Tourism Tuesday April 28, 2020

Gov. Ivey reopens state gulf beaches Thursday

Alabama tourism: Big business knocked down by coronavirus

Motorcoach industry faces collapse without help, says charter bus operator in Alabama

New name, same games: The World Games Birmingham updates official moniker

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer



Gov. Ivey reopens state gulf beaches Thursday

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says she will allow for the reopening of the state’s economy, including the Gulf Coast beaches in Baldwin County, through a phased-in approach starting at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The easing of restrictions comes under a new “Safer at Home” order that runs through May 15, replacing the governor’s stay-at-home order that will be allowed to expire on Thursday afternoon.

Beaches will reopen with a limit on any gatherings of 10 people or more. Beach-goers must maintain six feet of separation, the governor said.

After the governor’s press conference, state tourism director Lee Sentell told WSFA-TV that having the beaches open again will benefit the entire state tourism industry. “The beach pulls midwestern tourists through the state which encourages more people to visit the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, the Birmingham Zoo and the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery,” among other attractions, he said. He noted that tourists spent more than five billion dollars in Baldwin County last year, an all-time record.

The state’s retail stores can reopen subject to a 50 percent occupancy rate limit in addition to social-distancing and sanitation rules.

Medical procedures will be allowed to take place unless prohibited in the future by the State Health Officer to preserve resources necessary to diagnose and treat COVID-19. Providers must follow COVID-19 related rules and guidance from safe regulatory boards or public health authorities.

Ivey says the state is encouraging people to stay home and follow good sanitation practices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that some businesses may reopen provided they maintain six-feet separations.


Alabama tourism: Big business knocked down by coronavirus

From the article by Lee Roop on 

Alabama’s hospitality industry had come a long way before the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 28 million people visited the state in 2018, tourism leaders say, and nearly 200,000 people worked in the two sides of the industry: tourist and business travel.

Officials say they know tourists paid $1 billion in state and local taxes for the first time in 2019. And they also know that, because of the virus, none of this year’s numbers will be close to that. And while hospitals are unquestionably the bullseye of the epidemic, tourist attractions, hotels, bars and restaurants may occupy the next ring out on the target.

Mobile estimates 13,000 people out of 17,000 in its hospitality industries are out of work. Huntsville has 17,500 people in the industry, and travel and tourism supported 31,000 jobs in Birmingham and drew $2.3 billion of economic impact to the city in 2018., the last year for which figures are available.

In Montgomery, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum opened in 2018 and brought more than a half-million visitors to Alabama and a new travel segment: coach travel. Today, both memorial and museum are closed and the buses idle.

Still, like coaches on a struggling football team, tourist leaders say Alabama’s fundamentals are good. “The tourism industry will rebound,” State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said last week. Sentell has seen something like this before. Ten years ago, the Gulf Horizon oil spill closed Alabama’s beaches – for years, some predicted – and Sentell says “the following summer was the strongest ever.”

“Since (Gulf Horizon), statewide tourism expenditures have increased by 85 percent, which is a pretty strong industry,” Sentell said. “We’re averaging 8.5 percent per year (growth) and we were en route to our 10th consecutive record year until this happened.”

Part of the optimism rests on the fact that Alabama is primarily a drive-to destination. Most tourists do not need to get on a plane to come here.

“And there are only two Southern states that have Gulf Coast beaches: Alabama and Florida,” Sentell said. “When this is over, there’s going to be a lot of pent up demand. I’m not saying it’s going to happen in one month, but people think of vacations as a right, not a luxury, and Alabama is an inexpensive destination.”

“There will be a great pent-up demand for travel when this in the rearview mirror,” Sentell said. “But when people are comfortable about traveling, the great thing about Alabama is you come in your own car and stay in your own hotel room or suite of rooms and you don’t have to talk to anybody you don’t want to. It’s almost like you’re sheltering in the family van.”

National unemployment numbers across America suggest Sentell may be right. Reports say 22 million Americans are out of work now because of the virus. That’s led to tighter home budgets on top of the cabin fever sheltering in place causes. When the government pulls the cork out of that bottle of pent-up demand, it could spray a lot of Americans toward Alabama’s beaches and ever attraction on the way to them.

Meanwhile, Alabama has approximately 970 hotels, and Sentell said only 3 percent are closed based on a recent call survey. “I didn’t say they’re making money,” he said. “I’m just saying they’re still there.”

The other travel market – business and convention travel – is dramatically down now. It is a major part of traffic to hotels like the The Lodge at Gulf State Park and hotels near business centers like Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal.

Travel professionals like Huntsville’s Judy Ryals are trying to make sure that comes back. Ryals has been the Huntsville Convention and Visitors Bureau for 42 years, and her city is where Alabama got one of the first signs of how bad the virus would be for business.

