Tourism Tuesday May 5, 2020

‘Safe’ becomes rural tourism pitch to a distancing public

Alabama shatters tourism records in 2019, but 2020 looks bleak

U.S. Travel Industry releases guidance for “Travel in the new normal”

First weekend of open beaches brings on crowds

Waverly’s Old 280 Boogie moved to October; will celebrate 20th year

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer


‘Safe’ becomes rural tourism pitch to a distancing public

From the article by Nat Ives on

Travel marketing largely went quiet as people huddled at home to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus and slow its advance. But as hints of a reopening grow, some rural destinations are seeing their remote seclusion as a selling point in anxious times.

“Eventually we get to choose our isolation,” reads a magazine ad promoting West Virginia, with a climber scaling a jagged slab of rock.

“Back to normal seems like a daunting uphill climb,” it continues. “In West Virginia, that feeling of freedom instantly returns in wide-open spaces. Safe. Uncrowded.”

“We’ve all been feeling a little empty. And alone,” a video for Travel Wyoming says, opening with a shot of Devils Tower national monument that cuts to rivers, meadows, the Teton Range and more of the state’s varied scenery. “It’s going to be a while before things get back to normal. But maybe a little more emptiness is what we need.”

The fight against the coronavirus has kept millions of people home and put a lot of businesses on hiatus. From March 1 through April 25, spending on leisure and business travel in the U.S. was $119 billion below its level last year, according to data commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association from research firm Tourism Economics.

Like much of the rest of the country, West Virginia and Wyoming aren’t ready to receive tourists yet. But as some states loosen restrictions, tourism officials are considering what comes next. On Monday, the U.S. Travel Association issued a set of suggestions for businesses to keep visitors and employees safe once people start moving again.

While rural destinations have long emphasized escapes from the crowd, the pandemic has altered the tenor of that appeal.

Social distancing is going to be part of life for some time, said Chelsea Ruby, the tourism commissioner of West Virginia. “So what we want to let people know is that we are a place where you can both practice social distancing and enjoy the family and friends that you’ve missed so much during this period of isolation,” she said.

People will put a premium on safety when they resume traveling, said Diane Shober, executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “Travelers will have a strong desire to get out to and explore the great outdoors, including less-populated destinations,” she said.

Finding the right note

Being too explicit about life in the coronavirus era could turn off travelers, said Emma Montgomery, co-chief strategy officer at ad agency TBWA Worldwide Inc., part of Omnicom Group Inc.

“I don’t know that people are going to want to hear the words ‘isolation’ or ‘safety,’ frankly,” Ms. Montgomery said. “I think those are things that need to be cued, but maybe not said overtly.”

Many destinations have gone that oblique route, creating campaigns that primarily say they’ll be open for business once the time is right. Some are offering tranquil imagery in the meantime.

“Now, more than ever, we all need a place to go,” a video by Travel Wisconsin says, as the camera pans over sapphire lakes lined by dense woods. “To escape, to refresh our mind and renew our perspective.”

“When public health authorities tell us it is safe to travel again, we want everyone to know that Wisconsin’s fresh coast is full of great places to recreate safely while following public health guidance,” said Sara Meaney, secretary-designee of Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism.

Some locations are avoiding any hint of the crisis. Alabama is running commercials filmed in locations like Little River Canyon. State tourism officials have referred to the pandemic in social media posts, but the ad campaign does not allude to it.

“The message looks ahead, not back,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department.

But the agency behind the Wyoming and West Virginia ads said its research showed consumers want marketers to acknowledge the crisis. “It would be insensitive not to,” said Victoria Simmons, senior vice president and adviser of travel and tourism at the Birdsall Voss & Associates Inc. agency, which does business as BVK.

Still, the challenge for any unspoiled destination will be to stand out from its equally secluded competitors, said Will Davie, head of strategy for new business at Droga5, part of Accenture PLC. The trick is to incorporate other unique elements of a destination, as New Zealand did by touting the “Lord of the Rings” movies filmed there, he said.

“Clearly they’re predicting a powerful new trend in travel,” Mr. Davie said of the recent ads. “But knowing beautiful, wide-open spaces aren’t hard to find in America, as tourism begins to rebound destinations like these will need to get sharp on why their brand of remoteness is better than the rest.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama shatters tourism records in 2019, but 2020 looks bleak

From the article by John Sharp on

The tourism industry has been in shambles for the past six weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged Alabama’s hospitality sector.

