Tourism Tuesdays Dec. 10, 2019

Candlelight Tour draws almost 700 to Governor’s Mansion

New bicentennial park to display turning points in Alabama’s history

A destination marketing organization increases social media engagements with photo contests

Chef Jim Smith opening new restaurant in Mobile’s Oakleigh Garden Historic District

Rocket Center in Huntsville rated ‘cool place’ for kids

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Candlelight Tour draws almost 700 to Governor’s Mansion
Almost 700 gathered last night for the candlelight tour of the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Kay Ivey opened the Mansion for the tours and will do so again next Monday night for the final candlelight tour of the year.

Designers have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the tours. “This is the people’s house and I want to share it with them during this special Christmas season,” said Ivey.

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 Southern Posies, Lynne Coker Interiors, Magnolia Pointe Designs, Flowers by Amanda, Katherine Trantham Interior Design and CCI Premier ReDesign.

Choirs and singers scheduled to perform include the Prattville First United Methodist Church Choir and the Saint James Choir on Dec. 17.

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 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.

More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion candlelight tours at

New bicentennial park to display turning points in Alabama’s history
From the article by Lydia Nusbaum on

Alabama celebrates its 200th birthday with a new Alabama Bicentennial Park in downtown Montgomery.

The park will include 16 marble monuments near the state capitol that each display a “turning point” in Alabama’s history.

“A lot of hard chapters but a lot of perseverance, the strength of our people who have gotten us to where we are and so we deserve to honor that,” said Jay Lamar who is the Alabama Bicentennial Commission executive director.

The monuments will have bronze plaques on them with scenes of a time period in Alabama history.

“They tell the stories of everyday citizens who make Alabama,” Lamar said.

Lamar said one goal of the monuments was to display different cultures in the state.

“To be able to come to this park and say something about her home or his home or his people in the park so that it resonates,” she said. “It tells not just the story of Montgomery but of the entire state.”

Alabama Department of Tourism officials say this could help encourage more people to visit the state.

The bicentennial monuments will be unveiled Dec. 14. That weekend will also include festivities including a parade and other presentations.

For the complete article please see

A destination marketing organization increases social media engagements with photo contests
From the article by Maggie Brennand on

It takes a visit to Alabama to understand just how much the state has to offer.

From the beaches in the south to the mountains in the north and all that lays between, only those who have been have an idea of just how much there is to do and see.

“People often get a singular, narrow or inaccurate image in mind for a state. To move beyond that is the biggest challenge,” explains Sean Walsh, the Director of User Experience for Intermark Group, the Alabama Tourism Department’s agency partner.

Walsh explains that those who know the state as the epicentre of civil rights history might not know that Birmingham has emerged as a foodie destination; those that know it as a golfer’s paradise might not know that Huntsville is emerging as a tech and innovation center.

The challenge: getting visitors to share their experiences on social media
While the tourism department has long targeted those who are in the process of planning a vacation, Walsh says it has only just begun to strategically encourage its current and past visitors to share their experiences on social media.

In October of 2018, while conducting a competitive analysis in the run-up to a website redesign, Walsh began looking into the social media and user-generated content strategies of other destination marketing organizations. “I found out that Oregan was using CrowdRiff, and I really liked what they were doing and how they were using it,” he says.

Showcasing the diversity of Alabama with two unique social media contests
After signing up with the platform last October, Intermark Group wanted to encourage the use of its hashtags through a social media contest. Instead of just using one hashtag, however, the agency decided that it could better showcase Alabama’s diversity while integrating with its national brand campaign by dedicating one to each of the five senses. For example, foodie shots could be tagged with #TasteOfAlabama while landscape images could be tagged with #SightOfAlabama.

“We used CrowdRiff to follow the hashtags throughout the promotion to see how many posts we were getting,” explains Claire Barrentine, Intermark Group’s Account Coordinator for Alabama Tourism Department. “From that we were able to select a winner from each of the five categories, who received a nice Alabama gift basket.” In the end, the contest received over 800 entries.

Barrentine adds that after the first phase of the contest all five winning submissions competed for the top prize: a trip for four to the Gulf Shores. Social media users were encouraged to vote for their favorite using likes or comments.

“The CrowdRiff platform made it a lot easier for us to handle and manage it,” explains Walsh. “Being able to keyword target and search by keyword and easily add those to the different galleries—the CrowdRiff tools allowed us to run the photo contest in a way that made it easy for us.”

