Tourism Tuesday June 30, 2020

Ivey extends Safer at Home order; beaches remain open

Demand for beach vacations over July 4 ‘stronger than ever’

Space Camp resuming in Huntsville after virus shutdown

Mobile lodging community creates the first tourism improvement district in the state

Muscle Shoals music landmarks’ plans for surviving

Flat Rock Park a ‘natural wonder’ for recreation and biological diversity

Airport launches airport Artway and Community Art Wall

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer


Ivey extends Safer at Home order; beaches remain open
From the article by Leada Gore on

Gov. Kay Ivey is extending Alabama’s Safer at Home order through July 31.

The order, in place since May 1, was set to expire Friday. Ivey is extending the order through the end of July as COVID case numbers in Alabama continue to rise.

“This is an unprecedented event in our state, our country and our world,” Ivey said in making the announcement from Montgomery. “We are learning to live with this disease and need to continue to do what we need to do to avoid another total shutdown.”

Ivey also warned that if case numbers continue to grow and hospitals are strained, “we reserve the right to reverse course.”

The Safer at Home order will expire July 31 at 5 p.m.

The order requires entertainment venues, gyms, childcare facilities and close-contact service providers such as salons and barber shops to follow social distancing guidelines and sanitation rules and, in most cases, wear masks. Retail stores may open with 50% occupancy rate.

Orders also limit capacity inside restaurants.

Ivey did not close Alabama’s beaches, a step taken in some places to prevent greater outbreaks after the July 4 holiday.

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Demand for beach vacations over July 4 ‘stronger than ever’
From the article by Alison Fox on

Americans looking to get away for July 4 are overwhelmingly booking relaxing, toes-in-the-sand-type destinations, according to data from home booking site Vrbo shared with Travel + Leisure.

Travelers who booked a stay on the site for the holiday weekend mostly picked beachy locales in the South, followed by those on the East Coast, according to Vrbo, with the Florida Panhandle coming in as the top booked destination.

“We typically see families trying to get out of town for the 4th of July, but this year’s list of top destinations reveals that the desire to soak up the sun and fresh air at a beach… is stronger than ever,” Melanie Fish, a Vrbo travel expert, told Travel + Leisure in an email. “As summer heats up, families are using it as an opportunity to get a much-needed change of scenery.”

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach in Alabama came in as the second most popular holiday weekend spot, with the Hamptons in New York, which saw demand grow twice as much as any other destination, coming in third. The Hamptons started reopening in time for Memorial Day with some popular Montauk resorts welcoming guests after New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo OK’d state and local beaches to reopen.

Fish noted the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which came in at No. 7 on the list, is also seeing a large spike in searches. The area, recently featured on a Netflix show, is known for its herds of wild horses.

In general, Fish said 95 percent of demand for summer travel is for non-urban destinations.

Vacation home rentals are becoming a popular choice for travelers hitting the road in a post-COVID-19 world, experts have shared with Travel + Leisure. To that end, bookings for Labor Day on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo are actually comparable to last year for the same time period, according to Guesty, a property management platform.

These are the top 10 destinations for July 4, according to Vrbo’s booking data.

Florida Panhandle, FL.

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, AL.

The Hamptons, NY.

Hilton Head, SC.

San Diego, CA.

Myrtle Beach, SC.

Outer Banks, NC.

Gatlinburg, TN.

Cape Cod, MA.

Charleston, SC.

For the complete article please see

Space Camp resuming in Huntsville after virus shutdown
From the article by Alison Fox on

Space Camp is resuming at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville after shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A scaled-back version of the popular program will resume Sunday as students arrive for a week of hands-on lessons and activities related to space travel, WHNT-TV reported.

Fewer campers than normal will be present, and workers have adjusted some of the activities to reduce the chance of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

The state-owned space museum that operates Space Camp also has reopened with limited attendance rules, physical distancing and additional cleaning procedures. The museum closed some activities where it wasn’t possible for visitors to stay apart.

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Mobile lodging community creates the first tourism improvement district in the state
The Mobile Area Lodging Corporation announced today that they have formed a Mobile Tourism Improvement District (MTID).  The proposed district provides specific benefits to over 65 lodging properties by funding targeted marketing and sales promotion efforts designed to generate hotel room nights.  The MTID includes all lodging properties with 40 rooms or more located within the boundaries of the City of Mobile. The annual assessment rate will be $1.00 per occupied room night, a cost that will be assessed to the hotel guest and included on the guest’s room portfolio upon checkout. On May 19, the Mobile City Council formally approved the MTID.

