Tourism Tuesday June 16, 2020

Hotel occupancies rising, travel rebounding in metro

Group tours looking to March 2021 before fully returning

Intermark Group hosts webinar series on marketing during a crisis

Interior Secretary Bernhardt visits Alabama

Free Alabama Vacation Guides available

USA Today
 calls on people to educate themselves about the history of civil rights

Helen, a new concept from chef Rob McDaniel, slated to open in downtown Birmingham

The long road to freedom

What Alabama taught me about inequality

Rural destinations position themselves as ideal post-pandemic vacations

About the backroads of Alabama

Rediscovering Alabama: Why this state should be on your bucket list

Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils opens 2021 grants

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer


Hotel occupancies rising, travel rebounding in metro
From the article by Caroline Odom on

In the aftermath of Covid-19 devastating the travel industry, Hotel Indigo Birmingham experienced a 100% increase in business.

“But when you’re starting from five rooms, 100% is only 10 rooms,” said Jay Patel, owner of the 63-room hotel.

The decrease in travel resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic reduced Patel’s normal occupancy of 90% to between 5% and 10%. Most hotels need about 55% to break even, Patel said.

By cutting costs and covering employees’ salaries with a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, Patel kept doors open through the shutdown and retained most of his employees. Though his hotel is not yet experiencing positive cash flows, occupancy numbers increased to 25%, Patel said.

Until March 11, Birmingham was experiencing its fifth year of record tourism, said John Oros, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“While the rest of our country is headed for a recession, nationally, the travel and tourism industry is in a depression,” Oros said. Of the 33,000 full-time employees associated with Birmingham’s travel industry, almost half have been laid off or furloughed, Oros said.

“In downturns past, there were always segments of the economy and nation that were traveling,” Oros said. This downturn differs from post-9/11 and the Great Recession because very few people are traveling.

Now, national hotel occupancy is beginning to increase with four consecutive weeks of increased demand, Oros said. Birmingham’s hotels rose to 36% occupancy in mid-May, he said, an improvement over the weeks before.

But the industry continues to experience “catastrophic lows,” Oros said. Before Covid-19, Birmingham’s occupancy numbers reached 77% to 80%, Patel said.

PCH Hotels and Resort, the top hospitality employer in the state of Alabama, usually sells out all rooms in its network of Alabama hotels on Memorial Day weekend, said Tony Davis, president of the hospitality group. PCH manages several luxury hotels and resorts along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, including the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa.

This year, occupancy numbers hovered between 50% and 60% on the holiday weekend, Davis said.

“Nowhere near what we had traditionally been, but moving in the right direction,” Davis said. “What we’re seeing is the industry is really poised to start the rebuilding process.”

The rebuilding process includes increased cleanliness, enforcing social distancing guidelines and modifying services.

“The hotel industry is being very diligent because they understand the need and the desire for potential visitors to feel safe and to feel that the hotels have their health in mind,” Oros said.

PCH’s brand partners like Marriott released cleaning standards that PCH is implementing and building upon, Davis said. All amenities, restaurants and spas at PCH hotels are available to guests now, but they are offered at limited capacity and modified in compliance with Gov. Kay Ivey’s orders.

PCH’s new safety guidelines include cleaning public areas every two hours, employee use of personal protective equipment and providing housekeeping services only upon request, according to a May 18 news release.

The Hotel Indigo implemented similar measures, including placing tape markers on the floors to guide social distancing, limiting the number of people allowed on elevators, removing barstools from bars and reducing the number of tables in restaurants.

“I went and fabricated acrylic face guards,” Patel said. “When you check in, you can no longer breathe on the front desk agent. There’s a physical, clear plastic barrier.”

The hospitality industry is significantly impacted by the inability to gather in large groups. Some PCH hotels frequently host meetings of large groups and weddings — events that are made difficult by social distancing. PCH hotels canceled wedding bookings through May and June, and a few in July are pending.

“That’s where we’re really going to be struggling for an amount of time until social distancing wanes a little bit and people can still have their meetings and events,” Davis said. For now, hotels will rely on visitors who are willing to travel by car.

Many of the new guidelines challenge traditional hospitality practices, but the model will adapt.

“As the hospitality industry, we want to be hospitable. It’s like your home. You want to create that sense of love and energy, but this virus has destroyed that,” Patel said. “It’s better to not show that contact.”

Patel predicts that these changes may be permanent, especially while there is not a vaccine to put people at ease.

“When 9/11 happened, people’s behaviors changed,” Patel said. “They came back, but I don’t think people’s behaviors are going to change anytime soon, and that’s going to have a huge impact on the hotel industry from both a business and a leisure perspective.”

