Alabama Tourism Department recognizes industry leaders

(Gulf Shores, AL) The Alabama Tourism Department recognized its 2021 award winners during the 2021 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism, held on location at Gulf State Park. Winners include Herb MaloneCEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award; City of Wetumpka and RTR Media for Small Town Promotion of the Year with the HGTV’s Home Town Take Over,” actor Myk Watford as Entertainment Ambassador of the Year, Anderson Cooper, Tourism Advocate Media of the Year and the Africatown Collaborative as Tourism Partnership of the Year. Sixteen awards were presented in total.


Other award winners include Gulf Coast Exploreum, 2021 Attraction of the Year; the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, 2022 Attraction of the Year; the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival, Event of the Year; Senator Greg Albritton, Government Tourism Advocate of the Year; Loren Powell, Rising Star; Patty Kieffer, Tourism Employee of the Year; Auburn-Opelika Tourism, Tourism Organization of the Year: Major General Janet Cobb, Tourism Executive of the Year; Graham Roderick, Alabama Tourism Department Employee of the Year; Emily White, Welcome Center Employee of the Year; “Worth the Wait” Theme Campaign Award of the Year and Senator Clay Scofield, Alabama Tourism Department Director Award.


“We have incredibly strong tourism industry professionals in Alabama, and those recognized this year are no exception,” said Lee Sentell, director Alabama Tourism Department. “Their unwavering leadership and dedication continues to elevate Alabama as one of the go-to destinations in America. We are proud to recognize the people and organizations that contribute to the success of tourism in the state.”


Noticeably present on the list of 2021 awardees is “60 Minutes” correspondent Cooper. In 2020, Cooper traveled to Mobile to capture an in-depth story about the Clotilda through interviews with Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Africatown representatives, Clotilda descendants, Alabama Historical Commission and SEARCH maritime archaeologist James Delgado. The segment centered on the ship’s discovery, what it means for Africatown, descendants and the path toward reconciliation.


Cooper was not able to appear at the banquet and provided acceptance remarks in lieu of his attendance. “I am sorry I cannot be with you tonight but thank you for this acknowledgment of our coverage of the Clotilda. Over the months of research and reporting the story, I was impacted by the resilience of the people who were enslaved aboard the Clotilda and who founded Africatown. It seems the discovery of the ship has awakened an awareness in people from all over the country about our nation’s shared history. I look forward to seeing how the residents of Mobile continue to come together to honor the past and build a stronger future for all.”


Below are the brief biographies of each winner. Photos can be found at the following link:


Herb Malone, CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, is the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Malone has been active in the Alabama tourism industry for more than three decades and was the first President/CEO of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism. Appointed CEO of the Alabama Coastal Business Chamber in 1988, he spearheaded a campaign for the Alabama beach towns to establish a self-sustaining DMO while the regional landscape was being shaped by the development of casinos in neighboring states. By 1993, Malone’s vision became a reality with support of the Alabama Legislature and a directed lodging tax. As a result, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach has flourished, becoming one of the top year-round beach destinations in the southeastern United States. Known for his steadfast guidance, Malone led the Gulf Coast tourism industry through the devastation and recovery from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Malone organized the community to support a donation drive for the first responders after 9/11. Malone is responsible for many initiatives including the establishment of birding trails, byway system and the Leave Only Footprints marketing campaign. His many accolades include the Alabama Hospitality Hall of Fame, Alabama’s Tourism Promoter of the Year and Alabama’s Tourism Executive of the Year.


The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center is the 2021 Attraction of the Year.  In the mid-1970s, individuals and organizations in Mobile began fostering a desire to improve the community through science-based educational programming. Through years of dedication and innovation, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center came to fruition in 1983. Now, more than 35 years later, the Exploreum has been a cornerstone of informal learning on the Gulf Coast for residents and visitors alike. The Exploreum is a fixture on Mobile’s downtown skyline and continues to promote science learning through its programs and larger-than-life films at the newly renovated IMAX theater at its state-of-the-art facility. From exhibits about dinosaurs and the body to terrariums and Genghis Khan, the Exploreum offers hands-on and up-close ways to educate, entertain and inspire generations. Through interactive play, and scientific concept-driven approaches, science enthusiasts of all ages discover fun and excitement year-round.


“The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” is the 2022 Attraction of the Year. The Equal Justice Initiative’s new museum relocated to a new 50,000-square-foot facility in downtown Montgomery in October 2021 and is on the site of a former cotton warehouse along the Alabama River where it was once an epicenter for slave trade in the mid-19th century. The new facility, almost five times larger than the old one, allows the EJI to expand the narrative and subject matter depicted in its exhibits including first-person accounts of slave narratives, civil rights and a new exhibit with soil from 800 former lynching sites around the country. There is also an expanded section on the Civil Rights Era and an expansive gallery featuring the work of world-renowned artists. The EJI, a non-profit law firm, was established in 1989 to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenge racial and economic injustice, and protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable Americans, according to its website.


