Monday, January 24, 2011

The Year of Alabama Music by John Dersham

Lee Sentell, Director of the Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel has been reappointed by incoming governor Robert Bentley. This is the first time a Director of Tourism has been reappointed by a new administration. It was a very wise move to do so. Here is why. When Bob Riley appointed Lee Sentell eight years ago the state of Alabama collected $6.5 billion in tourism expenditures and in 2009 (2010 report not in yet) it had grown to over $9 billion. It did not happen automatically. It happened because Lee Sentell was an established tourism professional who knew how to advertise and promote effectively and efficiently. He knew Alabama was an undiscovered paradise for many travelers, but they needed to learn what we had to offer. This is what has successfully transpired via Lee and his talented professionals in the Alabama Tourism office.

From the beginning Lee recognized a need to say something about Alabama that would intrigue the potential travelers. Thus began the “Year Of” advertising campaigns which have included; The Year of Small Towns and Downtowns (last year), The Year of Alabama History, The Year of Alabama Arts, The Year of Outdoor Alabama, The Year of Food, and in 2011 The Year of Alabama Music. This theme will promote our talented historical music figures from Alabama but also the current artists making their livings singing in clubs, restaurants, hotels, bars etc. Thanks to a lot of creativity in the state tourism office and a lot of help from people like Dr. David Bronner of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Retirement Systems of Alabama, Renaissance Hotels and approximately fifty Raycom Television stations around the country. The Raycom television stations have provided tourism in Alabama a place to advertise nationwide. Alabama has become the place to come for golf. It has also become a major destination for beach travelers. It is an attraction to fisherman due to our fantastic lake and river systems. We are a leisure travel state for people seeking mountain relaxation; we have wonderful state and national parks, rental cabins, campgrounds and B&B’s. We attract hundreds of thousands of people annually for sporting events. (Yea, I heard of a couple well known teams down in Auburn and Tuscaloosa that can draw a crowd.) We are a leader in Civil Rights tourism, we have a wine trail, a birding trail system, the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama before You Die and in North Alabama we have the Hallelujah Trial (a driving tour of historic churches) and much more. In addition we are a low cost state of which to travel, and we have good year round weather when compared to most of our country.

Sometimes in living here we forget just how much diversity there is in things to do in our beautiful state. From the mountains, to the costal plain, to the gulf. From small towns to downtowns the state of Alabama has a lot to offer our tourists.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Promoting Tourism in DeKalb by John Dersham

Winter is the time for the large travel shows that are held in many major cities during the winter months. These shows give people something fun to do during those cold winter weekends and nights. The shows promote the travel industry. In fact anything to do with taking a trip will be represented there. There are RV sales exhibits, boats, camping supplies, fishing and hunting booths. Our booth will be part of the Tourism and Travel section where exhibitors pitch their venues via conversation, brochures, videos and pictures that will help attract visitors to each area. At most of these shows the Alabama Department of Tourism has a booth, and so does North Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association who represents the northern 16 counties in Alabama. I will work at their booth promoting DeKalb County.
The shows we are attending this year will be AAA Vacation Show in Columbus, Ohio, the Indianapolis Travel, RV, Boat and Sport Show, the Southern Women’s Show in Nashville and the She Show in Chattanooga. All of these shows are held in convention centers and are attended by 20,000-40,000 people. All attendees are potential customers to DeKalb County. Attendees are looking around trying to figure out their summer vacation plans. Many will buy boats or RV’s at the show.
Last year approximately 40% of tourism to DeKalb County came from other parts of Alabama, especially Birmingham south. That leaves 60% of our tourists coming from out of state. The areas where we attend shows have proven to be our larger secondary market areas. The states giving us the most business are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. The tourists from the I-65 corridor coming from the north love our area because we have easy access to mountains, lakes and good weather, all at a low cost to visit. It is also an easy half-day drive for most of them.
We are very fortunate here to have such a large population within a 200-300 mile radius. They have the big populations but they come here because of our rural scenic beauty, mountains, lakes, state parks and national preserve. They come for our cabins, B&B’s, hotels and camping. They come for our great water falls that are rare in most of the states I mentioned above. They come because of a host of things to do in Fort Payne and Rainsville, like the Alabama Museum and Gift Shop and statues in Fort Payne City Park, The Depot Museum, Hosiery Museum, and the N.E. Agri-Business Center and mostly they come to enjoy a low cost, scenic and relaxing vacation.