Thursday, July 21, 2016

Record summer for tourism by John Dersham

We are well on our way to a record summer in tourism in the United States according to the U.S. Travel Association. Early reports say the July 4th holiday was the largest in history as far as number of people travelling. Alabama is reporting record numbers, as well, and so are we.  We are nearly 10 percent above last year, using our year to date numbers and our numbers come in from the state revenue office 60 days in arrears. This means we do not have our June and July numbers yet. I am expecting, judging from the visitors seen and reported by attractions and lodging partners throughout DeKalb County, that the growth over last year will be well over 10%...we hope.
Some of the contributors to this growth are due to an overall strengthening of the U.S. economy and lower gas prices than the last number of years. Our travel industry is hopeful the trend will continue and growth will continue. Both Alabama and DeKalb are growing at a steady rate. As the state of Alabama continues to become an increasingly popular destination, every area of our state will benefit from the publicity and added national and international attention the state is receiving.
In a few weeks we will end our summer travel season with our largest single attendance event of the year with the World’s Longest Yard Sale (WLYS). This event is held this year from August 4-7, officially, but many vendors and a lot of activity on our section of the yard sale (located on the Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway) will begin as early as the weekend prior. Event promoters estimate the total number of visitors along the WLYS route from Gadsden to the Georgia state line should exceed 25,000 -30,000. Despite the size of this number many people agree the WLYS is not as big as its peak in the late 90’s thru 2005. The reason is demographic. The biggest portion of support for the yard sale has been the Mature/Silent (sometimes known as the Greatest Generation) and the Baby Boomer population both of  which are aging out  of the collector buying process and the X-Generation and Millennia’s, as a whole, do not have a material driven culture. They tend to accumulate less with an emphasis on engagement in travel, entertainment and culinary pleasures. None the less, the WLYS will continue to be a major tourism event for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

International Travel Writers by John Dersham

I really had fun last weekend. We had the honor of having a bus full of travel writers spend a weekend here in DeKalb. They work in different countries for publications that will publish articles they write about us. Our visitors were from Brittan, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Austria and China. Let me tell just how important it is to have travel writers here. If we run an ad in a major magazine it costs us up to $6,000 for a small ad when the consumer sees paid travel advertising they assume the destination will be bragging about themselves…thus lessening the total impact. When a travel writer writes an article about our destination the consumer believes they are getting accurate and helpful information. In addition, when they write a story about us and it is in a popular travel magazine, it is free publicity. In other words, it costs us nothing to get better advertising than we could pay for. This is why when travel writers come to town we want to make sure we give them the best hospitality and show them our beauty, our customer service and all the great things there are to see and do in DeKalb, including eating and shopping. Our visitors spent Saturday and Sunday touring our area. DeKalb Tourism and DeSoto State Park serviced as the local hosts and I served as tour guide. This was an event hosted by North Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association and the trip included five days in North Alabama. Our guests stayed at DeSoto State Park and on Saturday evening we had a dinner that included a welcome to the park by Ken Thomas and a DeKalb Tourism talk by me. We had a booth set up so they could get our travel guides and information. We toured Desoto S.P. and Little River Canyon, which included rappelling with True Adventure Sports and Israel Partridge as the host. We ended up at Wildflower CafĂ© in Mentone for great food and musical entertainment specifically welcoming our visitors. The really good news is what they think of us. Wow, they love our area, our people, our food and they were totally awe struck by our scenic beauty and they were totally amazed we had a 650’ canyon in Alabama. Their upcoming articles will be another step in growth for us in the International market. The magazines they write for will be viewed in their countries and help consumers pick us as one of their destinations when coming to the southeast U.S. Fortunately for me, most international visitors speak English and communicate well in the U.S. When we travel abroad most of us are dependent on them knowing English since not many of us are bi or tri lingual.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Third Saturday Sunset in Fort Payne by John Dersham