“The Tourism Improvement District is a game changer and is a terrific example of what coming together collectively can do to raise the bar in elevating lodging and tourism in our great city,” says Kent Blackinton, President of the Mobile Area Lodging Association.  “Our lodging partners are united and are ready to be innovative to produce positive results.  All stakeholders win.”

The MTID is designed to provide benefits directly to assessed lodging properties through targeted digital, print, broadcast, internet and mobile advertising and communications for leisure marketing as well as convention sales efforts.  Visitor interaction programs and capital improvement projects affecting a tourist’s experience are also elements of the district. The Mobile Area Lodging Corporation (MALC) is made up of six hoteliers from each geographic part of the City, the MALA president, one attractions representative, one restaurant representative and two non-voting representatives from the City of Mobile and Visit Mobile. MALC will have full oversight of the use of the MTID funds.  Visit Mobile, the city and county’s official destination marketing organization, will develop and execute the marketing plan under the direct supervision and approval of the Mobile Area Lodging Corporation.

“The Tourism Improvement District creates a significant platform to position Mobile as a top tourist destination,” says David Clark, Visit Mobile President & CEO. “Thank you to our lodging partners for seven years of hard work and tremendous leadership to bring the MTID to fruition.”

Over 165 Tourism Improvement Districts have been formed since the introduction of the program in 1989.  New Orleans, Kenner, Savannah, Memphis, and Tampa are other southern cities with or pursuing a Tourism Improvement District.

Muscle Shoals music landmarks’ plans for surviving
From the article by Matt Wake on

Last year, a combined total of 60,000 or so people visited Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios, Sheffield’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and Tuscumbia’s Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

The triumvirate draws guests from all 50 states. And from foreign lands like the U.K., Australia, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Canada and Syria, too.

After shutting down mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the hall, FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound are back in the tourism business.

“The reaction from visitors now is very different than before the pandemic,” says the hall of fame’s marketing manager, Mackenzie Akin. “The visitors seem to stay a little longer, go a little slower through the museum and ask more questions.”

Muscle Shoals Sound executive director Debbie Wilson says the studio’s post-shutdown guests, “mention we have been on their bucket list and are excited we are open.”

FAME co-owner Rodney Hall says studio tours help continue the legacy of the studio – and of the legendary musicians, songwriters, producers and others who shaped the Muscle Shoals sound. “We are telling the story to a new generation,” Hall says, “that wasn’t lucky enough to live through the golden era of recording. So many times, we get fans of the soul music made here in the ’60s and ’70s, with their kids and grandkids. The kids are just along for the ride. Then they hear that Jason Isbell or Demi Lovato recorded here and they are all about it.”

In some ways, the song remains the same for Muscle Shoals music. But amid an ongoing pandemic, how tours are conducted has changed. At Alabama Music Hall of Fame, where inductees range from country legend Hank Williams to R&B star Martha Reeves, only eight guests are now allowed to tour the museum at one time. There are areas and inside the facility for guests to wait their turn. Visitors are asked to wear masks. Before reopening June 2, the entire museum was thoroughly cleaned and sanitizing stations set up throughout.

Signature items on display include a tour bus used by Fort Payne country stars Alabama. The bus is big enough the museum had to be constructed around it. The bus exterior is emblazoned with Alabama’s band logo, and hall of fame guests can even enter the ’80s model vehicle and look around. “Everything inside is original,” Akin says, “so you get a full concept of what it was like to travel on tour with the group Alabama, from the shag carpet to mauve sofas.”

FAME Studios reopened for tours June 1. Hall says the facility is following current Center for Disease Control guidelines. Those include social distancing, masks required and tour groups limited to eight or less. ” We are constantly disinfecting and cleaning everything following each tour,” Hall says. But since FAME remains an active recording studio with a Neve console and other world-class gear, cleaning is a meticulous process. “We never spray anything on equipment,” Hall says, “but wipe it down with a lightly dampened cloth. Mics are the most complicated. We can’t actually clean the vocal mics, but we can clean the exterior wind screens on the mic as well as external wind screens.”

