola, Florida may have better flight options and is only a 50-minute drive away.

For the complete article please see

Fish added to Alabama creek to boost tourism
From the article on

Hundreds of fish have been added to an Alabama creek as part of an ongoing effort to boost tourism.

Black Creek was restocked Tuesday with about 1,100 pounds of trout above Noccalula Falls by the Rainbow Fly Fishing Club, The Gadsden Times reported. The group also stocked 1,000 coppernose bluegill into the watershed in late March.

Republican Rep. Craig Lipscomb, of Rainbow City, is a member of the fishing club, and said they’re working with the city to fill a gap for activities at the falls in the winter months.

“We’re thinking about eco-tourism,” he said.

Lipscomb said trout fishing in Georgia brings in tens of millions of dollars for the state and Gadsden would benefit even from a fraction of that. Georgia has about 4,000 miles of trout streams and they are managed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Fly fishing for trout is expected to last beyond the winter months. “They’re a cold-water fish but they’ll stick around into summer,” Lipscomb said.

He said the club plans to feed the fish to keep them in the upper part of the watershed instead of following Black Creek downstream into the Coosa.

Lipscomb said even in summer, the deeper part of the pools and shaded areas of the gorge will be habitats for the fish.

The trout will be stocked twice a year — once in November and once in February.

Fishing for trout requires a permit issued by Noccalula Falls Park as well as an Alabama State Fishing License. Permits cost $9 per day or $11 for a three-day pass. There are other limitations including dates for catch and release and only using fly rods, artificial lures and barb-less hooks.

For the complete article please see

Inside Vulcan Park and Museum: An Interactive Experience
From the article by Erica Wright on

A tour of the Vulcan Park and Museum (VPM) captures the history of the Magic City. It begins with a wall of iron products — skillets, pots, pans, knives, forks, shovels, furnaces — that tell the story of Birmingham’s booming steel and iron industry.

The wall is used as “a teaching tool to introduce students to the concept of iron and why it’s important. It describes what things were made from iron, how they are still used in their lives, and how industry built this city,” said Jennifer Watts, VPM Director of Museum Programs. “This city was planned around the mineral resources that early surveyors found here.”

Join the Birmingham Times for a tour of the museum’s galleries, all of which are connected and conveniently located on one floor.

Interactive Experience
Following the wall of iron products, is a gallery that features the three ingredients that make up iron: iron ore, limestone, and coal — all of which were found in Birmingham. This gallery also includes a timeline that illustrates the founding of the city and the iron industry boom. It tells stories of workers and factories through the eyes of four different men who had experience working in the early days of the Birmingham iron industry.

“We see immigrants moving here because they want better lives for their families,” said LaShana Sorrell, VPM Director of Public Relations and Marketing. “You still see that in Birmingham today through the large Greek, Jewish, and Italian communities that still reside in the city. [They are the descendants of] immigrants who came here to work in iron ore and mining.”

Old-Time Country Store
Next is a gallery set up to look like an old country store. It showcases a wall with shelves of canned goods and other products, such as linens, as well as a countertop with an old cash register and a glass display of pots, pans, and other products made from iron.

“Iron factories had what was called a company store,” said Sorrell. “This store was similar to what’s happening now with [the city’s] revitalization—condos being built where people work, live, and play. It was kind of like you work here, stay here, and shop here. Instead of paying with cash, employees would use ‘clacker,’ [scrip, or a substitute for government-issued money, issued by a company to pay its employees], … for their transactions. They could get what they needed [at the company store]: food, fabric, and many [other] things.”

The gallery also features photos of company-sponsored events, including picnics, dances, and performances.

The Vulcan Room
Next on our tour is the Vulcan Room, which tells the story of how Vulcan came to be. In the middle of the room sits a glass-enclosed miniature replica of Vulcan on his pedestal, as well as a statue of Vulcan’s foot and the story of Giuseppe Moretti, the Italian-born sculptor who was commissioned to design Vulcan.

