Not every restaurant is concerned about safe distancing for customers
From bust to boom: Alabama beach rentals fill up, but will the good times last?
Native American history, world-class architecture and natural beauty also abound
Pandemic slams door on Montgomery’s tourism boom
A state park that rivals national parks
Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer
Not every restaurant is concerned about safe distancing for customers
By Lee Sentell
For the past three months Alabamians have been hunkered down, secluded at home and away from our jobs, family and friends. Even the thought of a trip outside of our hometowns was ruled out for fear of catching the virus that has gripped the world. Gov. Kay Ivey has been a constant presence on television, encouraging us to leave home only when absolutely necessary, for example, to buy food, medicine and paper products. She closed restaurants, churches, retail stores, salons and any places where groups might congregate and those who were “positive” could infect the people they encounter.
Similar restrictions in other states kept people at home, causing tourist expenditures in Alabama in March to drop by an astonishing 76 percent versus the previous year. As bad as that sounds, 48 other states had deeper percentage drop-offs. Neighboring Mississippi was down 2 percent less than Alabama.
Over the last few weeks the governor slowly eased restrictions while expressing expectations that business owners would reduce capacity by half and require social distancing while staffs and guests wore face coverings.
A weekend road trip with a friend to northeast Alabama during the Memorial Day holiday demonstrated some highs and lows of individual businesses and attractions on following those guidelines. While masks and social distancing were either required or recommended at some businesses, diners at several restaurants partied with no regard to their potential risk at being exposed to or of spreading the dangerous virus.
Joe and I joined guests who arrived for the reopening of the Pinecrest Dining Room restaurant at Lake Guntersville State Park lodge on Friday night and were met with colorful footprints on the wooden floor spaced six feet apart. Signs urged social distancing. Wait staff wore masks and plastic gloves while distributing paper menus and during food service throughout the evening. About half of the several dozen guests who enjoyed delicious fried catfish and seafood in the early part of the evening wore cloth masks. The dining room was only partially filled and the servers seated guests at tables that were not next to other guests. Virtually every member of the lodge staff wore face coverings throughout the several days and nights of our trip. Score one for state parks!
That was in marked contrast to our experience at lunch the following day at a popular seafood franchise restaurant at the edge of Lake Guntersville. It was very busy with no thought of limiting the capacity to half of normal occupancy as recommended by the state health department. Fortunately, we were wearing masks and plastic gloves. We got a table on the sparsely occupied screened-in porch which benefitted from a breeze off the lake. Otherwise, we might have left. We did not see a single man, woman or child wearing a mask or even a sign that suggested wearing one. As the governor’s tourism director, I worried that such disregard of health cautions might lead to a further spreading of the virus. The attentive waitress who served us said none of their guests in the two weeks since the restaurant reopened seemed worried about it.
Brenda Cantrell, a friend who has worked with the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro for a number of years, had told me that crowds returned in droves to Scottsboro since the unique terminal for lost luggage had reopened. The queue to enter was strictly regulated, she assured me. Since my traveling companion had never experienced touring the giant halls where the contents of mishandled luggage comes to be sold to curious shoppers, we headed to Scottsboro to check it out. The packed parking lots on West Willow Street alerted us we were near. Sure enough, the line of people spaced a good distance from one another outside the large building complex was apparently in compliance with health department guidelines. However, since there was no way of knowing how long we would be in line before actually entering, we decided to postpone that adventure until a less popular holiday week.
A drive around the historic courthouse square in search of lunch yielded an attractive coffee shop where the aroma was rich. I bought a colorful mask to add to my collection. Thankfully, the pleasant young cashier did wear a mask.
My friend commented that we passed two Mexican restaurants on the road into town and we retraced our route, bypassing the first one because of too many cars. We pulled off the road at the one farther from town where there were only a couple of cars parked out front. When the woman inside the door at El Campesino was wearing a colorful mask and I noticed a convenient bottle of hand sanitizer, I relaxed. The food at El Campesino was good at a fair price and service was friendly.
When we entered a downtown restaurant the next day for lunch, we saw a repeat among the customers from the seafood restaurant the day before. During the hour we were there, probably 40 to 50 men, woman and lots of children arrived for a meal. Not one mask in sight.