Occupancy rates, prior to the beaches reopening Friday, were below 10% in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Job losses, particularly among restaurant and bar workers, continue to mount, and sales and lodging taxes are sinking.

It seems as if 2019, was a lifetime ago. The state’s annual tourism figures, released Sunday, shows just how strong last year was in Alabama.

According to the data, historically released in April or May, the state experienced record-breaking numbers in tourists visiting Alabama (28.7 million, up from 27.7 million in 2018) and in spending by tourists ($16.8 billion, up from $15.6 billion in 2018). Since the BP oil spill a decade ago, tourist expenditures in the state have grown by 85%, setting records during each of the past nine years.

The Gulf Coast region, consisting of Mobile and Baldwin counties, last year continued to see increases in tourism spending ($6.7 billion, up 8% from $6.2 billion in 2018). Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery all saw increases as well as visitors flocked to Alabama like never before.

The report examines only the impact on tourism in 2019. It doesn’t include figures that might reflect on the current state of the industry.

“Last year, the economy was good particularly in the South and Midwest, which is where our major amount of visitors come from,” said Lee Sentell, the state’s tourism director. “Each year for the last three years, we’ve attracted an additional 1 Million of vacationers to our state and what I think it indicates is that we have a strong and attractive tourism product and we’re getting the message to our potential visitors and they are coming.”

Sentell said that despite the bleak picture drawn by the numbers from the six-week shutdown of Alabama’s beaches – the No. 1 tourism driver for the state’s economy – he could see a rebound as the year progress.

“It’s easy for someone to predict that the current year is not going to be a strong year, however, thanks to the governor’s schedule (for reopening) our beach season quite possibly will be longer than at any time in history because this is the first time that we have had the month of May as a potential full summer month instead of the traditional June, July and part of August,” said Sentell. “We could have 14 weeks between when the beach is open and before school starts, and that would bode well for our industry.”

According to Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, overall occupancy has seen a slight uptick to around 18% for the weekend. For Memorial Day weekend, the numbers are moving up to 27%, according to the agency.

According to the 2019 state figures, average hotel occupancy rates for all of 2019 were at 63.3%, up from 62.4% the pervious year. Occupancies were highest in Madison County, at 70.5%.

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.

Baldwin County exceeded the $5 billion mark in travel-related spending, a 9% increase over 2018 to $5.2 billion. Birmingham/Jefferson County was in second place at $2.41 billion, representing a 5.5% increase from 2018.

Huntsville and the Madison County, with $1.62 billion in sales, achieved the state’s highest increase at 15.2% growth from 2018.

Said Sentell, “Huntsville, the community, has reinvented itself in the past couple of decades to where it’s designed to attract young, high-tech people. They’ve done a great job with restaurants, craft breweries, and an arts center open to all. It’s a fresh and vibrant feeling in North Alabama.

Montgomery, driven by a 5.6% growth in visitors, saw its tourism-related spending reach $1.03 billion, which is a first.

Sentell credited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice for being a top draw. The memorial, which opened two years ago, is intended to commemorate the victims of lynching in the United States and acknowledge past racial terrorism.

For the complete article please see

U.S. Travel Industry releases guidance for “Travel in the new normal”

From the article by Matt Turner on

Following a collaboration between medical experts and a broad array of businesses and organizations, the U.S. travel industry submitted to the White House and governors a document containing detailed guidance for travel-related businesses to help keep their customers and employees safe as the country emerges from the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Entitled “Travel in the New Normal,” the document describes the measures the travel industry will follow to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and help to communicate across each and every step of a traveler’s journey. The goal: To allow travel to safely resume as states and municipalities relax physical distancing guidance.

“We want political leaders and the public alike to see that our industry is setting a very high standard for reducing the risk of coronavirus in our businesses, and that the practices in place to achieve that standard are consistent through every phase of the travel experience,” said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement. “As travel reopens, travelers need the confidence that safety measures are in place from their departure to their return home.”

The travel industry has been hit especially hard by the public health crisis; the industry is estimated to have lost eight million jobs as of the first of May, and the travel-related economic impact of coronavirus is projected to be nine times worse than 9/11.

Beyond the wellbeing of employees and guests, a secondary objective of the “Travel in the New Normal” guidance is to restore consumers’ confidence in the travel process, in the hope that travel demand will rebound quickly, and the industry can help power a robust economic and jobs recovery.