Fans who tour FAME get to see items like the Wurlitzer electric piano heard on hundreds of hit records, including Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” The walls are literally covered with historic photos of stars who recorded there, including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Duane Allman, Little Richard and Bobbie Gentry. Back in the ’60s, Hall’s father – late great producer, songwriter and studio mastermind Rick Hall – had the foresight to book a photographer for major sessions. “We really don’t have wall space for them all,” Rodney Hall says. “We are thinking of doing a coffee table book at some point.”

Muscle Shoals Sound reopened June 2, and will even be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 4. Staff and visitors are required to wear masks, no exceptions. In addition to limiting tour group sizes, the tour has also been modified, for now only the studio’s upstairs is toured. Staff frequently sanitizes the interior. Hand sanitizer for guests can be found throughout the building. Until it’s time for tours, guests are asked to wait outside, in a charming umbrella and chairs dotted area. Up front in the Muscle Shoals Sound gift shop, some shelving has been removed and merchandise spread out more, to open the space up a bit.

Muscle Shoals Sound guests can see the black baby grand piano used on hits like Bob Seger smash “Old Time Rock and Roll” and the original demo of Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem “Free Bird.” Swampers studio musician David Hood’s old bass rig is still there. As is the tiny bathroom where Keith Richard wrote lyrics for The Rolling Stones’ ballad “Wild Horses.”

Given health concerns, the studio no longer allows guests to sit at or play that piano. Or sit at the console inside the nearby glassed-off control room. “We loved being hands on, but that has had to change unfortunately,” Wilson says.

Being closed during April and May, tourism prime-time, was devastating for Muscle Shoals Sound. “It is like Christmas for retailers,” Wilson says. “We’ve lost our Christmas and will find it challenging to get through the winter months.”

Muscle Shoals Sound’s business model relies heavily on merch sales and studio tours. Recording sessions and fundraisers comprise Muscle Shoals Sounds’ third-largest revenue stream. In 2018, after renovations, Muscle Shoals Sound began hosting recording sessions again. Hard-rock band Rival Sons recorded some of their Grammy nominated album “Feral Roots” here. So did rising Southern rockers and Rolling Stones/Guns N’ Roses opening act Bishop Gunn.

Pre-pandemic shutdown, producer Dave Cobb – who helmed “Feral Roots” as well as albums by Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Highwaywomen and Chris Stapleton – had planned on bringing a “well-known pop act” to Muscle Shoals Sound to record this year, Wilson says, “So we hope he reschedules,” Wilson says. “We’ve also had a few country act inquiries as well.”

About 25 percent of Muscle Shoals Sound visitors are international. During the pandemic the U.S. has shutdown borders to travelers from many parts of the world, including Europe and the U.K. currently. Wilson says for MSS the loss of international guests is financially devastating. “Internationals outspend domestic travelers three to one,” Wilson says.

Muscle Shoals Sound’s biggest fundraiser of the year, an April 25 concert on the grounds with sponsors and ticket sales estimated to bring in about $30,000 was canceled. To offset revenue lost to the pandemic, Muscle Shoals Sound was able to obtain an Alabama Humanities Foundation grant. “We’re also pursuing other grant opportunities,” Wilson says.

Since Muscle Shoals Sound reopened, many guests have been from within a two or three state “day drive.” There’s been a noticeable uptick in visitors arriving via RVs. “So far everyone is good with the masks and social distancing and appreciate the precautions,” Wilson says.

FAME’s primary revenue streams are studio time, tours, merchandise sales and royalties. Tours and merch became a much larger factor the last five years, Hall says. When FAME shutdown in March, a band had been recording there for about 10 days and finished the session. Then, everything else the studio had booked started canceling. “We just hunkered down and sucked it up like everyone,” Hall says. “Luckily we qualified for a little of the government stimulus money so we didn’t lay anyone off due to the shutdown. However, our income was devastated. We went from our best first quarter in years to absolutely zero. Other than a few online orders our income stopped on a dime – pun intended.”

On the business side, during shutdown FAME conducted online video meetings via Zoom with partners planning for future possibilities. The studio did a couple of remote recording sessions during this time, including one involving guitarist Nuno Bettencourt of the hard-rock band Extreme. “They were in L.A. and wanted our horn guys on their record,” Hall says. “Through emerging technology, we were able to record horn overdubs in real time while those guys produced the track from Los Angeles.” Bettencourt previously recorded at FAME in 2019. With Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler and local session musicians, he cut a rousing cover of Stones rocker “Brown Sugar,” for a Muscle Shoals music tribute album.