Since this is the period that the Alabama Tourism Department has crowned the Year of Natural Wonders, we decided to see if Cathedral Caverns was open for tours. Yes, said the voice over the phone at the state park, but they were sold out for the day. I later learned they reduced the number of participants per tour and required social distancing inside the cave. Score two for two for state parks.
En route back to Montgomery, we detoured to the Grand River outlet center east of Birmingham and stopped by several stores. Most women shoppers wore masks. Few men did. Most staff members did. At the Ralph Lauren store, an African American supervisor apologized that the dressing rooms were closed for sanitary reasons related to the pandemic. A customer wanting to try on a garment for size was out of luck. To approximate one’s waist size she demonstrated, wrapping it around her neck, saying there is usually a correlation. It was a trick blacks learned during the days of segregation when they could not try on clothes before buying them.
Meantime, despite Gov. Ivey’s best efforts, Alabama isn’t winning the fight to reduce the number of infections. To illustrate a story today about rising infections across the nation, CNN showed a “Sweet Home Alabama” highway sign. Unfortunately, based on what we saw, I’m not surprised.
From bust to boom: Alabama beach rentals fill up, but will the good times last?
From the article by John Sharp on AL.com
Fourth of July travel to Alabama’s beaches are considered the high-water mark of tourism each year as families flock to the condos for vacations, fishing excursions, dolphin tours or simple relaxation somewhere along the state’s 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches.
But in this COVID-19 world, Independence Day has come early. With strict “Stay at Home” orders lifted in Alabama – coupled with restrictions on short-term rental activity in nearby Florida – Alabama’s beaches are experiencing a record-breaking month heading into what is expected to be a record-breaking Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s nothing we’ve seen before,” said Brian Harris, broker/CEO with Harris Vacation Rentals.
Occupancy rates, which were well below 10% less than a month ago, are booming to above 90% for rental companies. Short-term leases, such as two-or three-day stays, are fueling the surge as cautious tourists step outside their home confinement and drive to the beaches for the soothing sounds of Gulf waters.
“We have been pleasantly surprised both at the number of visitors to our area and how quickly they have returned,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.
The industry in Alabama has seen a wild swing from late April to Memorial Day weekend. Here are the statistics:
• According to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, the coastal area saw a jump from “less than 10% occupancy for vacation rentals” in late April to 32% by May 4. According to Harris, the area’s occupancy was at an astonishing low 3% in April.
• Occupancies have since risen to 74% for the weekend of May 15-17, which is “higher than we normally see for this third weekend in May when Hangout Music Festival happens,” said Kay Maghan, spokeswoman with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.
• Some rental agencies are reporting near full occupancy for this weekend. Harris is at around 90% occupancy for his rentals and Brett Robinson Rentals has eclipsed 96% for the weekend. Hunter Harrelson, who owns and operates Beachball Properties, a rental agency that manages approximately 109 properties on the coast, is at 100% occupancy. Liquid Life Rentals estimates it will host 1,700 families this May, up from 1,150 last year.
Further fueling the business boom in May has been the ban on short-term rentals in Florida, which was just recently lifted. Officials in Escambia County, Florida, and at Panama City Beach are not providing statistics on occupancy numbers yet for the month of May. But according to Harris, there is a noticeable difference between Escambia County – home to Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key – and Baldwin County in Alabama. While both counties dipped below 10% occupancy in April, they saw a resurgence with the opening of beaches on May 1. But the boom in Baldwin County was at around 68% earlier in the month, while Escambia County was at near 20%, Harris said.
“It’s a massive upswing for Alabama,” he said, projecting into June that Baldwin County was looking at higher occupancy numbers than Escambia County.
Lacee Rudd, a spokeswoman with Visit Panama City Beach, said the removal of the rental ban is paying off for the Florida Panhandle. “We have seen a spike in reservations, and I believe that our traditional holiday crowds will be in the destination this weekend. We’re hopeful this trend will continue through the summer.”
