Tourism Tuesday June 23, 2020

Free Alabama Vacation Guides available

One-of-a-kind culinary science center rising on Auburn University campus

Tourism officials hope the worst is behind them

Tuscaloosa tourism agency director’s contract extended

Alabama chef launched her food truck festival on Juneteenth

Flint Creek Canoe Trail opens

Lost airline luggage sold online for the first time by 50-year-old company

PBS show taped at 16th Street Baptist Church broadcast again

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer


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 from its 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.

One-of-a-kind culinary science center rising on Auburn University campus
From the article by Jerry Underwood on

Construction is moving forward on a groundbreaking building on Auburn University’s campus that will become home to a learning environment that blends a luxury boutique hotel, restaurant and food hall.

Situated at the corner of East Thach Avenue and South College Street in downtown Auburn, the Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is a 142,000-square-foot complex that will provide hands-on, immersive experiences for students in a facility like no other.

According to Birmingham-based HPM, the construction manager for the project, work began on the structure in April. Auburn alumnus Jimmy Rane, a businessman who is on the university’s board of trustees, helped kick-start the project with a $12 million gift. The world-class facility is named in honor of his parents.

Auburn expects the center to become a draw for students currently in top culinary programs in high schools in Alabama and across the nation. The project was announced in 2019.

“Our students will have unparalleled opportunities to learn best practices in the hospitality and culinary sciences within a luxury setting from the best in the industry,” said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences.

“The entire complex will provide guests with an immersion in hospitality that is second to none.”

Five Diamond goal
In an update on the project, HPM said Auburn is seeking to achieve a rare AAA Five Diamond certification for the hotel component, which is given to less than 0.5% of the 27,000 hotels evaluated annually. HPM previously was owner’s representative during the construction of a $35 million Five Diamond-certified hotel in Houston.

“Our previous history in providing project management leadership on other high-profile hospitality and higher education initiatives made this an ideal fit for HPM,” company president Mike Lanier said.

“We are honored to partner with Auburn University on building this one-of-a-kind facility, which serves as a forerunner that will inspire a new breed of food and beverage, as well as hospitality-focused, learning centers at college campuses across America,” he said.

For the complete article please see

Tourism officials hope the worst is behind them
From the article by Lora Scripps on

The novel coronavirus has left its mark on tourism in the state. However, state tourism officials believe the worst effects could be behind them.

Last week, state officials said Alabama was seeing a 66% decrease from the same time last year when it comes to total tourism dollars spent.

Mississippi was the only state faring better than Alabama with a 63% decrease, according to officials. Hawaii ranked worst in the nation at 96%, and Florida saw an 81% decrease.

Officials said hotel occupancy across the state was at 29% in April, adding it was at 68% occupancy in the same month in 2019. Room rates were also slightly down statewide as the average daily rate was down 30% and revenue per available room had a drop of about 70% from the same time a year ago, officials said.

Reported statewide revenue had also dropped 70%, officials said.

Tourism officials did note they believe the worst is behind them, as weekly trends in hotel occupancy had been climbing since April 11 when occupancy at hotels across the state was at an average of 25%.

The first week in June, officials said hotel occupancy was at a COVID-19 period high at 47% compared to 69% the same week a year ago.

Officials said overall hotel revenue had seen a 43% decline compared to the same time last year.

Athens-Limestone County
Athens-Limestone Tourism President Teresa Todd said local tourism numbers are starting to go up a little in the city. Though she doesn’t have exact numbers for hotel occupancy, she said the city averages 65% annual occupancy and over 70% during peak seasons such as October and spring break.

“We’re being proactive on a lot of things,” Todd said. “We are working closely with our hotels and other organizations such as Athens Parks and Recreation.”

For example, she said tourism is currently working with Parks and Rec to bring ball tournaments to our SportsPlex, which will help hotels with room nights, restaurants, shopping and gas tax.

“It’s a win-win,” she said.

Todd said local tourism officials are also working to keep some tourism events in place such as the annual Red, White & Boom fireworks show and Singing on The Square as long as everyone practices social distancing and sanitizing. However, other annual events have already been canceled or postponed for 2020.

For now, Todd said tourism is working to get things back to normal, or a new normal.

“Right now, it’s the little things we can do to promote all of Limestone County,” she said.

When asked what residents could do to help, Todd said they can help with the look of the community by helping to keep it clean and beautiful.

“We are doing a pretty good job,” she said, adding Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell was in Limestone County recently to get a photograph of the Judge James Horton statue on The Square. Todd said Sentell told her about how clean and beautiful it was downtown.