“The [Commercial Club of Birmingham] in 1903 decided that Birmingham needed to send something to the [upcoming] World’s Fair in [St. Louis], and they [chose] to build the largest cast-iron statue. … They went around asking artists if they could make a colossal statue out of iron in time for the world fair in 1904, and they all said, ‘No.’ Then they talked to Giuseppe Moretti,” said Watts.

Moretti, an Italian immigrant who was a sculptor by trade, took on the challenge and pulled it off.

“He started building the clay model in a church in New Jersey. It was cut up, molds were made, and the pieces were [sent to Birmingham] to be cast in iron. It was a multistep process,” Watts explained. “[The statue] was cast at what is now Sloss Furnaces, almost bankrupting the company in the process. All local materials were used, and a bunch of local guys were hired … to cast it. Vulcan was made in 26 pieces. As each piece was made, it was shipped one by one by rail to St. Louis for the fair.”

At the 1904 World’s Fair, Vulcan won several awards and fascinated many people, making people realize that Birmingham was a good place to move.

“It spawned much of that growth around that time period and contributed to that boom,” said Watts. “That’s where Birmingham gets its nickname the ‘Magic City,’ because it grew overnight as if by magic.”

Vulcan stayed in St. Louis for about a year. When he was returned to Birmingham in 1905, he was left on the side of the railroad tracks for a long time due to a bill not being paid. Eventually, Vulcan was put up at the Alabama State Fairgrounds.

The Great Depression
After leaving the Vulcan Room, we enter a gallery with a timeline display of the Great Depression, World War II and women in the workforce, and how the iron industry ties into those moments. Next up is a section on the Civil Rights era.

“We encourage people to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for a complete story,” Watts said. “What we give here is a summary of what happened via a video and print history about [Birmingham Civil Rights icon] the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, showing him walking with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We [provide an overview of] what happened in Birmingham at that time.”

From the Civil Rights area, the tour goes into the Linn Henley Gallery, where special exhibits are housed. Currently on display is “Terminal Station: Birmingham’s Great Temple of Travel,” which will run through December 31. Other exhibits have included “Alabama Justice,” based on the Alabama bicentennial celebration that spotlighted landmark cases in Alabama that changed the landscape of the nation; an art exhibit about Ramsay High School; and exhibits about different communities in Birmingham, including the Italian and Greek communities and the Historic 4th Avenue District.

“Terminal Station: Birmingham’s Great Temple of Travel” highlights the historic downtown Birmingham Terminal Station train depot, which was demolished 50 years ago. In the center of the room is a replica of the once-bustling passenger rail station, along with plaques surrounding the replica with information about the former city landmark. Above the replica hangs some drawings and pictures of the train depot’s design, which featured a 100-foot-high dome and twin towers. Along the walls are pictures and more details about Terminal Station, as well as memorabilia such as signs and clocks.

“It recalls the history of the station, describes the beautiful architecture, and tells of the travesty of it being demolished,” Sorrell said. “One thing that demolition gave [Birmingham] was a sense of urgency that we need to put historic preservation at the forefront, which is what spearheaded all of the preserving we’ve been doing since then over the last 50 years.”

The upcoming exhibit will be “Rider Privilege: Alabama Women and the Vote,” which commemorates the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920; it will run from January to December 2020.

Our tour ends with a visit to the gift shop in the museum lobby, but you can continue enjoying your visit to VPM by taking a walk along the mile-long Vulcan Trail, which scales the ridge of Red Mountain. The route runs below the 10-acre Vulcan Park, where you can take in the views of the city or visit the top of Vulcan.

For the complete article please see

Bucket list book highlights Alabama attractions
From the article by Kinsley Centers on

While listening to jazz music in a coffee shop, Mary Johns Wilson began writing lists of things to do in Alabama. Now, the author is hosting book signings with her published work on display: “100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die.”

Wilson said it feels surreal to have published her first-ever book.

“It’s just really cool to know that there was something that I was passionate about and I’ve been able to achieve that professional goal of writing a book,” Wilson said.

Originally from Kentucky, Wilson later moved to Alabama and has lived here for 10 years.

