(MONTGOMERY, AL) Alabama experienced the nation’s largest growth in travel search activity since 2019, moving the state from No. 30 in the country to No. 6, according to the most recent Google Travel Search annual report.
“U.S. travel is making a comeback but it’s not the same in every state,” the Google report said. Florida remained No. 1 and Hawaii had the largest decrease in travel search activity, moving from No. 5 to No. 33.
Five of the top seven are Southern states, with Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi in the top three, and Alabama and Georgia in sixth and seventh place.
Alabama tourism director Lee Sentell cited several factors that contributed to the growth: a desire by residents in land-locked Midwestern states to visit beaches and parks, an increase in the number of television stations in which the Retirement Systems of Alabama is an investor, and growing interest in visiting civil rights sites.
Sentell said the number of television stations in which the state retirement system is invested is important since Gray Television airs Alabama tourism commercials and those for the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at no cost. Commercials for Alabama tourism and the golf trail are being aired on 141 stations, including those in Atlanta, Nashville, Mobile and Jackson, Miss., for the first time.
The resulting searches are an important predictor for state tourism.
“A growth in search activity indicates that more people are planning to visit than ever before,” he said.
He said an $8 million federal COVID recovery grant from Gov. Kay Ivey supported an advertising campaign last year that featured separate digital ads for each of the state’s 67 counties.
“This was the first time we have created separate ads that showcased one county at a time, and it might have been the first time that some rural counties have had this type of media exposure,” he said.
For example, the Cherokee County commercial featured Orbix Hot Glass, Cherokee Rock Village, Chestnut Bay RV Resort and the Hwy 411 Drive-In Theatre. The Chilton County ad showed photos of Higgins Ferry Park, Confederate Memorial Park, Minooka OHV Park and Maplesville City Park. Coffee County showcased the courthouse, the historic Coffee County Jail and the birthplace of Big Jim Folsom. Henry County was represented by Todd Farms Cafe, Keel & Co. Distilling, Huggin’ Molly’s restaurant and Ravenwood Sporting Clays.
Deputy Director Grey Brennan, who coordinated the 67 ads with Intermark Group Advertising, said the full report is posted on the www.alabama.travel website. Copies of the results of each county’s coverage will be distributed to legislators on March 9 when the state travel industry hosts legislators at its annual Tourism Bash reception, he said.
During 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, visitors to Alabama spent $13.3 billion for food, accommodations, travel and shopping. A report for the year 2021 is expected in March, the director said. For three years prior to the pandemic, the state tourism industry was growing by a million new visitors a year who were spending an additional billion more dollars a year, he said. In 2019, 25 million tourists spent $17 billion.
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