FAME reopened for in-studio recording sessions May 18. “The musicians are really just so happy to be able to sit in a room again with a group of folks making music together,” Hall says. “That is such a huge part of what we do here. We put great players into our great sounding rooms with great equipment. When the song is there, magic will happen.” FAME is currently in discussions to book sessions for, as Hall puts it, “some true international celebrities to come in later this year.”

During shutdown, Alabama Music Hall of Fame staff worked from home to complete backburner projects, including a revised marketing plan and updated inductee contact info.

Since most Alabama Music Hall of Fame artifacts displayed are behind glass and protected from the elements, chemicals used to clean the building never came in contact with those items. The museum’s busiest months are typically April and May because of school field trips. But none of that happened this year. Still, if reopening restrictions continue to be lifted in Alabama, Akin believes August could be a strong month. The hall is also seeing increased interest in renting the facility’s outdoor stage, as during coronavirus people seem to be more comfortable easing back into public events held outside. “Just like with every other industry,” Akin says, “the pandemic has been a learning experience for travel and tourism. We are seeing people visiting more local attractions they may have not been to in a while. And we see tourists seeking out smaller destinations to visit, which puts the Shoals area in the mix.”

The hall of fame is planning upcoming exhibits through 2021, including a Grammy winning artist themed project. Since arriving late 2018, the museum’s executive director Sandra Burroughs is reaching out to other parts of Alabama, besides legacy rich Muscle Shoals, so the entire state’s music is better represented, Akin says. “We plan to hit the road soon to do live broadcasts from other areas of the state with stories and concerts that highlight more talent statewide.”

It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to walk through the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, located at 617 Hwy. 72 W. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission ranges from $10 for adults to free for ages 5 and under). FAME Studios, 603 Avalon Ave., conducts tours on the hour 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. Saturdays as well as 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. only Monday through Friday. Cost is $10, with $5 admission for ages under 12. Located at 3614 Jackson Highway, Muscle Shoals Sound is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with tours every half-hour. Pricing ranges from $15 for adults to free for ages 10 and under. More info at and

Depending on level of guest interaction, FAME and MSS tours can range from about 30 minutes to an hour. Fans get to hear about the studios’ history, tales from iconic sessions and more. Some of these stories were told in the excellent 2013 “Muscle Shoals” documentary film. But being in the rooms where that history was made is a special experience.

Even if fans can’t make it to Muscle Shoals right now, they should revisit timeless tracks made here. Songs like the Staple Singers sanctified gem “I’ll Take You There,” cut at Muscle Shoals Sound, and Wilson Pickett’s jubilant “Land of 1000 Dances,” recorded at FAME, aren’t vaccines. But they can help a worn-thin soul feel more whole.

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Flat Rock Park a ‘natural wonder’ for recreation and biological diversity
From the article by Michael Sznajderman on

Alabama is blessed with many places of natural beauty and biological importance. That is the basis for 2020 being designated as the “Year of Natural Wonders” by the Alabama Tourism Department.

State officials have compiled their list of “20 for 2020” natural wonders to explore. The designation has also spurred conversations about other unique places in the state where biological diversity is thriving.

One of those places is Flat Rock Park in Randolph County, which was recently included in a list of the “Next 10 natural wonders” in Alabama.

“Just to see that habitat – it is absolutely amazing,” said Dan Spaulding, senior curator at the Anniston Museum of Natural History and a co-author of a recent inventory of plant life found at or near Flat Rock Park.

Operated and managed by Alabama Power, Flat Rock is a 25-acre day-use park that sits on a shelf of granite overlooking the company’s Lake Harris, also known as Lake Wedowee. Part of the granite shelf, or outcrop, extends 20 acres beyond the recreation area and hosts a remarkable variety of plants.

Tom Diggs, a botanist at the University of North Georgia, led the survey team that included Spaulding and Katie Horton, a Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri. They spent months identifying the plant life on and near Flat Rock. In a report issued in February, the team tallied 365 plant species growing at the site during the course of the 2019 growing season. Among them were 67 species never recorded in the county before. The spotted scorpion weed in Alabama grows only on rock outcrops in Randolph County.