Kimberly Boyle, assistance professor of restaurant, hotel and meeting management at the University of Alabama, isn’t so sure the resurgence will continue. The coronavirus pandemic has led to more than 38 million jobless claims being filed in the U.S., and economists are predicting unemployment rates rivaling the peak unemployment periods of the Great Depression in the 1930s. With economic and public health uncertainty looming – officials are predicting a second wave of the virus to hit the U.S. later this year – vacations to beaches could be cut out of family budgets, Boyle said.
“Unfortunately, it looks to be a sluggish season in Alabama and for the hospitality industry due to limited incomes of families and the uncertainty of a second wave of the virus this fall,” she said. “When a recession hits, the hospitality industry is the first to be cut … because it’s a luxury, not a necessity.”
But Boyle, like officials with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, points to a fact about Alabama’s beaches that could be beneficial for the region: It’s a popular “drive to” destination with a variety of price points accommodating families with differing income levels.
“If one family is used to staying at a four-star hotel/condo yet wants to cut back on expenses, they can still go to the beach, they’ll just stay at a lower priced property,” said Boyle. “For example, when the recession hit in 2008, the fine dining and casual style restaurants got hit the hardest financially, yet the quick service (fast food) restaurants’ numbers exploded. We still ate out; we just shifted our choices.”
Malone, at Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, said the out-of-state license plates he is already seeing around the region is indicative of the region’s easy access for drivers. The beaches are a popular go-to spot for travelers along Interstate 65 through Alabama, or along I-10. Statistics repeatedly show Alabama as a popular spot for travelers from Texas and Louisiana.
Of the nearly 6.9 million visitors who came to Baldwin County in 2019, almost all of them drove. According to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism data, a whopping 92% of visitors drove to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores during the summers of 2018 and 2019. A meager 7% came by air, according the data, and three-quarters of them traveled through the Pensacola International Airport, presumably renting a car for the hour-long drive to the west.
“We are fortunate because we not only have beautiful beaches, but we are within a few hours to a two-day drive for a good portion of the United States,” said Malone.
The road-trippers will also be flocking the beaches this weekend to take advantage of the first weekend of the annual red snapper season. The season kicks off officially on Friday and has been described as the “Black Friday of the fishing industry” along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
Brant Frazier, a charter boat captain who owns and operates Fins & Family Fishing in Gulf Shores, said he’s almost completely booked for the next two weeks and is forced to “decline guests every day.”
He said that the month has already been “insanely busy” with families arriving to coastal Alabama earlier in the summer then normal because of school closures during the pandemic. He said in a typical May, his company does 50 inshore and offshore trips. This year, he’ll double that number.
“We lost significantly in March and April and I didn’t think there was a possibility for us to completely recover from the revenue we lost,” said Frazier. “But (the month of May) is beyond what I had hoped. While there is trepidation on what things can be, people are breathing a sigh of relief.”
Frazier’s charter boats are practicing social distancing by limiting the number of people on most of his boats to six people. He said that is the typical size of a family that lives together and visits the beaches.
Staying socially distant
Rental agencies are encouraging visitors to remain cautious and to practice social distancing. The revised State Health Order from earlier this month required people to remain at a distance of 6 feet from people of a different household, and to limit any party size of no more than eight people at restaurants, bars, breweries and ice cream shops.
Studies have shown that coronavirus is less likely to spread outdoors than inside a building in which ventilation is limited. Health experts are expressing more assurances that the beach is a relatively safe place, but that a risk rises when large groups congregate at a bar, restaurant or inside a condo.
Baldwin County, itself, is not considered a COVID-19 problem spot. The county has had 269 confirmed cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began, and eight deaths related to the virus, according to state records. Only 2.8% of Baldwin County residents have received a COVID-19 test.
“It’s not beaches we are concerned about,” said Dr. Rachael Lee, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s everything else afterward — the cookout where you get close to everyone, the bars and hotels where everyone is crammed into one small space. That’s where we are concerned about transmission.”
Harris, whose firm manages 120 properties – a majority of which is single-family beach homes – said he’s worried about an inability for certain attractions to maintain safe social distancing as the flock of tourists return to the beaches. Condo towers, he said, could be attractions for large crowds.
