Tourism Tuesday August 4, 2020

Mobile highlighted as tourist spot

Lonely Planet
 includes an Alabama bar-b-q original on list of best BBQ

Alabama Tourism Department calls on public to help struggling restaurant industry

Alabama RV parks modernize during coronavirus

Alabama State Parks introduces new reservation system

Here’s how Alabama got its giant roadside peach tower

Free Alabama Vacation Guides available

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer


Mobile highlighted as tourist spot
Editor’s note: The Active Times website listed Mobile as the most underrated tourist spot in our state. Here is the Mobile mention.

The Most Underrated Tourist Spot in Every State
From the article by Kaitlin Miller on

The most popular tourist destinations in America such as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty have earned distinction for a reason and certainly deserve a place on your American bucket list. However, certain off-the-grid places shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only are many relatively unpopular destinations still just as exciting to visit, but they often also offer fewer crowds, more affordable prices and more authentic, less “touristy” experiences.

You don’t have to look far from home to discover a city, charming small town or national park that offers natural beauty, culture, relaxation or fun. Explore the road less traveled and check out the most underrated tourist spot in every state.

Alabama: Mobile
The Gulf Coast is home to many vibrant coastal towns, but Mobile, Alabama, has something for every type of traveler. Lounge on the city’s multiple white-sand beaches, stroll through squares lined with live oak trees and explore historic neighborhoods. Mobile is also home to one of the largest river deltas and wetlands in the country, nicknamed America’s Amazon because of its amazing eco-diversity.

For the complete article please see

Lonely Planet includes an Alabama bar-b-q original on list of best BBQ
Editor’s note: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q came in 2nd place in a field of 17 U.S. BBQ joints. Here is an excerpt of the Lonely Planet article.

The best BBQ joints in the United States
From the article by Maya Stanton on

Barbecue is perhaps the ultimate American food, with regional styles as diverse as the country itself, from the smoked brisket of Central Texas and the sticky ribs of Memphis to Kansas City’s burnt ends and the vinegar- and mustard-sauced pork of the Carolinas. But there’s more to the iconic cuisine than meets the eye.

“Barbecue is a form of cultural power and is intensely political, with a culture of rules like no other American culinary tradition: sauce or no sauce; which kind of sauce; chopped or not chopped; whole animal or just ribs or shoulders,” food historian Michael W. Twitty writes for the Guardian. “And, if America is about people creating new worlds based on rebellion against oppression and slavery, then barbecue is the ideal dish: it was made by enslaved Africans with inspiration and contributions from Native Americans struggling to maintain their independence.”

Whether you’re road-tripping this summer or mail-ordering treats for a virtual vacation, these are the barbecue joints – from small mom-and-pop shops, slick spots slinging fusion fare, and everything in between – making their mark on the scene today.

2. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q – Decatur, Alabama
In North Alabama, and at Big Bob Gibson’s in particular, the barbecue pork shoulder tends to be cooked low and slow, over hickory, until the poor pig gives up the ghost. But it’s the chicken – spatchcocked, grilled, and “baptized,” as the grandson of the restaurant’s namesake puts it, with the white barbecue sauce Gibson himself invented back in the 1920s – that steals the spotlight here. In the intervening years, that white sauce has become standard across the region, but there’s nothing like the original.

For the complete article please see

Alabama Tourism Department calls on public to help struggling restaurant industry
The Alabama Tourism Department is asking the public to dine out or order take out at least twice from Aug. 14-23, the 10-day period of Alabama Restaurant Week.

“Food is part of many celebrations and special occasions; it brings us comfort and joy,” said ATD  deputy director Grey Brennan.  “What better way to recognize the efforts our restaurants have made during an unprecedented time than to support them with our patronage.”

To make it easy for people to find and support restaurants, the website  not only lists restaurants but suggest five ways someone can help their local restaurant in addition to ordering food.

Looking for help on which restaurants to visit?  The Alabama Restaurant Week website also includes information on ATD’s popular “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama” brochure and the restaurants offering those dishes.

“Alabama restaurants and their staff have endured these past months in stride while implementing enhanced operational and safety measures to ensure that tourists and local restaurantgoers have a safe and enjoyable experience while dining on some of the best dishes in the world” Brennan said. “Let’s return the love by visiting two or more restaurants during Alabama Restaurant Week.”

Alabama RV parks modernize during coronavirus
From the article by John Sharp on

Ed Bridgman was in full sales pitch mode for his Homestead RV Community in south Mobile County as a reality TV camera crew filmed his every movement Thursday.

“Very few (RV parks) have been built in the last 20 years (in Alabama),” said Bridgman, wearing a cowboy hat and taking questions before a small crowd of local RV dealers and county and tourism officials. The film footage, he said, would be used for a program broadcast on HGTV or another network.

“The average (RV) site is 20-foot, by 50-foot,” he added. “You cannot park your truck on either side of that. But you will have plenty of room (here) for a therapeutic-jetted hot tub.”

The crowd chuckled as Bridgman emphasized the hot tub rentals, “Have I said that enough times? I’m working on it.”