Last Saturday we had our first Third Saturday Sunset event of the year and I believe it set a record for both attendance and the number of classic cars being shown. The weather was nice and I think everyone was eager to get out see old friends and enjoy this beautiful springtime weather. I am very excited and encouraged by all the exciting things we have going on in Fort Payne. It seems our future looks really good with multiple things in the works like Main Street Fort Payne who now occupies the DeKalb Theater court yard with a Wine and Beer garden and water from The Water Tree. The court yard has great places to sit and is very comfortable to sit and have a drink and talk to friends and listen to music. Main Street Fort Payne intends on having exhibits from retailers and special events in the court yard during Third Saturday and perhaps some food too. We are looking at the possibilities as we plan the upcoming year. I serve on the Main Street board and am on the Promotion Committee with Paige Davis heading up the festivals part of the promotion team, Heather Buckner heads up the Marketing and Jerry Lockhart  is chair of the merchant promotion segment. Amelia Landstreet heads up the Third Saturday planning committee and she coordinates the car show, which is always outstanding. City Councilman Johnny Eberhart and others from the city help with music, food and managing the closing of the Gault Avenue during the event. These are just a few names of contributors to the event. There are lots of volunteers helping to make this successful from April through October. This event is growing and has served as a very successful event to get people downtown to enjoy shopping, live music, classic cars, food and beverage sales, our parks and some children’s activities. My whole family enjoys this event each month. We see friends, talk and walk and we enjoy our downtown environment. It is a great addition to our community. If you have not been to our Third Saturday Sunset event, I invite you to come and enjoy the fun. It takes place each third Saturday of the month beginning in April and ending in October. The hours are 5-9 P.M. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Come on Down by John Dersham

Last Friday I attended the AAA Great Vacations Expo in Columbus, Ohio. The three day weekend event provides us a great opportunity to promote our area by visiting with potential visitors in person. Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association has a booth there and volunteers from various Destination Marketing Organizations, like DeKalb Tourism and others, come to work the booth to help sell North Alabama as a must visit vacation for the more than 40,000 visitors who attend the event in the downtown Columbus, Ohio Convention Center. These large winter travel shows are fun to work. I always meet a lot of really interesting and fun people who visit our booth. Many have already been to our area and want to come back, some are planning their first trip to our area and some say they have never been to Alabama and do not seem very interested in coming. It is these people we have to sell our destination. They often do not view Alabama the way we do, as residents. They are often surprised when we show pictures of mountains and beautiful fall foliage, they often think of us as flat with mostly pine trees. The ones who have already been to our area love it, they talk about coming back. They like our open spaces, mountains, great fishing lakes, sunny warm weather, great food and friendly people. For those who have not been, but have a trip planned, they learned about us at this show or they heard from a friend or relative who recommended our destination. It is easy to sell them on coming to DeKalb County because of our large terrific parks, mountains, great scenery, hiking, camping and waterfalls. Everyone loves waterfalls and they are all over our brochures and display units. Just the pictures alone attract people to come. Pictures really do speak a thousand words and many people would rather see a picture than read about a destination. Nearly 3 billion dollars are spent by tourists annually in North Alabama. Tourism is the largest non-agricultural business in the state and it is critical to the health of our state economy. These large travel expos that we attend each year serve as a relatively inexpensive way to target markets that we know are good markets for North Alabama. The one-on-one contact with potential visitors with an array of printed material to hand out gives us an edge up as a possible destination for them. These large travel shows are scattered all around the country in larger cities, usually in their convention centers. They often include the exhibiting and sales of boats, RV’s, fishing equipment, camping and hiking gear, bikes, motorcycles and other outdoor environmental products. Destination Marketing Organizations, like ours, usually have an entire exhibit hall dedicated for travel planning. Boats and fishing will have their own hall, as will RV’s, motorcycles etc.