Brett Robinson Rentals – which manages the Phoenix Condos in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach – has installed large signage that encourages visitors to restrict the number of people inside the elevators at one time. Elevators are restricted to no more than four people at one time, and for those four people to be part of the same traveling group, said Brett Robinson spokesman Robert Kennedy Jr. said. The messaging also encourages guests to wear face coverings in common areas, he said.
“We have found that folks, for the most park, are self-policing,” said Kennedy. “If you are seeing a bunch of folks getting into the elevator, folks are stepping out and waiting for another elevator. We have found that we do not have to intervene with security at this point.”
Beaches that drew large congregations in March, during Spring Break, remain closed. Alabama Point East in Orange Beach underneath the Perdido Pass Bridge remains closed, and there is no timetable for its reopening. Images of large congregations of youths underneath the bridge drew outrage online ahead of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s March 20 order that closed the beaches for six weeks.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said the May 15-17 weekend, “was one of the most peaceful weekends we’ve ever had” with people following guidelines. Authorities in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have not issued a single ticket for violations of social distancing on the beaches even as thousands of people have required assistance from lifeguards and beach rangers. In Gulf Shores, lifeguards attended to 11,418 “preventative action” calls from May 1-20, involving actions taken by a lifeguard that “stopped a situation from becoming dangerous.”
“For the most part, people are staying away from others,” said Melvin Shepard, the head of Gulf Shores Beach Rescue. He said he’s more concerned about a large number of people attempting to swim in rough surf than he is with congregations on the beaches.
Rental agencies are looking to add more employees. At Brett Robinson Rentals, the company is looking to add “hundreds” of employees including housekeepers, according to Kennedy. The pay is around $25 an hour, he said.
The hospitality industry, which has been walloped during the coronavirus pandemic, has seen a dip of new unemployment insurance claims filed in the month of May. According to state records, 2,355 claims were filed in the week ending on May 16. For the week ending on March 28, there had been 17,632 claims filed by businesses in accommodations and food services.
Baldwin County has seen over 25,000 new unemployment claims since the week of March 14. But the 811 new claims filed on May 16 – representing the most recent data provided by the Alabama Department of Labor – is the lowest one-week total since the week ending on March 21. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s order to close the state’s beaches was effective on March 20.
Lee Lawson, president & CEO with the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, said the total amount of people who have filed unemployment claims represents approximately 25% of the county’s overall labor force. But he said that as the beaches have reopened, the overall unemployment situation in the county has improved.
“For the week of May 9, Baldwin County had 922 new claims, and we assume that more than 922 employees went back to work that week, which means we are most likely beyond peak unemployment for this event and should see a decline in May and June,” said Lawson.
For the complete article please see https://www.al.com/business/2020/05/from-bust-to-boom-alabama-beach-rentals-fill-up-but-will-the-good-times-last.html
Native American history, world-class architecture and natural beauty also abound
From the article by H. M. Cauley on (Atlanta Journal Constitution) AJC.com
Nestled in northwestern Alabama along the banks of the Tennessee River, the Shoals — also known as “the Quad” or “Quad-Cities” — encompasses the towns of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. Home to about 200,000 people, the Shoals may be small in size, but it is a big travel destination, thanks to a bounty of attractions that celebrate the area’s history and famous natives.
The area’s biggest claim to fame is music. Opened in 1990, the 12,500-square-foot Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia showcases the state’s musical heritage. Among the notable inductees are Hank Williams, Nat “King” Cole, Sam Phillips, Dinah Washington, Emmylou Harris, Lionel Richie and The Blind Boys of Alabama. The hall’s recording studio is stocked with a selection of music and lyrics, and visitors can add their voices to make a take-home memory.
Florence-born W.C. Handy, dubbed “The Father of the Blues” for his contributions to the genre, has a prominent spot in the Hall of Fame. But the prolific composer also has his own museum in Florence. The W.C Handy Birthplace Museum & Library is located in the log cabin where he was born in 1873. Hand-written originals of many Handy works are on display, along with personal papers and artifacts.