The contest was so successful that the team followed it up soon after with another that allowed users to build their own complimentary “Photo ALbum.” After uploading their images to a premade template, users received a hard copy shipped to them for free. The tourism department also plans to award another complimentary trip to the creator of their favorite album.

The results: more user-generated content, a 13% increase in social media followers, and a 48% increase in engagement
The effort ended up resulting in a significant pool of new user-generated content (UGC), but that wasn’t the only goal of the campaigns.

“Getting the actual assets was almost secondary; this was really a marketing concept to get people to know that we’re doing this, that we’re using the images in this way, and to get them excited about sharing their images,” says Walsh. “The goal was to get more user-generated content, but also to show people that if you’re going to take these photos, why not share them and maybe benefit from them?” adds Barrentine.

The contests appear to have succeeded in doing just that. During the months they were being held, the Alabama Tourism Department’s social media channels saw a 13% increase in followers and 48% increase in engagement.

Using UGC on social media and in timed website galleries to highlight everything Alabama offers“In a state with so many unique and diverse attractions, user-generated content adds considerable credibility and depth to all our communications,” says Jo Jo Terry, Alabama Tourism Department’s Digital Marketing Director.

“On social media it’s much easier to share Alabama places and authentic experiences that may not readily occur to people,” she says. “There’s so much power in seeing a real human at a place that you maybe never thought about going to.”

Today, the agency uses UGC throughout Alabama Tourism Department’s social media channels as well as in visual galleries throughout their newly relaunched website. Walsh also had the idea to expand on something unique he discovered from that initial research into Oregon.

“They would have a different picture and welcome message saying ‘good evening,’ ‘goodnight’ or ‘good morning’ based on what time it was where you were,” he says, adding that the dynamic welcome message inspired him. “On the homepage we created four different galleries—one for sunrise, one for midday, one for sunset and one for evening—and so as the day progresses that gallery switches out so you can see what it would be like to be in Alabama during that time of day.”

Looking to the future: “we’re definitely on the right path with user-generated content”
Moving forward, Walsh says the organization is exploring expanding its use of CrowdRiff, including its API capabilities, to offer more dynamic content, especially among smaller communities lacking a dedicated DMO or whose assets are currently limited.

“We’re definitely on the right path with user-generated content,” he says, “and are actually excited about the possibilities with CrowdRiff to take us further in the future.”
For the complete article please see

Chef Jim Smith opening new restaurant in Mobile’s Oakleigh Garden Historic District
From the article by Breck Pappas on

Chef Jim Smith’s new job will be a little different from his last. For starters, his kitchen will be a bit more crowded; Smith worked alone in his previous gig, so hiring and training a staff will be an adjustment, he says. The setting is another change, as he’s moved from a stately Montgomery mansion to a shaded corner building in Oakleigh. But the third difference between his previous job and his new one is probably Smith’s favorite.

“People couldn’t just show up to the governor’s mansion and ask to eat,” he says with his winsome smile. “I can’t wait to get back into meeting locals and connecting with people who are here because they want to eat my food.”

As the executive chef for the state of Alabama, Smith (the first to ever hold the position) has spent the last nine years cooking for the First Family and planning and preparing menus for events sponsored by the state. With Smith’s decision to open his first-ever restaurant, The Hummingbird Way, in the building last occupied by Kitchen on George, Mobile is adding yet another establishment to its burgeoning culinary scene — a scene which, he says, is far from reaching critical mass. “There’s room for more good restaurants in Mobile.”

The city is also gaining a bona fide celebrity chef; Smith was a top 10 finisher on Bravo TV’s popular cooking show “Top Chef,” an experience that the highly competitive chef both treasures and beats himself up over. “I don’t really wake up with cold sweats anymore like I did immediately after the show,” he says, laughing (although I get the feeling it’s not a joke.)

High-stakes competition has defined much of Smith’s life, but you’d hardly know it speaking with him; the bespectacled chef is unassuming, friendly and charming — it quickly becomes clear why he was a “Top Chef” fan favorite. Inside his soon-to-be-open seafood restaurant, Smith sits down to discuss his winding journey to the Port City.

Debating Careers
Cooking was a passion Smith didn’t discover until his 20s. “I’m not one of those chefs who has a story about tugging their grandma’s apron strings. I was more the guy who was catching the bream to be fried later.”