The Association of the U.S. Army on March 10 canceled its annual symposium that brought nearly 7,000 visitors in 2019 and $3.6 million to the city. That was followed almost immediately by the cancellation of the National Children’s Advocacy Center’s 36th International Symposium that would have brought 1,500 people to Huntsville hotels and restaurants late in March.

Ryals said last week that Huntsville’s hotels are still open but with skeleton staffs of mostly managers. That is down from a peak employment in the food, hotel and entertainment sectors of 17,250 people last year, Ryals said.

The state’s largest paid tourist destination – the U.S. Space & Rocket Center –– is in Huntsville, and it has been closed since March 14. That means no Biergarten, the popular weekly dinner under the Saturn V rocket, and it means no Space Camp.

“Some of our sister organizations we are all members of are really feeling that will be the case,” Ryals said. “We’ll be ready to interact with each other and network and be face to face with our peers and going after business again and attending trade shows.”

“We do plan on trying to market on more of a regional basis so people could drive here,” Ryals said.

But even if Alabama and other Southern states reopen ahead of much of the country, major conferences and symposiums may not return until there is a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus. A conference room is different than an umbrella on a breezy beach.

David Clark, the president of Visit Mobile, has a counter-intuitive take on the future of the meeting industry. Clark thinks the value of face-to-face meetings will go up, not down, as America comes out of quarantine.

“We’ve seen the good in Zoom meetings,” Clark said last week, “and we’ve seen the limitations. The value of meetings is actually skyrocketing.”

Why? Because “building connection, building trust” can’t be done easily on a screen, Clark said. “Yes, it will be different, and we will have to take best practices to another level.”

But Clark believes our need and desire to see each other face to face again might be a surprise trump card in the recovery, and he’s spending time now on projects like thinking of how conferences and public spaces will be different in the future.

In the meantime, industry leaders are also scrambling to help laid off hospitality workers with programs like gift cards customers can buy now and use later and special promotions like Mobile’s Takeout Fridays and Mobile Heroes, a spotlight on innovative thinking in the industry.

“Our heart bleeds for this,” Clark said. “We are the destination marketer. We are the marketers for their businesses. We have a large obligation to keep them, No. 1, employed and, No. 2, get them jump-started as soon as when can when (we) start coming out of it.”

The third leg in Mobile’s travel stool is the cruise industry. Carnival Cruise Line cruises to the Caribbean from Mobile, but the company says it won’t start again until at least June 26.

When that restart happens, Clark said the company won’t introduce all of its ships at the same time. The company will add ships as demand grows and return to its most lucrative markets first.

Mobile is getting ready with a study by the University of South Alabama showing the city’s drive-to demographics and other market strengths. “As a city, we’re proactive,” Clark said. “We’ve sent that to Carnival letting them know that our drive demographics are very good here.”

Alabama’s cities and destinations compete against each other, but not significantly, Clark said. That drive-in market often passes through the entire state and all its attractions on the way to and from the beaches. “We all sort of compete – well, we do and we don’t – but we try to help each other,” he said.

For the complete article please see tourism-big-business-knocked-down-by-coronavirus.html


Motorcoach industry faces collapse without help, says charter bus operator in Alabama

From the article by Conner Sheets on 

As Congress set the stage for airlines, Amtrak and U.S.-based cruise lines to receive millions of federal dollars via the coronavirus stimulus bill it passed late last month, James Kelton was left to wonder why the charter bus industry was left out.

As the owner of Kelton Tours Unlimited in Gadsden, Kelton oversees a small family business that offers eight large motor coaches for charter. But those buses have sat unused in a gravel lot off Forrest Avenue for over a month.

Every booking through May has been canceled in recent weeks, and people continue to call to cancel summer plans. The outlook is no better for most other small and mid-sized charter bus companies across the country, some of which have already shuttered for good.

“Everyone’s in the same boat I’m in,” Kelton said. “On March 12, we started getting calls and emails from people canceling trips. And we shut down completely the next day because we were just getting completely flooded with cancelations.”

Help wanted

The charter bus industry may be a little-discussed part of the transportation and transit ecosystem, but it occupies an important role in the movement of people. Sports teams regularly charter buses to take them between games; performers use them to tour; and they are often utilized for shorter distances at weddings and other events.

But they also perform tasks that Kelton’s son, Jayme, described as essential in a way that the cruise ship industry is not. (Note: while most major “American” cruise lines are actually incorporated in tax havens like Bermuda and Panama and thus received no federal funding from the CARES Act stimulus package, some cruise operators incorporated in the U.S. did get funds.)