The author of “Beale Street Blues” and “St Louis Blues” is celebrated annually during the last week of July when the W.C. Handy Music Festival kicks off with a New Orleans-style street parade and continues with live performances in more than 300 venues. At press time, plans to hold the festival this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic were full steam ahead. Events taking place July 17-26 include songwriter showcases, a three-day bike ride, a car show, a Handy Hookah Block Party, dinner parties and performances by The Beat Daddys, The Midnighters, The Tennessee Valley Strummers, Thompson Trio and more.
Music also takes center stage at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield. The small structure, built in 1946 as a coffin showroom, was reconfigured into a studio in 1969 by four highly sought-after studio musicians known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. They played on some of the biggest rhythm and blues hits of the ’60s and ’70s. A roster of musical royalty recorded here, including Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, George Michael, Willie Nelson and Rod Stewart. After 10 years, the destination became so popular, owners relocated to a larger facility. It was in operation until 2005, when it became Cypress Moon Studios. Today it hosts tours and concerts open to the public.
The original Music Shoals Sound Studios has been restored and is now managed by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. Public tours are offered 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Music lovers will also want to stop at the FAME Recording Studio, home of FAME Publishing founded in 1959. The FAME music label artists included Clarence Carter (“Slip Away”) and Wilson Pickett (“Mustang Sally”).
Not all the famous folks from the Shoals are musicians. Tuscumbia was the birthplace of Helen Keller, an author, activist and lecturer born in 1880 who defied expectations as the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree.
The Helen Keller Birthplace, called Ivy Green, is a museum located in her childhood home. It contains original family furnishings and many of Keller’s personal items, including her Braille typewriter, as well as gifts and awards presented to her during a lifetime of advocating for women and the disabled, including the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal (1936) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964).
Traditionally the Helen Keller Festival is held every June in Spring Park in Tuscumbia. A highlight is a production at the Helen Keller Birthplace of the beloved play about Keller’s life, “The Miracle Worker.” Unfortunately, this year’s festival has been canceled due to COVID-19. Next year’s festival is scheduled for June 24-27, 2021.
Native American heritage also has deep roots in the Shoals. The Florence Indian Mound and Museum preserves grounds still considered sacred to many Southeastern indigenous tribes. Visitors can explore the 42-foot mound, which dates back to AD 100, and learn about ancient cultures at the museum.
The natural beauty of the Shoals shines through in three must-see locations. The 300-acre Shoal Creek Preserve north of Florence abounds with waterfalls, woods and trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Visitors who call ahead to the private Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve in Tuscumbia will be welcomed by owners of the 700-acre property featuring a waterfall, 15 miles of trails and natural beauty as far as the eye can see. There’s also a 48-foot waterfall in the heart of Tuscumbia’s Spring Park, a popular spot for outdoor performances and picnics. On most evenings, a choreographed water and light show is staged at the foot of the falls. Kids (and grownups, too) can hop a ride on a small roller coaster, a carousel or a train that meanders through the grounds.
Architecture lovers will want to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rosenbaum House, constructed between 1939 and 1940 for owners Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum. It became the city of Florence’s property in 1999. Today, the public can tour the architectural gem that features multilevel roofs, cantilevered eaves and an open interior that connects to the natural world beyond the glass, brick and cypress construction. Among the furnishings are several original pieces also designed by Wright.
With all the Shoals has to offer, it’s worth putting off the return drive to Atlanta to take it all in. Along with a number of national hotel chains, including an expansive Marriott Resort and Spa, the Shoals offers some quaint overnight options. The Stricklin Hotel in downtown Florence is one such boutique property with 24 rooms on the second and third stories of a 1940s-era building. The first floor is home to Big Bad Breakfast, where mornings kick off with Anson Mills steel-cut oatmeal and strips of the house-cured Tabasco and brown sugar bacon. The bottom floor is The Boiler Room, a pub equipped with a bowling alley and games of darts, shuffleboard, Skee-Ball and more. A short stroll away is the Historic Zodiac Playhouse, a renovated 1948 space affectionately known as “The Z” where community theater productions and events are staged.
Just remember: The Shoals are in the Central Time Zone, so you’ll gain an hour when you go there, and you’ll lose it when you return home.