Although the hotel experience will feel differently, hotels remain committed to the guest experience and want potential visitors to know that, Davis said. Hotels are ready to invite guests back.

“It’s cleanliness first and service second to some degree,” Davis said. “We’re trying to make sure all of that is done together so you can have a safe experience but still with great service as well.”

For the complete article please see /2020/06/15/covid-19-hotels-are-ready-to-invite-guests-back.html

Group tours looking to March 2021 before fully returning
From the article by Lydia Nusbaum on (WSFA-12 News)

Group travel has plummeted in Alabama and it’s leaving some hotels and surrounding businesses strapped for cash.

Alabama cities usually see large business or sporting groups traveling through and stopping at hotels and attractions.

“Our group occupancy is practically nothing now,” said Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa Director of Sales and Marketing Perry Grice.

The hotel usually hosts hundreds of people. Grice said that has dropped to about a group size of 15 or 20 over the last several weeks. He said they have some larger conventions scheduled for late July and August.

The Montgomery Chamber’s Convention and Visitor Bureau estimates that Montgomery’s occupancy rate is between 40 to 45 percent.

“It does have a trickle down effect,” said Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality President Mindy Hanan.

Now that groups are not filling up hotels, it means people are not visiting surrounding businesses which rely heavily on that foot traffic. Hanan said this also impacts supply chains.

And these restaurants are all competing for the small customer base.

Dreamland BBQ Managing Partner Bob Parker said his restaurant will survive through the pandemic, but he said it probably would not be the case for others in town.

“I mean, unfortunately, we’re all not going to make it. I’m not trying to paint a dire picture that it’s never going to come back,” he said. “But unfortunately, when you lose that much business, it’s hard for all of us to make it plus.”

The Alabama Department of Tourism Assistant Director Grey Brennan said group travel may not fully come back until March of next year.

However, he said there is room for optimism as recent civil protests have sparked interest in Alabama civil rights sites.

But there is a desire to bring groups back to the state quickly. Hanan said they will be in discussions with the coronavirus task force to come up with a plan on how to safely bring group tourists back.

“I think that’s what we need to discuss next is what are the standards? What can we deem safe? Is it people sitting three feet apart with everybody wearing a mask? Is it six feet apart?” she said.

In the meantime, businesses are doing everything they can to stay afloat.

Grice said they are working with each group to figure out what spacing and accommodations need to be met during the pandemic. He said they have already taken serious precautions.

“Every 20 minutes hand washing,” he said. “We’re not doing buffets anymore.”

For Parker, they are relying on the federal government’s PPP loan to help businesses through the pandemic.

“We’re spending it wisely,” he said. “It’s a 10-month survival, if we can make it through March we’ll be fine. But, you know, that’s a long way away.”

For the complete article please see


Intermark Group hosts webinar series on marketing during a crisis
Throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Intermark Group, the Alabama Tourism Department’s marketing communications agency of record since fall 2015, has closely monitored the changes in consumer behavior, attitudes and beliefs as a result of COVID-19. The agency has hosted a webinar series to help marketers and communicators better understand how to effectively communicate and engage with their target audience throughout the current crisis. In addition to the webinar series, Intermark Group has also listed a variety of resources on its Youtube channel.

Throughout its research, the agency has determined that one of the most important actions brands should take during this crisis is to stay present and to keep their messaging in front of their target audiences. Research suggests that brands that cut their spending entirely will take up to five years on average for their sales to return to normal. This is partly due to the fact that consumers are willing to change their behavior and change brands during this time, but it is also a result of people evaluating how well brands are responding to the crisis. While responding to the crisis, it is imperative that brands maintain positive consumer sentiment along with having a strong public relations strategy in place.

By keeping their messaging in front of their audience, brands are involving themselves in the “Mirror Exposure Effect,” which states that the more frequently a person is exposed to something, the more willing they are to like that specific thing.

During this crisis, eccentricity creates value. Brands can stand out from their competitors by creating content that sets themselves apart. When consumers see a company that is distinct and unique, they associate that with more people being aware of the business and its products and services. The knowledge that a larger amount of people are aware of the company psychologically increases the value of that brand. However, eccentric content does not necessarily mean a large price tag has to be attached to it. Intermark Group’s Chief Creative Officer, Keith Otter, provides many tips on how to produce good content during a time when brands may have limited resources.

An effective way to produce content on limited resources is to repurpose the current creative pieces that brands already have access to. The Alabama Tourism Department showcased how to successfully do this in its “When the Time is Right” campaign that utilized footage the department had access to and repurposed it in a way that is relevant to the current climate.