Born in Panama City, Smith recognizes the effect that growing up around seafood had on his later development as a chef. Whether going with his family to buy oysters straight off the dock or bass fishing in a freshwater lake near his grandparents’ home, he says that “as far as food memories go, that’s really where it all started for me.”

Smith moved with his family to Troy in middle school, where he devoted his creative energy to theater, music and photography. Debate, however, is what stuck. “I discovered this new way of learning and this new way of thinking about things,” he says. Smith found that he thrived in the “hypercompetitive, super research-intensive” world of debate, and by the time he graduated from Troy’s Charles Henderson High School, he was a three-time Alabama state champion debater. At Samford University, in Birmingham, he continued to excel in the activity, which he describes as “more like a sport that’s based in academia than just a sort of club.” Smith and his teammates would fly to places like Harvard or USC, competing in tournaments that could involve as many as 120 teams. Although majoring in psychology at the time, Smith says “the rest of the undergraduate experience was not nearly as important as debate was to me. That’s really what I was doing intensely before falling in love with food.”

There’s no question that Smith’s debating experience has come in handy as a chef. “There was a time 20 years ago when chefs could just sort of hide in the kitchen and let their food do the speaking for them,” he says. “But we live in a time when chefs can’t do that anymore. People want to talk to who’s creating their food, and they want to understand where it came from. And being someone who had thought a lot about how to structure arguments, how to describe things to people … that was really invaluable in helping me become someone who can describe food and express the passion I have for it.”

Creating recipes, he explains, is a lot like formulating a debate argument. “With debate, you could pick any subject and then dive as deep into it as possible,” he says. When creating a dish, Smith says he’ll gather 50 to 60 similar recipes and go from there.

“So when I come out on the other side after developing a recipe, it’s something that has a lot of thought, a lot of trial and error and a lot of advice from other people.”

As a college kid with dreams of becoming a lawyer or debate coach, Smith was blindsided by a newfound food passion when, needing a job, he walked into Frank Stitt’s restaurant Bottega in Birmingham and handed in an application. “I had no experience working in a nice restaurant,” he says. “Certainly not one of that quality.”

Starting off as a busboy, Smith eventually picked up additional responsibilities as a bartender and server. “I was just fascinated with cooking and service and the artistry behind it all.”

The wide-eyed youngster worked his way around Birmingham, rubbing elbows with chefs Chris Hastings and Anthony Marini and learning the food industry from the bottom up. “And it wasn’t much later that I was in culinary school at Johnson & Wales University [in Charlotte, North Carolina].”

The Spotlight
A question Smith gets asked a lot is, “How does one become the executive chef of Alabama?” The answer is surprisingly simple. Following culinary school, Smith landed a job as chef de cuisine at Dyron’s Lowcountry in Mountain Brook. As fate would have it, two of his regular customers were Diane and Robert Bentley, who made a habit of stopping at Dyron’s while on the gubernatorial campaign trail.

“We just kind of hit it off,” Smith says. “As the campaign got to the end, Mrs. Bentley started asking me questions like, ‘How do I feed all of these people at these events? What should I expect?’”

While Alabama had never had an official state chef, the position exists in several states across the country. Mrs. Bentley told Smith that she was considering creating such a role and that he should consider submitting an application. In 2011, Smith donned the chef’s apron for his state, cooking everything from day-to-day meals for the First Family to 300-person buffets at the governor’s mansion. As the state’s first executive chef, Smith recognized that a major component of his job should be to champion Alabama farmers and fishers. Invited to represent Alabama in the annual Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans, Smith picked up ingredients as he drove — produce at a farmers market in Montgomery, some yellow squash at a roadside stand, crab and shrimp right off a boat in Mobile. He went on to win the competition, which provided a “huge boost” to his career and made him the national spokesperson for American Sustainable Seafood, an experience Smith describes as some of the most rewarding work of his career.

In 2016, another competition came calling.

“I was a fan of ‘Top Chef’ since season one,” Smith says. The application process for the popular Bravo TV series was a grueling, year-long slew of resumes, interviews and meetings. Charmed by the dapper Southern chef with an innocent smile, “Top Chef” selected Smith to be a contestant on season 14, filmed in Charleston. Finishing 10th of the 16 contestants, he says he relished his time on the show. “I love the pregame jitters, getting pumped up because you’re about to compete and wondering what the challenge is going to be.”