Granite outcrops are rare and present a unique habitat for plants that are tough enough to exist in harsh conditions, especially during the heat of summer.

“They look like a moonscape,” Spaulding said.

And yet, during the hottest times of the year, granite outcrops can explode in colorful flora, Diggs said. “Late winter, early spring you have these incredible plants that come out of these vernal pools.”

Vernal pools are small, eroded depressions that fill up with clear, nutrient-poor water that collects off the rock shelf during rains.

One of the more showy and rare plants at Flat Rock is the elf orpine, which – if conditions are ripe – will bloom in a burst of red with tiny white blooms, Diggs said.

In summer, the granite outcrop can explode with thousands of knee-high stone mountain daisies and longleaf sunflowers, along with purple, small-head blazing star.

“These flat rock outcrops, large numbers of species are associated with them and them only,” Diggs said.

In the report, surveyors documented 10 “species of conservation concern” found at Flat Rock that face some, or even serious, risk of extinction because of their rarity, their restricted range or because their populations have seen steep declines. Among them are the spotted scorpion weed, Harper’s dodder and granite flatsedge.

The survey listed a number of invasive plants, such as Japanese privet, yellow bristlegrass and sheep sorrell, that have made their way into the ecosystem.

Jeff Baker, a biologist at Alabama Power, said the company is working with the survey team, the Alabama Glades Conservation Coalition and others to help preserve the habitat, which is adjacent to but distinct from Flat Rock Park’s popular recreation area. He said the company has taken steps to protect the area from vehicular traffic while still allowing pedestrian access for those who want to enjoy its scenic beauty and botanical bounty.

“Alabama Power has been very responsive,” Diggs said.

Baker said, “This is a unique opportunity to work with others to protect the outcrop and help manage the unique and rare plant community so that people can enjoy it for years to come.” And with Pollinator Week 2020 underway, Baker noted, “Many of the flowering plants found at the outcrop are an important food source for many pollinators as well. Pollinators benefit from conservation of natural areas like this.”

Spaulding said the diversity of plant species at Flat Rock isn’t the only reason protecting the granite outcrop habitat is important.

“There’s a lot of reasons you want to preserve the diversity. It’s an interwoven web – a delicate balance in nature. We don’t know, if you remove species, what will happen and topple.

“It’s not only the diversity. It’s beneficial to humankind – for its educational value, and for its psychological and aesthetic value,” Spaulding said. “It is just beautiful.”

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Airport launches airport Artway and Community Art Wall
From the article by Brandon Moseley on

The Huntsville Airport announced earlier this month that the Community Art wall has expanded to both sides of the breezeway that connects the airport to the parking garage on the second level.

This area displays art created by budding artists in the North Alabama community and is a reminder that anyone can be an artist. This quarter the Community Art Wall is featuring a series entitled “Visit North Alabama” with works from the Pictures of Hope Program based out of Scottsboro.

Pictures of Hope is an art program developed by Jackson County Drug Court and Family Wellness Court, along with artist Sonya Clemons, to benefit the Recovery Community in Jackson County.

“The Airport Artway and Community Art Wall is a quality of life initiative showcased at Huntsville International Airport,” economic developer Nicole Jones said in a statement. “Students from the Pictures of Hope family wellness program contributed to this quarter’s featured pieces on the Community Art Wall. Pictures of Hope, a voluntary program administered through the Jackson County Drug Court, has an 85 percent drug recovery success rate. It is a blessing to have local artist Sonya Clemons assist students in developing their talents amidst their road to recovery.”

The Huntsville International Airport has an ongoing partnership with the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur. The program features professional and budding artists from across the Tennessee Valley community. The Airport Artway and Community Art Wall exhibits are available for viewing anytime free of charge. This series will be featured for online viewing to abide by social distancing guidelines.

The Airport Artway is a quarterly exhibit displayed on the second floor of Huntsville International Airport’s terminal building. This area is located just above the airline ticket counters and baggage claim.

Rebecca Burns is the Airport Artway Exhibit Coordinator. The current series brought works from local artists and artists from Franklin, TN. This series explores farmhouse architecture. This series will be available for viewing until Sept. 13.

For the complete article please see -airport-launches-airport-artway-and-community-art-wall-series-two/

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