Indeed, Bridgman’s RV complex, which opens in October with 59 large campsites, is aimed at attracting a younger working-class traveler that is fueling a surge in RV sales in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic. Equipped with high-speed Internet and amenities like a stocked pond for fishing and jacuzzi rentals, Bridgman is banking on an uptick of RV users seeking an experimental leisure experience they cannot get from an older RV park.

“Millennials are driving this market,” said Bridgman, referring to the age group that is between 26 and 40 years old. “This is about the young professionals. They need to be able to work where they want to live, and they need to live wherever they want to vacation. That is important to the young professionals.”

He added, “They want to have experiences with their children. Instead of sitting around with an iPad and a phone and doing calculations, they want to get outside and do hiking and kayaking experiences.”

Soaring sales
The timing of Bridgman’s development comes during an abrupt turnaround in the RV industry at a time when Americans are forgoing airline and train travel in favor of driving along the open road in an RV.

The industry’s largest manufacturers — Winnebago and Thor Industries — have seen their stock prices surge more than 200% since hitting low prices in late March and early April. Camping World, a popular RV seller, has seen its stock price rise 776% from March’s low.

RV camper lots, such as B&R Camper Sales in Mobile, are emptying. Typically, the family-owned dealer carries 100 or so campers on its property. But last month, the sales lot had no more than a dozen campers on it, according to Shawn Nelson, sales manager with the 50-year-old retailer.

“The manufacturers were shut down for 1-1/2 to 2 months, and then sales boomed nationwide,” said Nelson. “Everything is made in Elkhart, Indiana, and it takes a while for our stuff to get in. At the same time, it takes time to build the inventory back up. I have over 100 units on order that we’re trying to get in.”

The soaring sales come after a period of growth in the $114 billion industry that saw its best year occur in 2017, when 504,000 new RVs were sold. Sales slumped off somewhat in 2018 and 2019, but they are expected to continue to rise as Americans emerge from their spring quarantines in search of safe leisure travel.

According to data from the Reston, Va.-based RV Industry Association, the month of June represented the industry’s strongest month since October 2018, as over 40,000 units were shipped from manufacturers to retailers. That represented an 11% increase from a year ago.

“The demand is crazy right now,” said Bridgman. He said there were supposed to be representatives from other local camper retailers at Thursday’s event, but they had to cancel due to a lack of inventory.

RV travel and camping is viewed largely as a safe activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among prospective campers surveyed by Kampgrounds of America, 37% say it is easier to practice social distancing via a camper than other types of travel. Nearly half of leisure travelers are saying they plan to replace one of their cancelled or postponed trips this year with a camping trip, the survey results show.

“You control everything about this trip,” said Steve Polunsky, director of the Alabama Transportation Policy Research Center at the University of Alabama. “You control the food you eat, the supplies you use. You don’t go through TSA or through buses and trains. You can avoid hotels if you want to. You have a choice, really, in the selection of where you go.”

Monika Geraci, spokeswoman with the RV Industry Association, said a flood of new RVs have been added into the market in the past four years as first-time buyers seek affordable vehicles. Notable increases are occurring in sales for smaller-sized units like camper vans (up 40% for the past year), and towable travel trailers which are “flying off the lots as young, first-time buyers are coming in and purchasing” campers, said Geraci. The prices for travel trailers that can be hitched to the back of a pickup truck are affordable for first-time buyers as they often range in price from $20,000 to $35,000, she said.

“We know the pre-pandemic sales, there was an increase in younger buyers,” said Geraci. “The average age of ownership has been dropping for years.”

The average cost of an RV unit runs around $109,000, according to Bridgman. He said that is still a good value relative to a purchasing a $200,000 brick-and-mortar home, which can take several years of interest payments before equity is built into the investment.

“People are downsizing because they want their equity to be on wheels,” said Bridgman.

Campsite demand
The increase in new RVs and campers on the roadways has led to a higher demand for more RV campsites, such as the one Bridgman is developing. He is also working on three other projects in Alabama – one near Prattville, and two in Baldwin County.

His Homestead RV Community in south Mobile County is only in its first of three phases of development. The project, once fully developed in about five or six years, will feature 250 total camp sites that will be large enough to accommodate an RV, a pick-up truck and a jacuzzi.

He said that amenities like a hot tub rental can take place on Homestead’s app, and without requiring an in-person visit to a front office.

The U.S. has an estimated 1.23 million individual trailer campsites, according to the estimates from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Bridgman said about 20,000 new campsites are expected to be added in the country during 2020, which he called a “drop in the bucket compared to the number required.”

Alabama’s state parks account for approximately 2,300 campsites, some which are pre-booked for months. At Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, 496 campsites are booked “five to six months in advance” during the summer months, according to Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Snowbirds, who travel from colder Northern states via RVs during the winter months, will book a year in advance, he said.

Blankenship said that DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne is also another high-demand location where the approximately 100 campsites are often booked. He said that Meaher State Park along the Spanish Fort Causeway, is also often booked up.