Charter buses take people to and from airports and cruise terminals, and between train stations when tracks are out of service. And the federal government relies on charter buses to move military personnel and help people evacuate from natural disasters.

“Why do they give it to the airlines, the trains and the cruise ships? We’re the ones that get them there en masse,” Jayme Kelton asked. “Every time a hurricane hits or is going to hit, who do you think they call? We head down there and put our equipment on the line and everything.”

The Keltons say they support the efforts of the American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association and other groups and individuals to lobby federal lawmakers to provide aid for the charter bus industry. They are calling on Congress to provide the industry with $10 billion in stimulus money and $5 billion worth of interest-free loans.

“People are going to be scared”

Without assistance, James Kelton says there will likely be few charter bus companies left to speak of, as they operate with razor-thin margins – often about 3 percent – even when business is good.

“We’re not going to be able to weather this unless we get some help from the federal government,” he said. “If something’s not done about businesses like mine, we’re not going to come back.”

And while the fleet of buses – which would each cost at least $600,000 new – sit unused, the bills continue to pile up. The company is over $1.2 million in debt and typically grosses between $1.4 million and $1.5 million annually. It has been able to temporarily halt some insurance payments and debt service, but James Kelton worries that even once businesses reopen, people will not be quick to resume riding and chartering buses.

“Where it’s going to hurt our industry is people aren’t going to come back immediately,” he said. “Because people are going to be scared to move and travel outside their safety zone.”

James Kelton and his father started Kelton Tours in 1980, 24 years after James Kelton Sr. started the family’s other business, Kelton Wrecker Service, also in Gadsden. That company has lost about 80 percent of its business since people started driving less amid the pandemic, the Keltons say.

But Jayme Kelton, who runs the wrecking service, said he is confident that the wrecking business will pick back up once society is back up and running.

In the meantime, about 15 of Kelton Tours Unlimited’s employees – drivers, mechanics, cleaning staff – have been furloughed and are sitting at home, waiting for stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.

If nothing is done soon to prop up charter bus companies, Jayme Kelton says there may be none left to save when society begins to reopen.

“Most everybody’s in debt,” he said. “If we don’t get help, I see the whole motorcoach industry falling.”

For the complete article please see faces-collapse-without-help-says-charter-bus-operator-in-alabama.html


New name, same games: The World Games Birmingham updates official moniker

From the article on 

The World Games 2021 Birmingham has a new name to go with its new date. With the announcement of The Games’ shift to July 7-17, 2022, organizers have decided that the international multisport event will officially become The World Games 2022 Birmingham.


“After careful consideration, we are excited to move forward as The World Games 2022,” said Nick Sellers, CEO of the Birmingham Organizing Committee (BOC). “Ultimately, we wanted to ensure consistency and brand recognition for our event. But, more than that, our hope is that The World Games 2022 will stand for something more than a date on the calendar; that it will become a time of reconnection for our community and the world.”

The decision to adapt the moniker, which was made collaboratively between the BOC and International World Games Association (IWGA), comes after the International Olympic Committee postponed the Summer Olympics until 2021, but agreed to retain the name “Tokyo 2020.”

“The excellent relationship between the BOC, the city of Birmingham and the IWGA ensured the quick move of the 11th edition of The World Games to 2022,” said IWGA CEO Joachim Gossow. “The flexible organizational structure of the event and our teams makes it easier to manage such a challenge in such a short time: we trust each other and know that we can lean on each other. We wanted to announce the new name of the event now as well and start promoting The World Games 2022 in Birmingham. We look forward to organizing The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, USA, from 7th to 17th July in 2022.”

The World Games 2022 Birmingham today also unveiled its new logo and website, which have been updated to reflect the rebrand. The redesigned website,, features an enhanced navigation and user experience.

The World Games 2022 Birmingham will be an extraordinary Olympic-style sports experience where elite athletes from all over the world compete for gold in 32 unique, multidisciplinary sports. Featuring 3,600 athletes from more than 100 countries, the international event will unite global fans with the Birmingham community, more than 25 unique venues around the greater metropolitan area. The World Games 2022 Birmingham, which marks the 40th anniversary of the event, will take place July 7-17, 2022, and generate an estimated $256 million in economic impact. The World Games was established by the International World Games Association, an organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

For the complete article please see games-the-world-games-birmingham-updates-official-moniker/

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer

National Tourism & Travel Week is right around the corner, May 3-9. In the spirit of travel, folks will be looking to Alabama.Travel for ideas for their next trip. Be sure your locations and events are up to date. If your event has been canceled, postponed, or is tentative, please be sure to indicate in the description. This will be crucial as circumstances change and people begin to look again to Alabama as a vacation destination.

Update your listings today!

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