Thursday, April 21, 2011

Alabama Showbird by John Dersham

Events generate tourism dollars to our community. Many people think of tourists as the people that visit us on their vacations. The ones that come to our State Parks, Little River Canyon, our camps or to the Alabama Museum and Gift Shop. The same people that rent our cabins, stay in Hotels, campgrounds and B&B’s. The same ones that eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores. These visitors come for a leisurely trip to enjoy our fantastic scenery and pleasant small town experiences. This has been our traditional tourist in DeKalb County.
There is another kind of tourism that is critical to any community and we are beginning to receive more of it. It is event based tourism. Event tourism is travelers coming to our area for a specific event, such as; a local festival like Boom Days, Ider Mule Day, Sand Mountain Potato Festival, Mentone Rhododendron Festival, Collinsville Turkey Trot or Fyffe UFO Days. They may be here for a concert, rodeo, horse show or ATV event at our new Agri Business Center. It can be a sporting event like a baseball or swimming tournament at our Parks and Recreation locations. All of these events bring money to our communities from people to who travelled from outside our area to come here. They buy gas, eat, shop, spend the night in our hotels, cabins, campgrounds etc.
The weekend before last the Alabama Showbird Association had a big event at our VFW Fairgrounds. Many people may not realize just how big of a tourism draw an event like this might be. Heath Locklear is Vice President of the Alabama Showbird Association this year. He asked us to have a booth at the event to promote our county. In a note to me from Heath on Facebook here is how he recapped the event,

“Hey John. I wanted to thank you for sending Misty over to the show with the tourist info. I wanted to give you some figures that I thought were really encouraging for this being our first show. At 9:00 am I had several club members go around and try to get a rough headcount. We took those figures and estimated 450 people inside the show at one time. That's not counting the 30 or 40 people that were outside selling and buying birds and supplies. We had 700 birds in the show. This did not count all the birds that were for sale. We confirmed 29 motel rooms that were rented for the show that weekend. Not counting the people that stayed at the State Park. We could not have been happier. We have already begun work on our next spring show and have plans for it to be even bigger. We have decided on doing a show program next year and selling ads to help cover the cost. Our idea is to target mainly the local mom and pop stores so that the exhibitors will be encouraged to visit downtown and other local businesses. Any ideas that you have on the subject would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for all your help.
Talk to you soon,”

Heath’s comments point to the local aspects of an event like this and making sure our local businesses feel the benefit of visitors spending money in our town.

The Alabama Showbird Association is a non-profit group dedicated to the raising and showing of all breeds of poultry. Founded almost 50 years ago, they believe today just as the founders did, that raising poultry is a great hobby for young and old alike. Nothing quite compares to the pride and feeling of accomplishment that one gets from seeing one of his or her birds being admired by a large group of his or her peers. And the lessons learned and passed to younger generations are priceless.
For more information visit

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Manager is as Good as his People by John Dersham

I just began my fourth year in tourism. When I was hired by our board of directors I had been a 30 year veteran at Eastman Kodak, in management and marketing. I was convinced from the job description that the job as Executive Director of Tourism would be a good fit for my history. I already had a sincere love and passion for our beautiful county. After being moved four times by Kodak to different parts of the country our move here was hand picked by my wife Kyle and I who started coming here on vacation a few years prior.
The first thing I asked our board when hired, was to tell me about our staff, how long have they worked here? What are their ambitions and do they feel they are stable performers who have accrued a solid working knowledge of our business? I learned a long time ago that a manger is only as good as the people who report to him/her. I hit the jackpot in this category. So much so, that we have the exact same staff that I started with four years ago. These individuals are dedicated, reliable, and loyal and they offer first class customer service to our visitors at our information center and to our phone callers. They also help the hundreds of people each week requesting information from our website or from social media accounts. They, along with our board which is made up of seasoned tourism professionals and local business professionals really helped me jump start my career at DeKalb Tourism. The board also introduced me to the key players in state and regional tourism that would help me even further.
At DeKalb Tourism we have four employees. They include me as Executive Director, Kayla Worthey (Marketing Manager), Michele Wooden (Administrative Assistant) and Avice Pearson who works Fridays and every weekend including most holidays. Avice is 100% reliable, she is always here when she is supposed to be and she is always early. Last year we promoted our Administrative Assistant Kayla Worthey to position of Marketing Manager and promoted Office Assistant Michele Wooden to Administrative Assistant.
You may have noticed Kayla Worthey is now writing some of our weekly columns. Some weeks when I am traveling it is hard to get the column done and turned in on time. Kayla came to me with a couple very interesting pieces of writing she had done. She wrote first person about herself and family’s personal trips to locations around DeKalb County. I was so impressed by her writing and by the idea she had that I asked Jared Felkins at the Times Journal if we could use Kayla’s articles on weeks I could not produce one. They agreed and now you will see Kayla’s very personal stories of journeys around beautiful DeKalb County. Kayla is a graduate of Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College. Marketing College is a certified continuing education degree for the tourism industry.
I feel very fortunate after having a very wonderful career at Kodak to reside in another extremely interesting and rewarding career and it is a sincere blessing to have begun this position with wonderful, hard working knowledgeable people whom were already in place.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Southeast Tourism Society Spring Symposium by John Dersham

Last week our marketing manager (Kayla Worthey) and I attended the Southeast Tourism Society’s Spring Symposium at the Sand Destin Golf and Beach Resort. The Southeast Tourism Society (STS) is a member organization that provides tourism promotion and education to its members. They cover 12 southern states and are known to be a leading provider of educational services to the tourism industry, including a certified continuing education program called STS Marketing College which is held every summer in Dahlonega, GA. It is a three year program of which you graduate. Another series of classes is held each year for alumni. At our just completed spring conference our class of 2010 was given their diplomas at a luncheon to honor them. One of our own, Kayla Worthey graduated last year and I am due finish this summer. People from throughout the tourism industry are invited to attend this one of a kind program. STS is in their 21st year of offering Marketing College.
Twice a year STS hosts their symposiums, once each spring and another in the fall. The location moves around so that each of the 12 states will eventually be included. The Sand Destin Golf and Beach Resort is a gated 2400 acre resort complex of homes, condo’s, hotels, vacation rentals, golf, swimming, the beach and a town of it’s own with shopping, restaurants, entertainment etc. This facility has 800 employees. STS always picks a member business to host its conferences.
I really like the spring conference because it consists of two educational components. There are the general mainstream seminars then there are the more specific SETTRA White Paper seminars which deal with the academics of tourism. Here we learn the forecasts, trending, short and long term projections, etc. One of the White Paper seminars dealt specifically with the short and long term effects of the gulf oil spill on tourism, the overall economy and the environment. Since Kayla comes to this symposium too we get to split up and she goes to one and I go to the other. This way each seminar is covered by one of us.
The forecast for this year in tourism is good in most of the 12 states covered by STS. In North Alabama we are in the zone that shows the best growth. There are several other areas in the same zone, some are in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Among the seminars some of the topics included were; The Gulf Oil Spill, Engineering a Tourism Experience, Attracting increased revenue at College sports events, Hiring an Efficient Staff, The Political Advocacy Game, The National and Regional Forecast and a panel discussion about successful Main Street Programs.