Friday, December 18, 2015

RadioVizions by John Dersham

Talk about some great entertainment in Fort Payne, this is the tops. I am talking about RadioVizions at the Coal and Iron Building every first and third Thursday evenings from 6-9 p.m. Here is the concept; RadioVizions is a revival of a series from 1991-1993 that Russell Gulley (Director Big Wills Arts Council) produced at the Fort Payne Opera House. Back then they were supported by grants from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the Lyndhurst Foundation. They chose to start a bit smaller this time, The Coal and Iron Building for a couple reasons. One is to showcase that building as a venue for cultural activities/programs and two is to keep costs down  using the old concept of "packing" a small venue spreads word of mouth and excitement rather than a half empty, large venue. Fort Payne has a reputation of being a walk up town with small crowds. Eventually, cultural tourism will play a role similar to examples like, The Sucarnochee Revue in Livingston, Al. and Meridian Miss., also The "Rendezvous of the Cajuns" in Eunice La., a French Language Radio. The concept is successful in several communities and seems to be starting off well here.
The recordings will be edited into 30 min. programs for syndication to radio for broadcasts. Local stations, WFPA, WZOB, a sister Cullman Station, and a couple of others are slated to broadcast the finished programs. Also, we have through Stephen Foster, of Global Music Promotions and his program, Direct from Muscle Shoals, access to a network of over 500 internet and FM stations nationally and abroad. Alabama Arts Radio Network is also interested in broadcasting selected programs focused on Alabama Artists. The Recordings are also slated to be placed in the Alabama State Archives in Montgomery and The Alabama Music Hall of Fame for preservation and documentation of our musical heritage.
 The basic concept is to present live musical performances, recorded before an audience as an enhancement of downtown activity and revitalization, promotion of cultural heritage and artistic contributions from our region, to raise awareness of our musical and traditional heritage, and use radio, possibly TV, as a tool to promote Fort Payne and DeKalb County.
I attended the Liz Wood Project with Joe Karacher, and plan to attend Peirce Pettis which will have transpired by the time you are reading this column. I love the whole setting in the Coal and Iron Building. It is comfortable, the sound is good and there is this certain cozy, warm ambiance in the room that makes         you want to relax and enjoy. It just feels good and sounds good. I am so happy Russell and Dennis Gulley have gotten this great format started again. It is good for our community and it provides entertainment that is top quality and permanently recorded for radio and for the historical record. The Liz Wood Project played jazz with vintage standards at its best with the added treat of Joe Karacher, who is 98 years old and still played his clarinet like a young man. I was amazed.
As tourism director in DeKalb and as a board member for Fort Payne Main Street, I look forward to these RadioVizion sessions. They nicely fit into the re-development plans for Fort Payne and like most Main Street communities re-developing they become tourist’s attractions with lots of music, restaurants/bars, boutique shopping, museums and parks. Fort Payne is perfect for this and RadioVizions is a perfect fit for Main Street and for the Coal and Iron Building.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Joy to the world and Peace on Earth by John Dersham

I absolutely love this time of year. I begin looking forward to this whole fall and winter holiday season, beginning with Halloween; which happens to be my birthday. By the time Halloween comes, our fall color season is nearing its peak, the weather has gotten cooler, football season is well on its way, the school year is well established and for me those sentimental feelings of all the great stuff that comes along in the fall and early winter makes me feel good inside and out. I am a very sentimental person who loves to recall all those wonderful times in the past with family and friends enjoying this time of year together. Many of my family from the “Greatest Generation” are gone but I can still see them clearly with me during my growing up years and all the years at Thanksgiving and Christmas all throughout the years. Some people complain about the holiday’s as being contrived to sell products and services and some say the real meaning has been lost for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I disagree with that premise because those two holidays serve as the glue that holds families together and the motivator to get them together. For many families who have spread out across the country (like mine) and the world, Thanksgiving or Christmas may be the only time they get together during the year. It is these holidays that serve as the annual motivation to be with family regardless of how far away and it is the motivation that brings us those sentimental recollections of the fun family times together in the past. It may be the only time of the year that many people get into the reminiscent state of mind and heart. I know there are many people who struggle this time of year for a number of reasons. Some people are stressed about not having money to afford the holidays or they are in jobs where they cannot be with their family, even if they want to and for some there is no family to share the holidays with. For some people the holidays bring sadness and depression. No matter how you feel about the holidays, I wish for you this season brings you joy and fellowship with those you most want to spend it with.
If you like parades then now is a great time for those. We always watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as the cooking is happening and family is arriving. It was the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last week.  For those of us that live here in DeKalb County we have some choices for parades too. Here is a schedule of Christmas related events and parades:
December 4 - 5 Spirit of Christmas Community Nativity Pageant and Concert Featuring NACC Chorus and Concert Band. The first Christmas will be told in action, song and narration.  This event will be held at the Tom Bevill Lyceum at 7 p.m. Cost is $5 per person. Contact NACC at 256-638-4418 ext 2248.
December 5 Henagar Christmas Parade begins at 10 a.m. 256-657-6282
December 5 Valley Head Christmas Parade begins at 10 a.m. 256-635-6814
December 5 Ider Christmas Parade begins at 1 p.m. 256-657-5717
December 5 A Cheery Canyon Christmas An enchanting day full of holiday programs such as winter wildlife feeding, sustainable giving, Christmas arts & crafts, secret Santa gift shop, photos made with SANTA, storytelling and more!! Little River Canyon Center. 256-782-5697
December 7 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Come and be a part of this remembrance program presented by the DeKalb County VFW. Members of Fort Payne VFW will give a short narrative about taps and read the names of the sailors that were killed aboard the USS Arizona, approximately thirty Navy servicemen. The program will take place in the Exhibit Hall of the Little River Canyon Center at noon and then culminate at the bridge, where each year, Traci’s donates a wreath that is dropped from the bridge and carried downstream in tribute to those who gave their lives in the line of duty at Pearl Harbor. 256-845-8192
December 11 Fort Payne Christmas Parade and Christmas in the Park Join in the festivities in Fort Payne City Park. Free soft drinks, hot chocolate, refreshments, caroling, then there will be a huge parade to make this annual event tons of fun!  Festivities start at 4 p.m.  Parade starts at 6 p.m. 256-845-2741
December 12 Fyffe Christmas Parade begins at 12 p.m. 256-623-2222
December 12 Collinsville Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. 256-524-2135
December 12 Sylvania Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. 256-638-2604
December 12 Geraldine Christmas Parade  begins at 2 p.m. 256-659-2122
December 12 Annual Rainsville Christmas At the Crossroads and Parade Come and enjoy a celebration of the season with this fun festive annual event.   Parade begins at 4 p.m. 256-638-7800
December 12 Crossville Christmas Parade begins at 5 p.m. 256-528-7121