Brands are also encouraged to make the most out of the situation: use tools the company has access to at home whether that includes cell phone cameras, editing equipment on computers and yes… even Zoom or other video conferencing tools. The good news is that during this time, consumers are not looking for high production values. They are watching to see if brands are making an effort, staying out in the marketplace and forming a connection with their consumers. For brands that do not have access to pre-existing creative or do not have the technology to create new production, they should consider using stock imagery or user-generated content that they can find on social media.

If brands are interested in learning more about how to improve their messaging into the summer and fall, they can join Intermark Group’s next webinar on July 8 at 10 a.m. CST to learn about the psychological changes that have developed as the crisis is evolving from pandemic to protest. Dive deeper into discussing which brands led the way, which brands struggled, and how marketers can use these insights to balance branding and sales to grow in a shrinking market. Register here.


Interior Secretary Bernhardt visits Alabama
United States Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is coming to Alabama today for a tour of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the southern tip of Baldwin County.

He will be accompanied by U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), whose southwest Alabama district includes the refuge.

The Department of the Interior says the trip is “part of an ongoing effort to increase access to public lands managed by the Department.”

Secretary Bernhardt will inspect the refuge for its public accessibility and pitch in on a coastal restoration effort.

Bernhardt, originally from Colorado, has worked at the Department of the Interior (DOI) since 2001, serving in a variety of positions including deputy secretary for the first two years of the Trump administration.

He ascended to head of the Department in January 2019 after his predecessor, Ryan Zinke, was asked to resign amid an ethics scandal involving the use of taxpayer money for personal comforts.

Bernhardt has expanded the number of wildlife refuges eligible for hunting and fishing, two activities he himself enjoys.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge was designated by Congress in 1980 and is a protected habitat for rare tropical songbirds, the endangered Alabama beach mouse and three types of endangered sea turtles.

“Bon Secour” is French for “safe harbor,” and the location is “some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat.”

Free Alabama Vacation Guides available
Does your attraction, hotel or tourism organization need more copies of the 2020 Alabama Vacation Guide?

The more-than-200-page guide, which focuses on sites and attractions throughout the state, is free. Just send an email, to that includes your name or your organizations name, address and how many copies you are requesting.

Since it will be delivered through UPS, you must list a street address rather than a P.O. address. Please include your phone number and email address in case there are questions.

The Alabama Vacation Guide can be mailed individually or in cases that hold 27 each.  Organizations involved with tourism can order up to four cases initially and reorder more if needed.

“The 2020 Vacation Guide focuses on Alabama’s natural wonders and trails for hiking, caving, paddling, bird-watching and just enjoying the state’s spectacular wealth of nature,” said Rick Harmon, the publication’s editor with the Alabama Tourism Department.

“It also includes almost everything else you’d like to do in the state such as top restaurants, hotels, golf courses and attractions, and has some of the most gorgeous photography of Alabama that you will see this year.”

Besides profiles of top destinations in every part of the state, the 2020 Vacation Guide contains calendars of Alabama’s top festivals and events and listings for everything from hotels, resorts, condos, bed & breakfasts to RV resorts.


USA Today calls on people to educate themselves about the history of civil rights
USA Today on their Travel section of their website this week continues to list a story from June 12 of Civil Rights Museums and landmarks to visit, siting the protests following the death of George Floyd are an opportunity for Americans to educate themselves about the history of civil rights.

Montgomery’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice is one of five highlighted in a slide show presentation from USA Today.  Then click for more information links to June 9 and a similar story that includes the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, repeats the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery and adds the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery. In all, Alabama received 3 of the 15 listing in that USA Today list.

USA Today writes the following about Alabama’s sites:

National Memorial for Peace and Justice 
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, is the nation’s only memorial to the victims of racial terror lynchings from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the civil rights era. This memorial, which opened in 2018, acknowledges the more than 4,000 African American men, women and children who were tortured and killed by white mobs from 1877 to 1950. The Legacy Museum, also in Montgomery, shows the history of the enslavement of African Americans in a city that was the center of Alabama’s slave trade and later a center for the civil rights movement. Both sites remain closed due to the coronavirus.

Rosa Parks Museum
The Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University in Alabama houses several items related to her famous protest of segregation in public transportation in Montgomery. They include her arrest records and fingerprints, a 1950s-era city bus and a restored 1955 station wagon used to transport protesters, dubbed a “rolling church.” Though Parks lived in Detroit in her final years, the civil rights icon is best remembered for the day in 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat for a white man, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for 381 days. In the coming years, similar demonstrations throughout the South led to the end of segregation in public spaces. The museum is open, and visitors are required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The institute, in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, is in the heart of one of the most violent civil rights battlegrounds. Just across the street, on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram to Alabama’s segregationist Gov. George Wallace, which said, “The blood of our little children is on your hands.” King himself was jailed in Birmingham for leading civil rights demonstrations, and the notorious Sheriff Bull Connor turned firehoses and dogs on peaceful protesters. The institute remains closed due to the coronavirus.