“Overall, I would say especially during the COVID time when people are not comfortable going to big cities and Disney World and places like that, we are seeing a good demand for campsites,” said Blankenship.

The state, however, has no immediate plans to expand the properties at its parks aside from a $3.5 million addition at Meaher State Park that is being financed through the state’s settlement from the 2010 BP oil spill. The state is, instead, spending public money on addressing maintenance upgrades at its older parks that include, among other things, installing improved electrical systems that can accommodate larger RV units.

On the federal level, the Great American Outdoors Act approved by Congress last week is expected to add slightly under $10 billion to address maintenance backlogs at federal parks throughout the country over the next five years. That includes making much-needed improvements and upgrades at campgrounds, said Geraci.

She said that private developments that cater to experimental leisure travelers will continue to be important ahead of next year as industries continue to encourage people to work from home, and as schools cancel in-person education.

“You have this interesting environment where parents and kids could be home this fall and able to work and learn from anywhere,” she said. “It’s a unique opportunity for people, with or without kids, to get into a travel trailer and see America and work from anywhere.”

For the complete article please see

Alabama State Parks introduces new reservation system
Alabama State Parks is excited to announce they will begin the transition to a new camping reservation system at the beginning of August 2020. They have listened to the feedback from our guests and have designed this new, user-friendly system to include these features:

•Allow our guests to create a customer account.

•View availability of camping and camper cabins for an entire year.

•Make bookings at multiple parks.

•History of reservations for each customer account to help our guests remember their favorite campsites.

In preparation for the launch of their new camping reservation system, online reservations will not be taken between Aug. 2 and Aug. 13 for campsites or camping cabins. To make a reservation or modify an existing reservation scheduled to arrive before Aug. 11 please call the park for assistance.

Note: No reservations or modifications for campsite or camping cabins with arrival dates after Aug. 11, can be processed on the phone or online between Aug. 2 and the launch of the new system. These changes only relate to camping reservations. Lodge rooms, standard cabins (not camping cabins), chalets and cottage reservations are not affected. Gift cards cannot be used or accepted during the blackout period between Aug. 2-11.

The park system apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause and thanks you for your patience as they work toward improving our online reservation system guest experience.

How is the system better?

•Allows customers to make bookings for all parks (for camping and camper cabins) from same site.

•Customers can view entire year availability on specific sites.

•Multiple sites/parks can be booked at once.

•Reservation history is stored in customer account – customers can look back and remember favorite sites.

•Integrated use and purchase of gift cards.

Other features include:

•Creating customer account – viewing reservations.

•Navigating from park to park to make multiple bookings.

•Viewing availability on favorite sites.

Here’s how Alabama got its giant roadside peach tower
From the article by Kelly Kazek on

Very near the center of Alabama stands a landmark known to anyone who has ever driven along Interstate 65. Known as the Big Peach, the iconic oversized fruit is actually a 500,000-gallon water tower in Chilton County, the state’s largest producer of peaches.

While it seems it must have always been there marking Exit 212, the 120-foot high Big Peach was built in 1992, 11 years after the water tower that inspired it. The original peach tower in Gaffney, S.C., which produces more peaches than Georgia, is known locally as the “Peachoid.” The Gaffney tower, built in 1981, holds 1 million gallons of water, according to the website

Both of the steel-and-concrete towers were constructed by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co., according to NPR. Because of the colors and curves of the peaches, which were once painted to highlight clefts like those on the fruits, both towers have been likened to looking like rear ends. The Big Peach’s cleft was toned down with paint.

Local authorities saw Gaffney’s peach tower and, hoping to create a tourist draw and county symbol, a committee of local business people began fundraising efforts. Several places in the area are named for the landmark, such as Peach Tower Road and Peach Tower Industrial Park. People traveling down the interstate to the beach often stop at Easterling’s (formerly Headley’s) Big Peach where they can get fresh peaches, homemade peach ice cream and more. Headley’s began as a small stand in the 1960s and had to move its location slightly in 1992 to make room for construction of the Big Peach Tower, according to story in the Clanton Advertiser.

At nearby Exit 205, visitors can visit Peach Park, which opened in 1980 with a restaurant and gift shop, the Encyclopedia of Alabama says.

The Encyclopedia of Alabama says, “This striking symbol of Alabama’s peach industry demonstrates to passersby that while Georgia might be the peach state, Chilton is the peach county in Alabama.”

The Clanton and Gaffney towers have become tourist draws, luring motorists from the interstates for a selfie or two. The Gaffney peach gained even more fame in 2013 when it became part of a storyline on the popular show “House of Cards.”

The popularity of the Peachoid also led to more vandalism so, in 2018, Gaffney officials erected a barbed-wire fence around its base, according to the Charlotte Observer.

In 2010, both water towers were photographed by Carol M. Highsmith for a Library of Congress project cataloging the nation’s quirky landmarks and historic homes.

For the complete article please see

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.

Alabama Tourism Partner Pointer

Alabama Restaurant Week is just around the corner. Mark your calendars for Aug. 14-23. Check out our press kit on Tourism’s Resource Center at for all assets you may need in preparation for this event.