“We will not encourage people to travel until public health experts and authorities have made it clear that it’s the right time to do so,” Dow added. “Our industry’s focus is on preparing for that moment, and on demonstrating that our preparations are comprehensive and informed by the counsel of top experts.

The “Travel in the New Normal” guidance is focused on six main areas, with the document providing specific examples for each:

• Travel businesses should adapt operations, modify employee practices and/or

redesign public spaces to help protect employees and customers.

• Travel businesses should consider implementing touchless solutions, where

practical, to limit the opportunity for virus transmission while also enabling a

positive travel experience.

• Travel businesses should adopt and implement enhanced sanitation procedures

specifically designed to combat the transmission of COVID-19.

• Travel businesses should promote health screening measures for employees and

isolate workers with possible COVID-19 symptoms and provide health resources to


• Travel businesses should establish a set of procedures aligned with U.S. Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance should an employee test positive for


• Travel businesses should follow best practices in food and beverage service to

promote health of employees and customers.

Contributing organizations included the U.S. Travel Association, Airlines for America, Brand USA, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Cruise Lines International Association, American Society of Travel Advisors, United States Tour Operators Association and more than a dozen others.

For the complete article please see

First weekend of open beaches brings on crowds

From the article by Gabby Easterwood on (News5)

Part of Governor Ivey’s Safer at home order included Alabama beaches opening back up.

Saturday, marking the start of the first weekend in nearly six weeks that Alabamians and visitors can dip their toes in the water, it was definitely packed. Some rules are in place though with the beaches opening up again, such as social distancing and 10 or fewer to a group. There are signs in place for this, narrow areas closed off and officers on hand to enforce the rules. One area where we saw some problems for distancing was on the boardwalks with people constantly coming and going.

But even with the crowds, those we spoke with felt the right decision was made and that everything is safe. Meda McCray owns a home in Orange Beach, and said “We feel really safe. We have three children, and we had a good day today and yesterday. We love it. I think it is just good for everybody to get back out in the open air.”

McCray wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The general conscious of those we spoke with were that they were happy to be out. Jason Bowen brought his wife and three kids out for a day on the water. He says “It’s pretty packed, but everyone is keeping their distance, so we’re good.”

The next two weeks are crucial on the Alabama beaches, because if people do not follow the rules and keep their distance the beaches could be shut down again.

For the complete article please see

Waverly’s Old 280 Boogie moved to October; will celebrate 20th year

From the article by Jasmine Ray on

Standard Deluxe is the sole location in Waverly identified by Google Maps. With a 2018 estimated population of 148, Waverly fits the definition of a small town.

When the state began work on a four-lane bypass for Highway 280, the initial plan had it running straight through Waverly. It was later rerouted to run south of the town.

“The year that they opened (the four-lane) was 2000,” said Scott Peek, print artist and owner of Standard Deluxe. “So we citizens of Waverly, who didn’t have as much traffic, on the year anniversary of the highway opening up, myself and a bunch of people in town decided to have a street dance.”

However, its population swells every year as numerous music and art lovers flock to Standard Deluxe, normally each April, for the Old 280 Boogie.

The event was free and held in downtown Waverly, with the area blocked off to traffic. As its popularity and attendance grew, organizers began charging for admission.

“Just being able to get to hire some of the bands and stuff has been a highlight,” he said. “Knowing that people are going to support the event and pay and show up.”

Twenty years since its humble beginning, the Old 280 Boogie has maintained its intimate, grassroots feel. Peek’s favorite part of the event’s growth is selecting the bands that perform each year. The event has a reputation for “being a place where acts want to play.”

“We get hit with so many requests from agents and bands that it’s hard to even answer all of them,” he said.

This year, Alabama Tourism partnered with Standard Deluxe to present a musical showcase of Alabama artists at the South by Southwest film, interactive media and music festival in Austin, Texas; however, SXSW was subsequently canceled due to the spread of COVID-19.

“We were three days from leaving,” Peek recalled, adding he had also been watching the virus’s progression, “And then we just knew.”

Then coronavirus reality hit the 20th Old 280 Boogie, prompting it to be rescheduled for Oct. 9-10.

All bands from the original spring lineup, with the exception of one, will perform at the rescheduled event.

“I just think that people are itching to get out and be together and hear some live music,” Peek said. “Just to experience the lawn, the setting, the place, the community of it. I think people love coming to a small town. It’s just more of an organic approach to all of it.”

For the complete article please see

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