To see the first list, click

To see the second list, click

Helen, a new concept from chef Rob McDaniel, slated to open in downtown Birmingham
From the article by Shauna Stuart on

Helen, a contemporary Southern grill led by husband and wife team chef Rob McDaniel and Emily McDaniel, is coming to downtown Birmingham.

Slated to open this summer, Helen is a take on classic dining that will pay homage to Rob McDaniel’s memories of cooking over the hardwood coals and smoke of his grandmother’s indoor grill.

The restaurant is located in a two-story 1920s-era shotgun-style building at 2013 Second Avenue North in the historic Berry Project buildings.

Rob McDaniel will be the executive chef and Emily McDaniel will direct hospitality. Helen’s design concept will balance “timeless elegance with a convivial, welcoming atmosphere,” according to an announcement. The McDaniels have partnered with friends and local iron workers, wood workers, and designers to create the restaurant space, including contractors Prier Construction and architects Hendon & Huckestein. Hatcher Schuster Interiors will design the interior and Madwind Studios on Lake Martin will be the specialty contractor for custom metal, wood and glass work.

Driven by seasonality and product from local purveyors, Helen’s menu will feature prime meats and seafood cooked in an open kitchen, served alongside vegetables and non-traditional sides.

Previously the open executive chef at SpringHouse restaurant on Lake Martin in Alexander City, McDaniel is a five-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef: South (2013-2017), and was honored as Auburn University’s 2012 Outstanding Hotel and Restaurant Management Program Alumnus. During his tenure at SpringHouse, McDaniel cooked daily over an open fire, evolving his culinary style with a passion for Southern foods and foraging. In 2014, Southern Living named SpringHouse to its list of “100 Best Restaurants in the South.”

Prior to Springhouse, McDaniel worked under chefs Johnny Earles at Criolla’s in Florida’s Grayton Beach, as well as Chris Hastings at Hot & Hot Fish Club and Drew Robinson at Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ in Birmingham.

For the complete article please see

The long road to freedom
From the article by Paul Robert on

Editor’s note: Readers Digest’ Paul Robert has written an article about the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Alabama has several sites mentioned. Here are excerpts from the article.

A road trip along the Civil Rights Trail in the American South has given me a new level of understanding about prejudice, race relations and a nation’s forgotten history.

Walking down the concrete slope of the “national lynching memorial,” a series of rusted iron columns rise up from the ground around me. Each is marked with a name, a place, and a date. As I proceed, hundreds of them rise higher until they’re suspended from the ceiling—like the haunting “strange fruit” Billie Holiday sang of in the late 1930s (“Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”). On the grass around this morbid passageway I see more rusted columns, lined up like coffins awaiting burial. This disturbing artwork commemorates the estimated 4,400 victims of lynchings, blacks killed by white mobs between 1870 and 1950. The visitors around me, white and black, are uncomfortably silent.

Officially known as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, it was founded by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and opened in 2018. It is one of the main sites on the U. S. Civil Rights Trail, a national network of historic civil rights markers, monuments, and museums located mostly in the Southern states. It’s June 2019 and I’ve travelled from Holland to visit a few—and to learn. This is the first day of my road trip through Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi, where I’ll also be meeting with veterans of the 1960s protests and campaigns.

Before my trip, I had been surprised to hear about this network of sites. After all, the South is best known to most outsiders for conservative social policies and accusations of suppressing minorities’ voting rights. I had travelled through the region before and enjoyed the hospitality, but when I met locals I had shied away from subjects like religion and politics. And now the region was promoting its new Civil Rights Trail to visitors. I thought it was a good reason to return, albeit armed with healthy skepticism. But that skepticism was the first thing I lost.

It’s no coincidence that a national lynching memorial would be placed in Montgomery: the Alabama capital has played a central role in the darkest history of the United States. In the 19th century it was a major hub for the American trade in humans. It was also the first capital of the Confederate states when they broke away from the Union in 1861, starting the American Civil War. And in the 1950s and ’60s it was a center of resistance against systematic racial segregation.

Around Montgomery’s centre, traces of the past are everywhere. I pass the residence of the first Confederate president, Jefferson Davis; the Baptist church on Dexter Avenue where Martin Luther King, Jr., preached; and the place where Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 because she refused to get up for a white passenger.