Anderson Cooper, the anchor for CNN and “60 Minutes,” is recognized as the Tourism Advocate Media of the Year Award. Born in New York, the son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper, Cooper earned a B.A in political science from Yale University. He began his career as a fact-checker for “Channel One News,” a broadcast program for middle and high schools in America. During that time, he traveled to Southeast Asia and self-produced coverage of the political turmoil in Myanmar (Burma). Channel One aired these pieces and named Anderson as its chief international correspondent. He joined ABC as a reporter in 1994, eventually co-anchoring “World News Now.” In 2001, Cooper became a reporter for CNN where he later launched his own program, “Anderson Cooper 360°,” while regularly contributing to CNN’s “NewsNight. In 2005 Cooper received national attention for his passionate reporting on the devastation to the U.S. Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina. Cooper became a regular contributor to “60 Minutes” in 2007 and in 2011 began hosting “Anderson Live.” His exceptional reporting on big news events has earned Cooper a reputation as one of television’s pre-eminent newsmen for his dedication to telling comprehensive stories.


Myk Watford is Entertainer Ambassador of the Year. Actor and musician Watford grew up in Russellville, Alabama and was very familiar with the heralded music production happening in Muscle Shoals. Most recently, Watford appeared in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” as Rick Hall, legendary record producer and FAME Studios owner. His other many credits include “CSI,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Criminal Minds,” “Breaking Bad,” “Bones,” and a variety Broadway and Off-Broadway productions including “Hank Williams: Lost Highway.” He appeared in films such as “No Country for Old Men” and “Spider-Man.” Watford lends his musical talents as the front man of Stumpwaller, a popular swamp-rockabilly band, the Johnny Cash Tribute Band, Big Cash and the Folsome 3.


The City of Wetumpka and RTR Media are the recipients of the Small Town Promotion of the Year. Across the country, viewers watched the transformation of Wetumpka as HGTV stars Ben and Erin Napier wrapped their creative arms around the community for “Home Town Take Over.” In 2020, Citizens of Wetumpka answered a national call for submissions explaining why their small town should be selected to undergo renovation as part of the HGTV network’s newest show. Home to a little more than 8,000 residents, Wetumpka was chosen from over half a million photo and video submissions highlighting over 2,600 American towns. Six residential and six business properties were remodeled during the show’s six-week stint. RTR Media is the award-winning conglomerate responsible for producing “Home Town Take Over.” The Ontario-based company produces inventive and entertaining television series and digital content for the international marketplace.


Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is Event of the Year. It premiered in 2005 at the Foley Sports Complex in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. Baldwin County which took the brunt of the storm, was scrambling to recuperate from its impact. Tommy Rachel, operator of Taking Off Hot Air Balloon Co. in Magnolia Springs, first pitched the festival and recovery idea to his fellow aeronauts. The festival, now having completed its 17thyear, has moved to the park at OWA and draws professional hot air balloon pilots from all over the country and nearly 100,000 visitors.


Alabama State Senator Greg Albritton is the winner of the Government Advocate Award of the Year. Senator Albritton has served Alabama’s 22nd district since 2014. He was previously a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for district 64 from 2002 to 2006. Originally from Atmore, Alabama, Senator Albritton married Deborah Whitlock in 1974, and they have six children. He earned a degree in Business Administration from Weber State University in 1981. In 1995 he graduated from Thomas B. Goode School of Law and now manages an independent law practice. He has served the community as a municipal judge in Evergreen, an attorney for the town of Castleberry and prosecutor for Excel.


Loren Powell, Social Media Coordinator at OWA, is the Rising Star of the Year. After graduating from the University of West Florida in 2009, Powell traveled to Houston, Texas where she began her work in social media, photography, email marketing and public relations. She returned to Alabama in 2013 and has since worked with brands such as Leave Only Footprints, Alabama’s Coastal Connection, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, Visit Foley, Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival, Brett/Robinson, Gulf Shores Plantation, Meyer Vacation Rentals and dozens more.


Patty Kieffer is the Tourism Employee of the Year. Kieffer has been with Visit Mobile for 20 years and has served in leadership roles such as Senior National Sales Manager and Director of Leisure Sales & Events before she was promoted to Vice President of Leisure Tourism in December 2020. Throughout her tenure, Kieffer has excelled in cultivating relationships with travel agents and business development managers in the Cruise Industry, International and Domestic Group Tour Operators as well as the local attraction community.