“I beamed with pride,” she said. “It’s about everyone doing their part and picking up after themselves and leaving everything better than it was. It gives a great impression to those who come in for a visit.”

For the complete article please see /local_news/traveling-through-a-pandemic-tourism-officials-hope-the-worst-is-behind-them/article_a2f2039c-b21d-11ea-a6d9-3fd719042e8a.html

Tuscaloosa tourism agency director’s contract extended
From the article by Jason Morton on

The leader of Tuscaloosa’s visitor and recreational recruitment team is sticking around a little longer.

Don Staley, president & CEO of Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports Commission, has been given a three-year contract extension.

“We are very fortunate to have Don Staley continue as CEO of the Tourism & Sports Commission during this unprecedented time,” said Bill Lloyd, the Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports Commission’s chairman of the board of directors. “Don’s acceptance of the three-year contract extension shows his commitment to Tuscaloosa.

“This community could not hope for better leadership through the challenges ahead.”

Staley, who had served as executive director of sports for the commission from 2010-14, returned to Tuscaloosa in 2017 to take over as president and CEO.

“I’m thrilled to be home,” said Staley, of returning to the city where he built his career, in 2017.

That contract provided Staley with an annual salary of $120,000 with stipends for business-related phone expenditures, travel and the use of a vehicle for TTS-related purposes

No financial details on the extended contract were available as of press time.

Staley left Tuscaloosa when was hired in 2014 as executive director of the Foley Sports Tourism Complex.

There, he helped guide the branding and implementation of the $32 million venue into a national sporting event destination, increasing tourism and revenue for the area.

These efforts led to his being named the Sports Tourism Executive of the Year by the National Association of Sports Commissions in April 2015.

“Don Staley is one of the best in the industry,” said Rick Hatcher, executive director of the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, the former chairman of the National Association of Sports Commissions and a board member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

In the three years since his return to Tuscaloosa as president and CEO of the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission, Staley and his team have recruited and brought numerous events to Tuscaloosa along with supporting events like Tuscaloosa’s Bicentennial celebration.

Additional projects spearheaded or supported by the commission during this time include the Druid City Music Festival, the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail, the Tuscaloosa Virtual Music Experience and the continued increase of tourism to the area.

“I was thrilled, both personally and professionally, to hear about the extension of Don’s contract,” said Jim Page, president and CEO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce. “He has been a trusted partner to the chamber and has brought such positive energy to this community.

“I know Don’s talents are highly sought after by other great communities, so having him continue to lead our local tourism industry is such a huge blessing,”

Before departing for Foley, Staley served as the first head soccer coach for the University of Alabama before moving on to play a significant role in the 2007 formation of the Tuscaloosa Sports Foundation, which eventually joined with the Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitors Bureau to form the current Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports Commission.

One of the foundation’s biggest successes was the 2009 luring of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Super Six High School Football Championships, which had been hosted at Birmingham’s Legion Field since 1971.

Working with the AHSAA and the city of Auburn, the championship has alternated sites, between Auburn University and the University of Alabama each year since, serving as a major revenue producer for both cities, boosting lodging, dining and shopping as it brings in thousands of high school football fans and visitors.

“I truly believe TTS is poised for continued success guided by our engaged board of directors, our professional staff and outstanding community partners and I look forward to continuing those collaborations moving forward,” Staley said.

For the complete article please see tuscaloosa-tourism-agency-directorrsquos-contract-extended

Alabama chef launched her food truck festival on Juneteenth
From the article by Shauna Stuart on

Whitney Generette, popularly known as Chef Simone, spent a lot of time this past spring thinking about how to expand Simone’s Kitchen ATL, the full service catering company that she operates in both Alabama and Georgia.

She’d invested in a food truck, but the COVID-19 outbreak forced her to put plans for the new venture on hold. But during her time at home, the (figurative) wheels kept turning. Simone had long had been thinking about organizing an event with food trucks. So, she merged the ideas. The result: she’d combine the grand opening of her own food truck with the launch of a bi-weekly food truck festival. And the first edition would be a Juneteenth celebration. For the first event on June 19, every vendor— down to the venue and the food trucks— would be black owned.

Simone’s first installment of Food Truck Fridays kicked off last Friday at the Club M Event Center & Compound on Birmingham’s west side.

Earlier this year, Simone spearheaded her first festival in Birmingham— the Black Excellence Food and Culture Festival. She held the event— a day of entertainment and networking with samples of dishes from more than 15 black-owned restaurants and food trucks— on Feb 29, to commemorate the last day of Black History Month.

So when Simone was planning her next event, she knew she wanted to find a way to celebrate black culture and history. Juneteeth, the annual celebration of the day on June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free, was the next event on the calendar.