Also in the city’s centre is The Legacy Museum, founded by the Equal Justice Initiative, the not-for-profit organization behind the lynching memorial; it fights mass incarceration, which overwhelmingly affects people of colour and which the organization directly links to the legacy of slavery. The Legacy Museum is in a former “warehouse” for slaves. Its display opens with life-sized black-and-white holograms of enslaved people; they start to talk when you pass the 19th century holding cells the holograms are projected into. Their stories are based on true ones recorded in the early 20th century by former slaves. In one corner a woman’s hologram quietly sings a spiritual song, and from another cell come children’s voices crying, “Mama, mama….” It is chilling. The museum’s next section covers the transatlantic slave trade, executed by men from England, Spain, France, Portugal and, yes, my native Holland, between the 17th and 19th centuries. It is a dark period that we Europeans so often regard as American history rather than our own.

Near the exit are large photos from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A photo of white teenagers angrily shouting at a black student entering their school suddenly makes me realize that the discomfort I’ve felt since I visited the lynching memorial is turning to shame. This is not a scene from distant history. This is my generation, which makes me, a white person, representative of the guilty party. This is the first time I’ve ever been acutely aware of my race.

If these places are impacting me, I wonder how they must affect African Americans. So I ask an elderly lady standing near me. “It makes me want to cry,” she says with a sad smile as her eyes tear up. She tells me that she grew up here in the 1960s and remembers the abuse. She’s lived in the U.S. North for the past 40 years and is back for the first time, on vacation. She’s happy to see that institutions like this exist now and that the South is moving forward. Then, before she walks away, she says: “Thank you for asking.” Those words are strangely comforting, and I forget to ask her name.

The next morning, I meet Dianne Harris in Selma, Alabama, 80 kilometres west of Montgomery. Harris was 15 in March 1965 when hundreds of black citizens crossed the local Edmund Pettus Bridge intending to march to Montgomery to demand the right to vote. They were blocked at the other side of that bridge by the sheriff, his deputies, and a posse of white farmers and off-duty state troopers on horseback. In a violent crackdown on the marchers, 17 were hospitalized. Photos of “Bloody Sunday” appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Harris, who sought shelter in a church with her brother, now works as a tour guide in Selma, and she includes a stop at the Selma Interpretive Center located near the bridge. She tells me it worries her that the younger generation of African American kids know so little about what their grandparents went through. It was partly the fault of the school boards that once kept it out of the curriculum, she says, though Alabama’s civil rights education has notably improved since Harris’s days as a teacher. “But it’s also our own fault. We didn’t teach them, either. We wanted to forget about those days.” It’s the reason, she says, why she is telling the story now, to kids on her educational outreach projects, to her tour guide audiences, and to all who wish to hear.

For the complete article please see


What Alabama taught me about inequality
From the article by Laura Gelder on

Until I visited Alabama in 2012 I’m ashamed to say that I knew very little about the American civil rights movement and I landed in Alabama with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and not much else to inform me on racial inequality in the South.

I was on a fam trip with seven travel agents and we arrived in the town of Selma on a hot and sultry Sunday afternoon, just in time for dinner and iced tea in Sturdivant Hall – a columned plantation house whose beautiful and comfortable rooms made me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

The next day we met our tour guide Joanne in a grease-scented diner and I knew she wasn’t going to pull any punches as I tucked into a plate of cheesy grits and she told me: “Girl, you gonna get fat.”

Joanne told us how she grew up in a segregated Selma and became involved in the civil rights movement at a young age. By the time she was 11 she had been arrested 13 times and she was one of the youngest people to participate in Bloody Sunday.

This historic day in 1965 was when hundreds of black citizens started a march from Selma to the state capital Montgomery to protest against their constitutional right to vote being denied through intimidation. As Joanne and her fellow protesters went to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge they were met by white policemen and when they refused to turn their peaceful parade around they were brutally beaten with sticks, charged with horses and tear gassed.

The pictures of this state-sponsored brutality appeared all around the world, causing outrage and prompting President Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination during elections.

Selma affected me the most because it was Joanne’s personal story – the story of a child who wasn’t allowed in the ice cream parlour because of the colour of her skin – but we visited many other places that taught us about racism and resilience.

In Montgomery we went to a museum dedicated to Rosa Parks, the ordinary woman whose refusal to give up her bus seat for a white person prompted the town’s black residents, who made up three quarters of the buses’ customers, to simply boycott them. Eventually the economic effect of that action lead to a new law allowing black citizens to sit where they wanted to on the bus.

At Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute we saw a dark side to the 1950s America we’d seen in movies like Grease and Back to the Future – where black Americans were forbidden to enter the milkshake bars, play sport alongside white Americans or even use the same washrooms as them.