Major General (Ret.) Janet Cobb is executive director of the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park and the Tourism Executive of the Year. A native of Elberta, Alabama, Cobb graduated from Foley High School in 1974. She was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Signal Corps in May 1978 from The University of Alabama ROTC program, where she was named a Distinguished Military Graduate and was the first female officer to graduate from The University of Alabama. Major Cobb’s 42 years in the military includes leadership roles in Kuwait, the Netherlands and Washington, D.C. Her decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (3) and various campaign and service awards. Maj. Gen. Cobb holds a J.D. from Cumberland School of Law, Samford University; an M.S.S. from the United States Army War College and a B.A. from The University of Alabama. In April 2017, Cobb was one of seven selectees for the inaugural University of Alabama ROTC Hall of Fame. She is member of the Mobile Bay Area Veterans Day Commission Board of Trustees and serves on the Veterans Initiative Advisory Council of the Community Foundation of South Alabama.


Auburn-Opelika Tourism is the Tourism Organization of the Year. The seasoned Auburn-Opelika Tourism team has a combined experience of more than 95 years. Their wealth of collective experiences supports their creative and engaging promotions of the area’s “boutique” persona with modern hospitality. The Auburn-Opelika area flourished as a college town, rooted with traditions. Over the last decade, Auburn and Opelika have each grown by more than 15%. The 2021 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index named the Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Area No. 17 Best Performing metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the United States and No. 2 Best Performing MSA in Alabama.


Graham Roderick is the Alabama Tourism Department Employee of the Year.The Huntsville native began his career with the Alabama Tourism Department in 2016. Once a walk-on for the University of North Alabama football team, Roderick is a college athlete turned tourism professional. He brings a deep love and knowledge for telling Alabama’s story across the world as International Sales Manager for the agency. Roderick holds an Associate Degree in General Business from Southern Union Community College and B.S. in Marketing, Hospitality & Tourism from Auburn University-Montgomery.


Emily White is the Welcome Center Employee of the Year. White is a Tourist Promotion Representative with the Grand Bay Welcome Center. She has enjoyed helping guests plan their time in the state for the past nine years and is a certified Customer Service Specialist from Faulkner University. White loves sharing information about the rich history, attractions and amazing dining experiences that Alabama has to offer. She is a loving wife and a proud mother of three beautiful children: Avalyn, Chloe and Owen. When she is not at work, White volunteers at her church, teaches Bible study classes for teenagers in her community and enjoys performing music for community events.


Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism’s “Worth the Wait” Campaign is the Theme Campaign of the Year. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry was faced with the challenge of not only welcoming travelers back to their area but to also prepare them for delays caused by longer than usual wait times at area businesses. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism answered that challenge with a strategy to meet the delays head-on. The “Worth the Wait” campaign was launched on May 17, 2021, as a local effort to provide businesses with a unified message to guests prior to and during their vacation in coastal Alabama. With staffing shortages happening nationwide, especially in the tourism industry, the coastal region wanted to help guests understand what to expect or anticipate during their visit.



The Africatown Collaborative, Alabama Historical Commission, City of Mobile, Mobile County, Savannah College of Art & Design and Visit Mobile are the recipients of the Tourism Partnership of the Year Award. In 2019, international headlines resounded with news about the identification of the hull of a wooden ship found along the Mobile River. At last, the more-than-150-year-old mystery about the fate of the Clotilda had been uncovered. The infamous ship was the last known to have brought enslaved Africans to the United States, decades after their international trafficking had been federally prohibited. The ship’s identity and announcement set off a chain of events galvanizing partnerships with a shared vision to tell the story of Africatown and the Clotilda and support the preservation work needed to carry both into the future for generations to come. As the world prepares to make the pilgrimage to Africatown, local leaders, state agencies and other entities have banded together to craft and execute plans for the revitalization of the community. Early fruits of their labor include a documentary film, the forthcoming Africatown Heritage House, and the Africatown Welcome Center, along with developing tours and experiences in Africatown.


Senator Clay Scofield is the Alabama Tourism Department Director’s Award winner. Originally from Cullman, Alabama, Senator Scofield was first elected to the Senate on Nov. 2, 2010 and was elected by his colleagues in November 2020 to serve as the Majority Leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.  Senator Scofield received his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, Business and Economics from Auburn University, and he is a third-generation farmer. In June 2021, Senator Scofield was elected chair of The Alabama Digital Expansion Authority, which is responsible for advising, reviewing, and approving a statewide broadband connectivity plan as outlined in the Connect Alabama Act of 2021.





The Alabama Tourism Department works to inspire consumers and facilitate travel to and within Alabama while leveraging increased involvement by the private sector. An appointed board of industry advisors connects the department with tourism businesses and organizations throughout the state. Tourism is a key sector of the state’s economy, historically attracting 28 million tourists who spend $16.8 billion in leisure and hospitality sales and employing more than 200,000 full and part-time workers. The industry represents 7% of Alabama’s private sector employment. Leisure and hospitality also generates in excess of one billion dollars of the state’s sales tax revenues.


Contact: Andi Martin, Public Relations Manager

Alabama Tourism Department, 334-242-4537