“I try to plan things that are community based, things that promote unity, around significant dates. And Juneteenth is a significant date for African-American unity,” said Simone.

Before moving back home to Birmingham, Simone lived in Atlanta for six years. (And for those who don’t already know, she says the “ATL” in Simone’s Kitchen ATL stands for “A Taste of Love, not the abbreviation for “Atlanta”). Now that Simone is back in her hometown, she wanted to continue the momentum of Atlanta’s vibrant food scene in Birmingham.

“In Atlanta there’s a food festival just about every other weekend, if not every weekend. So, once I moved home, I definitely wanted to keep that same culture going that I enjoyed in Atlanta,” said Simone. “And I realized that Birmingham just didn’t have a lot of those events. So instead of just traveling back (to Atlanta), I said ‘I have the platform to be able to bring something positive to Birmingham that centers around young people just like myself.’ ”

When the young chef spoke to, she was still keeping mum about most of the details of her food truck’s new menu, but she did describe the concept as a mashup of “Creole Cajun favorites” and “Southern Alabama flair.” The rundown, said Simone, will be full of her favorites.

“So, one of my number ones is called the seafood-stuffed grilled cheese, and that has shrimp and grilled crab meat in it. It’s pretty amazing.”

While the Simone’s Kitchen ATL truck launched in West Birmingham, it won’t stay parked.

“Wherever there are mouths to feed, we are headed there,” she said cheerily.

There were several food trucks at the launch, including NOLA Ice, K&J’s Elegant Pastries, Encore Rouge and Travis Chicago Style.

For now, Chef Simone’s series of Food Truck Fridays will be every other Friday.

For the complete article please see

Flint Creek Canoe Trail opens
Flint Creek Canoe Trail to opened Friday.

Recreational developers met Friday on the banks of Flint Creek to open a 20-mile canoe trail in Morgan County.

The Flint Creek Canoe Trail begins just Northeast of Hartselle, continues through Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and ends at Point Mallard, a popular recreation destination. The development is dotted with access points and campsites to make it easy for paddlers to plan day trips or long-distance paddles through remote portions of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and other sections of Flint Creek.

The project was initiated by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who called on the Alabama Scenic River Trail to develop the Flint Creek Canoe Trail. Orr said previously that he was motivated to initiate the development because of the intrinsic and economic impacts the canoe trail will have on surrounding communities.

“It’s a great introduction to our little-known but wonderful natural world here,” Orr said at the outset of the project. “People will come and spend money and time and take away stories of what they experience and discover.”

The Flint Creek Canoe Trail adds to the existing 6,000-plus miles of waterways that comprise Alabama Scenic River Trail, a state-wide network of river trails that have received national recognition. River trail development along other sections of the Alabama Scenic River Trail has preceded the addition of small-boat rental shops called outfitters, adding a measurable economic impact in some of Alabama’s smallest communities.

The Flint Creek Canoe Trail was completed in partnership with the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, the Alabama Mountains, Rivers & Valley’s Resource Conservation & Development Council, the Morgan County Rescue Squad and Ace Lawn Care and Landscaping, which assisted in the clearing of vegetation from the waterway.

For more information on The Flint Creek Canoe Trail or The Alabama Scenic River Trail go to

Lost airline luggage sold online for the first time by 50-year-old company
From the article by Ann W. Schmidt on

People’s lost and unclaimed airline luggage are being sold online.

Unclaimed Baggage was founded in 1970 when Doyle Owens, an Alabama native, decided to buy unclaimed luggage from Trailways Bus Line in Washington, D.C., according to the company website.

By 1978, Owens made his first partnership with an airline and eventually he had contracts with all U.S. airlines, the website said.

According to the company’s “About” page, airlines “reunite over 99.5% of bags with their owners right away.”

“If a bag is truly lost, airlines pay out a claim to the passenger,” the website said. “It’s only after an extensive three-month search that an unclaimed bag is deemed truly orphaned, a fate realized by less than 0.03% of all checked luggage! That’s where we come in.”

From there, Unclaimed Baggage buys those unclaimed bags and resells about a third of the items they find. The company said it processes 7,000 items every day.

Unclaimed Baggage also donates, recycles and disposes items.

The company used to only operate out of brick-and-mortar location in Scottsboro, Ala., but the company recently moved online, according to a report from Business Insider.

“Our customers have long requested an online version of our in-store shopping experience,” Bryan Owens, Unclaimed Baggage’s CEO, told Business Insider. “We’re glad that as part of our 50th anniversary, shoppers are now able to experience the thrill of the hunt online.”

For the complete article please see

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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.

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