For immediate release

Twenty-eight million tourists spent a record $16.8 billion while vacationing in Alabama in 2019, the Alabama Tourism Department reports, crediting the arrival of more than a million additional guests who spent a billion dollars more than tourists the previous year.


With growth at nearly 8 percent, it was the third consecutive year that travel expenditures in Alabama grew by more than a billion dollars, director Lee Sentell said, adding that it was the first year that guests paid more than one billion dollars in taxes to Alabama state and local governments. He said taxes paid by tourists saved the average state family an estimated $537 a year in taxes.


The travel and hospitality industry employed more than 200,000 workers for the first-time last year, according to the economic impact analysis that used a model developed by state economist Dr. Keivan Deravi. It estimated that some 140,706 direct jobs led to the creation of 64,906 additional or indirect jobs. The Deravi analysis said that every $116,120 in travel industry spending creates one direct job in Alabama.


Seven counties accounted for 75 percent of all travel-generated employment, the study found. Some 54,262 workers were employed around the beach towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. Another 32,628 were employed in the Birmingham area while an estimated 18,970 jobs were created in the Huntsville area. The Mobile area claimed 18,658 jobs and the Montgomery labor force numbered 14,438.  The Tuscaloosa area notched 9,028 jobs while across the state Auburn-Opelika had 7,076 workers, the annual report said.


For the first time, expenditures in Baldwin County exceed the five-billion-dollar mark, with an increase of 9 percent over the previous year to $5.2 billion.


Birmingham/Jefferson County was in second place with a 5.5 percent increase in expenditures as sales totaled $2.41 billion.


With a 15.2 percent growth, the Huntsville and Madison County area achieved the state’s highest percentage increase to reach $1.62 billion in sales.


Mobile County registered a 4 percent increase to exceed $1.3 billion in revenue for the first time.


Driven by a. 5.6 percent growth of visitation, Montgomery County topped the billion-dollar mark for the first time with $1.025 billion in revenue.


Tuscaloosa County achieved a 5.5 percent growth to approach the $700 million level for the first time followed by Auburn and Lee County which grew by 11.2 percent in expenditures to exceed $522 million for the first time.


Sentell said the state’s tourists’ expenditures have grown by 85 percent since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill a decade ago, setting records during each of the nine years. He predicted the current shutdown of many tourist destinations caused by the virus pandemic will rebound soon.


Grouped by region, expenditures in the Gulf Coast accounted for 40 percent of the state’s $16.6 billion travel industry, according to the annual report. The gulf region climbed 8 percent to $6.65 billion dollars. Wages for the 75,000 part-time and full-time workers in the region climbed 4.3 percent to $2.23 billion while the state’s central region, which includes Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Calhoun County among others, captured 24 percent of the state’s volume, and was second in importance. Tourists there spent $4 billion, an increase of 5 percent. The central region boasted 56,455 workers whose earnings grew by nearly 10 percent to total $1.47 billion.


The northern tier of counties, from Muscle Shoals to Fort Payne, captured 19 percent of state expenditures, some $3.2 billion, which was a growth of 9.7 percent. Some 37,644 wage earners took in almost a billion dollars, an increase of 8.4 percent. Guests visiting the southern tier of counties excluding the Gulf Coast, which includes Montgomery and Dothan, spent 9.8 percent more than in the past year to total $2.84 billion, or 17 percent of the statewide total. Some 39,415 workers earned more than a billion dollars, a growth of 9 percent.


The annual report said that the travel industry’s 7.8 percent growth outpaced the 1.7 percent growth in the Alabama Domestic Product and the 2.3 percent increase in services.