For the complete article please see https://www.ajc.com/travel/the-shoals-rich-musical-heritage-but-that-not-all/1LvmGNSWoDYiv4H6eejX3L/
Pandemic slams door on Montgomery’s tourism boom
From the article by Mike Cason on AL.com
The coronavirus pandemic has emptied city streets and tourist attractions everywhere, and it might be hard to find a more glaring example than Montgomery.
Longtime Montgomery residents have known the capital city’s downtown as a sleepy place for most of their lives.
But two years ago, a gradual revival that had ambled along for about two decades shifted to overdrive, at least from a tourism perspective.
The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based law firm that fights systemic bias against poor and minority defendants, opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, an unprecedented shrine to victims of lynching, and the Legacy Museum, which traces the history of slavery and its aftermath.
National media outlets like “60 Minutes” hailed the EJI projects as must-see attractions, and visitors poured in. From the openings in April 2018 until the pandemic struck, 750,000 people visited the memorial and museum, according to EJI. The Alabama Tourism Department named the projects the state’s Attraction of the Year in 2019.
COVID-19 closed the memorial and museum, along with other tourist attractions around the state, in mid-March. EJI said the pandemic will keep away an estimated 100,000 visitors expected this spring.
Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department since 2003, said the emergence of the memorial and museum as a tourism powerhouse was stunning. Their shutdown is just one part of a painful statewide reversal for an industry that set records last year.
“While the economy of the nation fell into a recession in March, the Alabama tourism industry fell into in a depression,” Sentell said in an email. “During that month our state’s travel and hospitality industry suffered a 76 percent drop in expenditures. Adult groups, leisure travel and business travel came to a sudden halt.”
Tourists spent a record $16.8 billion in Alabama in 2019, an almost 7% increase, Sentell said. About 200,000 people worked in the restaurants and lodging sectors of the industry at year’s end, according to the Tourism Department. About 62,000 of those workers filed for unemployment during the nine weeks ending in mid-May, Sentell said.
Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris announced Thursday that museums and other tourist attractions could reopen under a revised health order. Most other categories of businesses and activities can also reopen with safeguards to reduce the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 500 people in Alabama.
But the waiting is not over for those who want to visit EJI.
“We do not plan to open until at least June 15 and will open based on public health data and make our decision based on whether infection rates go down or not,” EJI said in a statement.
When EJI does reopen, Sentell said the tour buses and crowds will be quick to return.
“EJI is one of those destinations that people are going to go back and tell their friends, ‘You have got to go see this,’” Sentell said. “The media coverage they have gotten is just stunning.”
For example, The Dallas Morning News called the memorial “the single greatest work of 21st century American architecture.”
The memorial and museum can’t reopen soon enough for downtown hotels and merchants who rely on the EJI visitors and other tourists for the rentals, food and beverage sales.
Bob Parker is an owner and manager of Dreamland BBQ, a block from the Legacy Museum. The restaurant is also near the distinctive Riverwalk Stadium, which brought minor league baseball back to Montgomery, and The Alley, a popular gathering place for drinking and dining.
Parker, 47, has operated the downtown restaurant for 11 years and witnessed the recent surge in tourism, now on hold because of COVID-19.
“Everything changed about five years ago with tourism being the real draw that we get, especially nights and weekends,” Parker said. “And then you add to that the Equal Justice Initiative’s facilities, it’s a game-changer. Nights and weekends are packed with visitors.”
Last year, tourism-related spending in Montgomery reached $1.03 billion, an all-time high, according to the Tourism Department.
Parker said beach-bound travelers and families involved in youth sports and high school sports are big parts of his customer base. The pandemic put all those activities on hold.
“That’s all kind of dried up,” Parker said. “I’d say that we’re doing probably about 20% of what we were doing pre-COVID. March of last year was our second busiest month ever. And the reason is that all the people are coming to see the Equal Justice exhibits.”
If not for the pandemic, crowds would be filing in to Riverwalk Stadium to watch the Montgomery Biscuits, a Class AA minor league team. Parker said the games are not a huge draw for his business but they help.
“We like them being full, we like hearing the crowds,” Parker said.
Dreamland’s dining room has reopened but takeout still accounts for about 80% of sales, Parker said. He hopes to see dine-in bounce back to about 50%. He has a special events room he can use to expand the seating area for safe spacing when more customers come.