In the next block was the 16th Street Baptist Church, which housed a black-only congregation and was a centre for the city’s civil rights campaigners in the 60s. We watched a joyful service where ladies in elegant dresses with coiffed hair and spotless white gloves danced, sung and clapped along with a gospel choir. They stood just above the basement where Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson (all 14 years old) and Carol Denise McNair (11) were murdered by a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963. It was a bomb so fierce that it decapitated one victim, created a five foot crater in the church, blew a passing motorist out of his car and damaged windows two blocks away.

We learnt that the city was nicknamed ‘Bombingham’ for the sheer amount of explosions it saw during a terror campaign which was waged on the black community for daring to move into so-called white neighbourhoods or challenge segregation.

We read Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail, where he was locked up for leading a peaceful protest march without a permit. In it he calls Birmingham ‘the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States’ with an ‘ugly record of police brutality.’

I read his letter again before I wrote this and it’s tragic how relevant it still is today. In it he addresses those who deplore the demonstrations, saying: “I am sorry that your statement didn’t express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being.”

King’s letter is addressed to religious leaders who had called his demonstrations ‘unwise and untimely’ and he talks of his “grave disappointment in the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice” and explains how it’s easy for those who have never experienced inequality to ask those who have to be calm and wait for action.

I wonder what he would think of today’s America and each time I see the photo of the policeman who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, his face so blank and unconcerned, I’m reminded of that moment in Selma when I realised that racism was not consigned to history.

We were on the tour bus and Joanne was at the front with her microphone, pointing out a historic building, when we noticed a lone white man standing on the street corner and waving at us slowly but not smiling. Someone piped up: “I think that guy knows you, Joanne.”

She told us quite casually that he was a racist and he was always there, always complaining about her tours blocking up the streets and always trying to stop her telling her story. And then she told us to all to just wave right back, before getting on with telling her story.

For the complete article please see

Rural destinations position themselves as ideal post-pandemic vacations
From the article by Sarah Cavill on

As the economy ramps back up over the summer, one industry that will take some time to find its footing is travel. Many companies have canceled all non-essential travel, conferences are on hold and many people are still reluctant to travel for leisure. In response, several rural areas around the country have started considering how they can use marketing to offer vacation options where travelers feel safe from contracting the coronavirus and can spread out and enjoy themselves.

“Travelers will have a strong desire to get out to and explore the great outdoors, including less-populated destinations,” said Diane Shober, Executive Director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. Several states have begun launching travel campaigns that emphasize their natural beauty and wide-open spaces, and the new normal in travel could also mean more eco-friendly options and less conferences based in cities.

Several States Create Destination Marketing Campaigns Touting Their Rural Destinations
“Back to normal seems like a daunting uphill climb,” reads a new magazine ad for West Virginia. “In West Virginia, that feeling of freedom instantly returns in wide-open spaces. Safe. Uncrowded.” Similarly, in a video for Travel Wyoming, a voiceover says, “We’ve all been feeling a little empty. And alone. It’s going to be a while before things get back to normal. But maybe a little more emptiness is what we need.” By emphasizing both the beauty of their locations and the fact that vacationers will still be able to adequately social distance because of the open space, West Virginia and Wyoming are offering travelers the best of both worlds.

Wisconsin similarly shows images from afar of tranquil lakes and woods, asking viewers to imagine future happy memories, indicating that it’s not quite time to get out there yet.

Conversely, some travel marketing insiders believe that directly referring to safety or isolation may turn off travelers who would prefer to get on with it and not focus on the negative. A new travel campaign out of Alabama includes commercials of natural vacation spots around the state like Little River Canyon, but the campaign does not allude to the pandemic in any way, except in some social media posts. “The message looks ahead, not back,” said Lee Sentell, Director of the Alabama Tourism Department.

Marketing A New Kind Of International Travel That Is Slower And More Eco-friendly
Post-pandemic travel in Europe could look very different, especially in cities where tourism has boomed in the recent past to the point that some cities may welcome the slower pace. “Of course, it’s completely devastating – but it’s also provided a much-needed chance for introspection,” said Sam Bruce of Much Better Adventures, who is a co-founder of campaigning group Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency. “Things needed to change. It’s an opportunity for everyone from tourist boards to tour operators to reset and to look at how things can be better – for the planet, for local communities and for travellers.”

For example, Venice, a city literally sinking under the weight of its visitors and the effects of climate change, is hoping to encourage fewer visitors and longer stays. Some tourism officials and tour operators in Europe are also encouraging travel in more rural areas, and promoting “slower travel” like train or cycling trips and traveling off-season. Marketing travel to more remote European regions will have to be done cautiously, with Sam Bruce noting “We will look to spread tourism to areas that would genuinely benefit. But it has to be done in the right way. We risk a flood to remote places that aren’t prepared and could be taken advantage of.”