Friday, November 13, 2015

Changing Seasons by John Dersham

Now that Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and the leaves have fallen, tourism in DeKalb County begins to decline for the winter season.  We set some records from mid September through last week for fall season attendance. It started with a record turnout at Fort Payne’s Boom Days Heritage Celebration and Third Saturday Sunset on September 19 and Colorfest in Mentone the third weekend in October, which enjoyed its best attendance ever. DeSoto S.P. and Little River Canyon were full of foliage seekers from mid October until last week. There were several weekends in a row when the parking lots at Little River Falls and DeSoto Falls were so full, parking was pushed out to the streets. Lodging was sold out at the state park and cabin rentals and campgrounds were full. In fact, lodging as a whole had a great fall season. DeKalb Tourism is funded from a portion of the lodging taxes collected. The state revenue office tallies our lodging and we get reports about a month in arrears. We have received September’s numbers but not October. We had our best September on record. Even though fall foliage has not typically begun in September, it is still a time people like to come to our area on weekends. School is well underway and the summer vacation season ended when school began in early August, so by late in September people are ready to get away again and we make for a great place to go for the weekend.  We have 11 million people living within a 200 mile radius of us. This provides an extensive pool of potential visitors, this is one of the reasons we do so well in September thru November. Our visitors are coming from nearby cities and they want a scenic, relaxing place to get away from the rush of their weekday routines. We are especially attractive to locations south of us this time of year since they get less fall color and we provide a nearby destination with mountains full of deciduous hardwoods that garner outstanding fall color. Now as winter approaches our tourism slows down as people turn to family events like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years and if they travel it is often for holiday occasions to visit family. We will have some cabins occupied by families who use them as a meeting point where family meets and they can cook and celebrate the holidays together. Our area has the only ski resort in Alabama at Cloudmont Golf and Ski resort. It draws good crowds from around the region as long as it stays 30 degrees or below so they can make snow, and of course, most winters we will have a few natural snows that help to keep the ski resort open more days at a time. Overall, winter is a slow season in tourism for us and for many other destinations that typically identify themselves as leisure vacation markets whose destinations are usually more attractive to them in the warmer season. In mid to late March we will slowly increase our number of visitors as the weather warms up and people want to spend their leisure vacation time in scenic locations with lots of outdoor venues. March through November are our strongest months with June, July, September, October and November as the leading months. August is slow due to school starting with December, January and February ranking as our lowest visitation months.