Smith says he owes a “giant debt” to the show for what it’s done for his career, but the competitor in him wanted to be named Top Chef. “I can remember the day I got sent home like it was yesterday — everything about it and everything that I could have done better. Those are things that will probably continue to haunt me.”

In Bloom
With plenty to accomplish before the opening of The Hummingbird Way (projected for December), Smith says the menu is essentially finalized. “I’m definitely what I’d call a modern Southern chef,” he says. “For example, we’ll serve an elevated version of crab Rangoon, but instead of a sweet Asian sauce, I might serve it with a house-made pepper jelly. There will be things like that on the menu that are fun and modern, but still Southern.”

The debate-champion-turned-chef thrives in the minutia. “The choices that you see in this restaurant have all been thought over endlessly by me,” he says. The establishment’s name is no exception.

“I really wanted to think of a name that was light and fun and whimsical but also had a little bit of meaning, too,” he says. Hummingbirds, he points out, are migratory birds that Mobilians know well. “But the thing that a hummingbird is always doing is trying to find the sweetest nectar … and the movement of their wings, that sort of hyper-continual movement is something that I find beautiful and impressive and something I can relate to.”

Choosing a location was another looming decision. “I knew I wanted to stay in Alabama, and I knew I wanted to do a seafood-centric restaurant,” he says. “Having done so much work with the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission (Smith is the commission’s chairman), coastal Alabama already feels like home.”

With Smith’s decision to open The Hummingbird Way at the former home of the popular Kitchen on George, he is also fulfilling the wish of many locals who want to see another successful venture in the neighborhood. Kitchen on George was shut down a year ago this month following the abrupt closure of Virginia College, which had created the restaurant as an active lab for its culinary students. Smith says his days are currently spent scrubbing equipment, putting the finishing touches on paperwork, seeking out local farmers and fishers and finalizing interior design choices (think quartz tabletops with wrought-iron decorative bases and a tiled bar). “We’re definitely going for a little bit of a retro vibe in here.”

While he uses words like “upscale” and “fancy,” he doesn’t want to scare away the casual diner. “I don’t want to make this place sound like it’s going to be a formal restaurant because there won’t be tablecloths. You’re welcome to come in shorts and flip flops, but if you want to come in a tuxedo, you’ll fit in fine, too.”

With the final pieces of the puzzle falling into place, I ask Smith what it is about this new challenge he’s most looking forward to.

“Just the act of getting in the kitchen and making my dream come out on a plate to guests.” And that, to Jim Smith, is the sweetest nectar of all.

For the complete article please see

Rocket Center in Huntsville rated ‘cool place’ for kids
From the article by Paul Gattis on

It’s already the top tourist attraction in Alabama but now the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville is getting worldwide acclaim.

Time for Kids, the junior version of the legacy magazine, released its “World’s Coolest Places” on Thursday. The list of 47 places around the world were divided into four categories: Play, learn, explore and eat.

The rocket center, home of Space Camp, made the “learn” list.

“Want to learn what it’s like to travel into space?” the Time for Kids post said about the rocket center. “The U.S. Space & Rocket Center takes you as close as you can get without leaving Earth’s atmosphere. Visitors get a taste of astronaut life through flight simulation experiences, such as the G-Force Accelerator and a rocket-launch simulator. As the home of Space Camp, the Aviation Challenge, and Robotics Camp, the center is also a training ground for budding astronauts. Outside the museum stands the world’s only full-scale display of a Space Transportation System: a massive space shuttle, complete with rocket boosters.”

The rocket center retweeted the Time for Kids link with a comment in part that said, appropriately enough, “How cool!”

The Time for Kids write-up, however, did not mention the museum’s refurbished Saturn V rocket — the only mock duplicate of the rocket that took men to the moon in the Apollo program and perhaps the most iconic part of Huntsville.

About 850,000 people visited the Space & Rocket Center in 2018 — more than 300,000 more people than visited the Birmingham Zoo, the second-leading tourist attraction in the state.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
Join us at the Capitol for the Alabama Bicentennial Concert Saturday, Dec. 14 at 4 p.m. featuring more than a dozen of Alabama’s legendary musicians as part of the culmination of Alabama’s three-year bicentennial. Be sure to come early and enjoy other celebratory events throughout the weekend.

Read more about this event and more at


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