Conferences May Consider Moves To Less Populous Areas In The Future
According to The Wall Street Journal, “From March 1 through April 25, spending on leisure and business travel in the U.S. was $119 billion below its level last year.” By mid-March, conference cancellation costs were in the billions, and many businesses have planned to opt out of conferences and business travel for the rest of the year. Conferences may stay virtual, which has been a mixed bag for attendees and planners, or conferences may transition to a combination of virtual and in-person events, at locations deemed appropriate for social distancing.

“Every organization hosting events will be thinking about their physical experience, as well as their digital and virtual experience” said David Moricca, CEO of video broadcasting tool Socialive. Many of these mixed solutions may include hotels that are in less-populated areas. USA Today reported, “Marriott also sees this as an opportunity for hotels with large, outdoor spaces or in mountainous areas to see an increase in event activity.”

Differentiation Is The Ticket When It Comes To Travel Marketing In The New Normal
There are a lot of open spaces, lakes and mountains in America. Convincing wary travelers, just emerging from quarantines, that one specific open space is the best vacation spot will be the objective of travel marketers around the country. As with all the changes in consumer habits emerging in the “new normal,” brands will need to differentiate themselves to stand out for consumers, particularly in crowded marketplaces.

For the complete article please see /articles/rural-travel-covid19

About the backroads of Alabama
From the article by Hans Avontuur in AD Magazine’s April 25, 2020 issue

It’s been raining in rural Alabama for hours. I’m wet, i’m cold and feel fatigue because of many miles steering on slippery roads. On the corner of an intersection is a typical American eatery: Fincher’s Real Delite. I park the bike, take off my rain gear and enter a world where rarely unknown visitors come.

It’s a diner I love to discover. No big American chain like Denny’s, Wendy’s or McDonald’s, but also no family business that has become a cliché only to please tourists. Fincher’s Real Delite is a meeting point of locals, loved for his catfish. Fried, cooked, deep fried. One, two or three pieces on your plate.

I barely ordered when my neighbor tells me his name is Frank and that he’s lucky he’s still alive. My halfliter iced tea arrives and Frank starts his story unsolicited. “As a child, I dreamed of riding a motorcycle. Even before I had my driving licence, there was already a Yamaha 200 cc dirtbike in the barn.”

It’s quiet in the almost empty diner. The rain clatters onto the roof. Frank clears his throat and moves on. “Man, I was so happy when I got my driving licence. I took a ride the same day, but it ended up on an old lady’s hood. And when I finally got back to driving, I went down and my bike caught fire. I quit – at once. Twice through the eye of the needle was enough.”

That’s how it often goes when I’m on the bike. Once in an old English pub, I was greeted in a hostile way by unemployed dockworkers, but I went out the door as a best friend. I wasn’t allowed to pay for my lunch. A coffee stop in New Zealand led to a barn containing the petrol tank of Bob Dylan’s Harley-Davidson (according to the owner). And parked in a Frisian hamlet I got my bike parked at the request of the café owner right next to the counter.

On a motorcycle trip, it is rarely about the sights. And not even always because of the winding roads. It is the adventure, the desire for space and freedom. Alabama serves me in all of this. According to the directions Little River Canyon, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum are highlights, but I enjoy driving the backroads even more, the small roads connecting the highlights.

A little above Scottsboro I was sent along cotton fields, meadows and marshland where the trees with their roots are in the water. The former Highway 65 used to be an important connecting road, now it’s a swinging asphalt ribbon through rural Alabama. Decaying gas stations and eateries tell the story of better times.

I follow the Valley of the Paint Rock River. At wooden houses with peeling facades, I see flags of the Southern American states – the rebel flag – and flags with the inscription “I support Trump.”

Riding my bike, I rarely feel like a snooper. People raise their hands as I pass, ask me about the Beemer – the nickname a BMW has in America – and, like Frank at Fincher’s, tell me their life story.

The engine ensures a level playing field. I’m not a prosperous tourist, I’m a motorcyclist passing through.

Moon travel
There’s Huntsville with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. This is where the Apollo rockets were built for the first lunar voyages. In the museum, former employees like to talk about the pioneering days. Then I cross the Tennessee River and empty land takes me to Muscle Shoals, known thanks to two music studios that caused a furore in the 1960s and 1970s. The Rolling Stones, Cher and Bob Dylan recorded records for the special sound that was described as funky R&B. With the sounds of “Brown Sugar” in my head I drive at dusk to the town of Florence. The sky above the Tennessee River turns between bright orange and pimple purple. I park in front of the motel, throw my stuff in the room and go into town for a glass of beer, a burger and a homegrown sweet potato.