Wilson is an inquisitive person who is eager to learn more. She believes there are always questions to be asked and stories to be told, and she bases this curiosity off of her journalism background. She is the director of news services with the Alabama Farmers Federation and co-host and reporter for Simply Southern TV.

“There’s great things to explore and discover along every road and in every small town and metropolitan area,” Wilson said.

In 2015 Wilson began working at the Alabama’s Farmers Federation, where they started a TV show about agriculture, gardening, tourism, restaurants and the people of Alabama.

“It’s a 30-minute TV show that goes all across the state,” Wilson said. “We visit different locations and we’re basically telling the good news about Alabama.”

This show has allowed Wilson to explore the state of Alabama, which created the foundation that led to her published book.

“I’ve always lived in small towns, kind of rural areas, in states that on a national scale other people may not think are the best states to live in,” Wilson said. “I’ve lived in Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. But I really believe that they are absolutely great places to live and that there’s a lot to enjoy whether you’re in Wilcox County or Jefferson County.”

Wilson was encouraged by her sister, Audra Meighan, who once mentioned in a bookstore the idea of Wilson writing the book. Months went by, and one day Wilson realized how deep her desire to write this book was, so she contacted the publisher. Before she knew it, it was in the works.

“100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die” is sectioned by different categories, which include food and drink, music and entertainment, sports and recreation, culture and history, and unique attractions. They’re Wilson’s personal recommendations for what to do within the state.

“I hope that when people read this book that they end up being surprised about things that are in Alabama that they didn’t realize were here — that they appreciate the depth of the history that we have in the state of Alabama, and just all of the interesting stories that they can soak in no matter where they are in the state,” Wilson said. “My hope is they gain a deeper love for the state of Alabama because it deserves it.”

Wilson wanted to get the book finished before Alabama’s Bicentennial year was over. She said the book was a way to pay tribute to Alabama’s 200-year anniversary and encourage others to explore the state.

“It’s the first in the alphabet. It should be first in your heart,” Wilson said.

The book was a family affair. Throughout the process Wilson’s husband, Matt, encouraged her. He wanted to help and be a part of the journey, so he, along with others, took photos for the book. Shortly after the book was completed, her sister, Meighan, began to write her book, which is in the making: “100 Things to do in Lexington.” It is expected to be released in the spring.

While reading bucket list books, it gives the author’s perspective of places to allow readers to differentiate on whether they would be interested in it. Meighan said they are different than having to read reviews online of places while planning a trip. Having this book available to others can be beneficial to tourists since some things are not available on the internet.

“It can be really overwhelming with the amount of information that is out there. These books are curated lists by people who have lived it,” Meighan said.

The sister authors encourage and inspire one another. While Meighan is in the process of writing her book, she calls Wilson her “book mentor.”

“I’m super proud of my sister,” Meighan said. “She’s amazing at everything she does.”

“100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die” covers attractions in 52 of the 67 counties, including Tuscaloosa. Some of the few local attractions listed are Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Bama Belle, the Kentuck Arts Festival and the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Mary Grace Keck, a senior majoring in Psychology, is from Gadsden, Alabama. She said she has been to some of the places listed in the book. She is interested in reading the book so she can continue to explore the state in the areas she has not been. She wants to visit more of the northern and southern parts of the state.

“I think that if people from out of state were able to see how rich the history is here and how many other awesome things there are to do here, they would be really drawn to even visit and see what it’s like,” Keck said.

Another Alabama native, AnnMarie Shields, a graduate student studying history and museum studies, enjoys traveling.

“I’ve grown up in Alabama, and there is still so much that I have yet to see, so that would be a really helpful thing to have on hand — to be able to adventure more and see new things,” Shields said.

For the complete article please see

The Black Belt of Alabama
From the article on

Just a few months after she had launched The Woolworth Lofts on Airbnb, we unknowingly did exactly what A.C. Reeves had spent years hoping travelers like us would do. Like many before us, we drove west from Montgomery to Selma, following the same 54-mile stretch of highway that the Civil Rights activists took east during the March of 1965, crossing the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge and landing in the heart of Selma. But instead of just snapping a picture and leaving town like most, we booked one of A.C.’s five beautiful suites and stayed. The suites were so welcoming and comfortable, that we added The Woolworth Lofts to bnbNomad’s Featured Stay collection of exemplary Airbnbs. After featuring her suites, we learned that A.C. wasn’t working alone. She was collaborating with a group of creative Airbnb hosts, all opening up their homes along Highway 14 to welcome visitors into the Black Belt of Alabama.

The region’s name comes from its rich, dark soil, which forms a crescent shape across 18 western counties, stretching from the Mississippi border to the capitol of Montgomery like a belt across the state’s middle. And with the discovery of that fertile soil, followed incredible pain. Like many Americans, our personal associations with this region have anchored solely on its historical injustices: slavery, sharecropping, systemic racism, and poverty. And while the residue of these challenges undeniably lingers, our trip throughout the Black Belt revealed an unexpected surge of ingenuity and optimism pulsing throughout the region.

During our two weeks in the Black Belt, we stayed with Cooper Holmes in Marion, Holly Crawford Ellis in Greensboro, and Barden Smedberg in Eutaw. Our hosts didn’t just open up their homes for us. They opened up their towns, connecting us with generous guides to explore local projects and places. In Newbern, Natalie Butts walked us through the town hall, fire station, and library, just a few stunning creations from Auburn University’s Rural Studio program, which has been educating citizen architects in the region since 1993. In Greensboro, fellows Zavier Carmichael and Katherine Stanton gave us an exceptional tour of Project Horseshoe Farm and its multi-layered approach to rural health care through community. We learned about the renovation of Greensboro’s downtown Opera House with Winnie Cobbs, explored the collection of antebellum furniture at Reverie with Ann Price, and climbed up into the nation’s tallest bird tower in Perry Lakes Park. We ate the world famous pie at the Pie Lab, and started each morning with coffee and an irresistible blueberry muffin from Mo Kitchen at The Stable.

We are excited to add the Black Belt of Alabama to bnbNomad’s collection of Destinations. Our hosts’ unbridled enthusiasm, ingenuity, and collaboration brought this corner of the country to life. During such a polarizing moment in our nation’s history, such personal connections have never been more powerful. Our hosts’ generous spirit not only deepened our understanding of where this region has been in the past; it helped us see where it’s going in the future. We hope that by sharing their story of an inspiring Airbnb collaboration, we can send a few more travelers off the typical tourist path and into the heart of the Black Belt.

For the complete article please see

“Photo Challenge” Winner Announced
Alabama Tourism Department’s “Sense of Alabama: Photo Challenge” launched in September on Instagram and travelers to Alabama were invited to put their photography skills to the test. Those who captured the true essence of Alabama through any of the five senses and posted them to the corresponding sensory hashtag were entered to win a return trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

By sharing authentic travel experiences in Alabama represented with a unique hashtag for each sense: #SightOfAlabama, #ScentOfAlabama, #TasteOfAlabama, #SoundOfAlabama or #FeelingOfAlabama, entrants shared more than 800 photos. Finalists included Kyle Rossi’s #ScentOfAlabama image that captured the delicate scent of the state, Julia Sayers’ #TasteOfAlabama image that showcased the mouthwatering flavors of Alabama’s seafood, Lacey Ree’s #SoundOfAlabama image that represented the state’s unforgettable melodies and Andrew Denard’s #SightOfAlabama entry that captured the picturesque mountains of Alabama.

The grand-prize winner, John Roberson (@jash1286), won with his #FeelingOfAlabama entry that showcased Alabama’s serene beauty. He will enjoy the relaxing views of the sugar-white sand beaches and emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, for a three-night stay.

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Have you heard about Alabama Tourism’s new promotion: Photo ALbum? Visitors can upload their photos into our Photo ALbum template and have their book printed and shipped to them for FREE. Plus, every completed Photo ALbum is an entry to win a return trip to Alabama.

To read more about the promotion, visit


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