Parker said he adjusted Dreamland’s staffing and operations quickly enough to mitigate some of the financial fallout caused by the slowdown. Government assistance will help, he said. He encouraged workers to get on unemployment as quickly as possible. Parker said the business will survive, although he said it might not return to normal until about next March.
“I think the idea needs to be let’s get restaurants through this mess, because if we don’t, we’re going to lose our independent stores, and we’re going to be stuck with fast food and that’s it. Fast food and drive through.
“And you can see now where everybody is going. Fast food and drive-through are packed. You don’t want a world where that’s the only food option, is fast food and drive-through. That’s not a world I would like to operate in.”
Sara Young, 29, works at the Tower Tap Room in The Alley, and said she is glad to see the crowds start to trickle back in for craft beer, burgers, and salads. Young misses seeing all the tourists.
“It’s so crazy to not see the big buses and the people come in and out of there and like no one downtown,” Young said. “Usually it’s hustling and bustling down here and now it’s a ghost town. It’s just crazy to see.”
Victor Wyatt, general manager at the Tower Tap Room, said the business has kept in touch with regular customers through social media, updating them on when they could safely return. The serving area has been modified to hold 40 customers, down from the normal limit of 90.
“I definitely missed seeing my staff every day because we have fun when we come to work,” Wyatt said.
As the crowds return, Wyatt said he will make them feel welcomed.
“I stop and talk to guests for like 15 minutes at a time,” he said. “Because that’s what we are. That’s what we do. We talk to our guests and make sure they’re enjoying themselves.”
Sentell said Alabama’s pivotal place in the civil rights movement has fueled much of the growth in tourism in recent years, a trend he expects to resume.
Besides the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum, Montgomery offers more for visitors interested in that history, including the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University, built on the site where Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a city bus in 1955, and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was pastor from 1954 to 1960.
Sentell, who has worked for years to promote civil rights history as a tourist attraction, said he was initially concerned when he heard that EJI was building a memorial to victims of lynching. He knew it would be different than civil rights memorials that salute the people and events that helped to end Jim Crow laws and restore voting rights.
“I felt like it muddled the story of civil rights, which is where African Americans achieved a major victory,” Sentell said. “But now that it’s here and successful I think I was probably wrong because it tells a different side of the story. It highlights even more so than anything the challenges that African Americans went through. Having your life ended suddenly because you looked at a white woman, that’s a lot different from being denied the right to vote.”
Sentell said the reopening of Alabama’s beaches will benefit far more than just coastal communities because tourists from the Midwest drive down Interstate 65 – and through Montgomery – on their way to the Gulf.
“That way cities as diverse as Muscle Shoals and Monroeville and Opelika can share the same guests as the beach,” Sentell said.
For the complete article please see https://www.al.com/news/2020/05/pandemic-slams-door-on-montgomerys-tourism-boom.html
A state park that rivals national parks
From the article by Dave Parfitt on LonelyPlanet.com
Alabama was included in an article about 5 state parks around the U.S. worth visiting.
Here is the section on Gulf State Park.
Alabama – Gulf State Park
This region of the southeast is called the “Amazon of North America” due to its rich biodiversity, nine different ecosystems and more plant and animal species than anywhere in the United States.
Alabama invested $85 million in settlement funds from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to develop sustainable tourism facilities in Gulf State Park, including the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability. The world-class ecotourism and experiential learning facility was created in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society.
In 2020, the center will launch the Gulf Coast Ambassadors of the Environment program to students in grades 4-12, housed at the Gulf State Park Learning Campus. Future Environmental Ambassador programs will include college students as well as adults.
For the complete article please see https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/best-us-state-parks
Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer
Check out the Staying Safe page on Alabama.Travel for to read and explore guidelines from the various safety initiatives our industry organizations have rolled out. We encourage you to indicate your location’s participation in these programs within the description of your listing and by adding the designated icon to your image gallery.
This helps visitors planning their trip know if you are a part of these safety initiatives. https://alabama.travel/my-trip/staying-safe
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.
For more information contact Dwayne O’Riley at: firstname.lastname@example.org