Bitter cold
There’s ice on the saddle of my bike. The night has been bitterly cold. I drive thickly wrapped up through forests and over fields. I love the early morning and a travel plan without a tight schedule. It leaves possibility for what the day brings. Like a stop in the Warrior Mountain Trading Post, a shop, restaurant and gas station from abyere times.

Back on the bike I’m going to sink further South. The gently sloping landscape full of fields and meadows doesn’t have the overwhelming beauty of American toppers like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Monument Valley. But I feel free and happy on the backroads of Alabama, the America of ordinary people.

Freedom. The motorcyclist likes to take the word in the mouth. The wind on your body, riding bochtoes, the stamping of the cylinders, the sound, the fraternization with other bikers. If you’re only on the road with your bike, you’ll be detached from the daily responsibilities. Your worries are primary: a bed, something to eat and enough gasoline in the tank.

Stop. Brake. On the side of the road is a log cabin with a historic marker, a sign that indicates a historic site. The building is a prison from the American Civil War: four wooden walls with a few holes in the ground that served as toilets. The complicated history shrinks to human proportions. I’m trying to imagine what the prisoners went through on a few square meters. Fear, hunger, pain, despair.

Civil rights
On the horizon appears the Birmingham skyline, with about 230,000 inhabitants the largest city of Alabama. I go to my motel and then wander through the compact center with its straight streets. There are monumental old buildings from the last century such as the Alabama Theatre, the City Federal and the Tutwiler Hotel. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is commemorating the struggle of the African-American community for equal rights in Alabama.

The modern era has not been preceded by the city, but fortunately it is not yet dominated by hotel and restaurant chains. I see plenty of small, independent shops like the new Revelator coffee bar and Don’s Hair Care Center from the 80s. Hairdresser Terry cuts a regular customer: “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, started in that little chair there.”

After burgers from Sanders, a good night’s sleep and a visit to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, I leave Birmingham. It’s been raining. The road is rolled out like a gleaming mirror in front of me through fields, small villages and Cheaha State Park with untouched nature, wild running water and beautiful vistas.

Although due to the weather conditions I can’t sharply cut any bend and my visor needs to be constantly cleaned, I truly enjoy the ride. On my own. Others like to ride together, because shared smart is half smart and shared fun is double fun, but I want to find myself uncompromisingly undergo the journey, the engine and the encounters. Intensely enjoying a beautiful route, intensely forgoing when it’s wrong.

Wandering, on my last night I ended up in the Peerless Saloon in the town of Anniston. A classic American pub from 1899 with a long bar, wood panelling, pool billiards and rock music. I’m going to get undoubtly again talking to someone who’s also riding motorcycles. It will not be about work or family, but about a parallel universe: engines. No ‘what are you doing in everyday’s life?’ but ‘what are you driving?’

I order a glass of beer. A couple plays pool billiards, four friends sit by the window and at the bar an older couple watches smackdown wrestling on television. Tomorrow I throw the luggage on my bike in the early morning and I push the start button back in.

When the cylinders start pounding, I’ll drive down the motel parking lot. On the way to nowhere in particular.


Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils opens 2021 grants
AARCDC will be accepting grant applications until July 31, 2020. The minimum request amount is $3,000. They are looking forward to another year of impactful projects for our state.

Statewide Grants
A. Projects that cover all nine member council regions
B. Projects that cover more than three council regions
C. Projects that cover only three council regions

Coronavirus Relief / Health and First Responder Projects
A. Fiscal Year 2020 grantees that were unable to complete their projects due to the
B. Projects that support the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had across the
a. These will be looked at on a case by cases basis and no definitive outlines have
been made as we do not fully understand the extent of help that is needed
across the state.

A. K-12 educational projects that address natural resources & conservation will have
first priority. B. K-12 educational projects that address technology and/ or job
training will have second priority.

Human Resources / Community / Quality of Life Improvements
A. Human Resources/ Community / Quality of Life Improvements projects that impact
public parks and recreation will have first priority.
B. Human Resources/ Community / Quality of Life Improvements projects that impact
public facilities and infrastructure will have second priority.

Natural Resources Conservation & Development
A. Natural Resources Conservation & Development projects that relate to
wildlife education, habitat, conservation or promotion will have first priority.
B. Natural Resources Conservation & Development projects that relate to land use and
conservation will have second priority.
Click here to apply or phone (334) 240-3863 for more information

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer

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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: