Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year by John Dersham

We are very blessed to live where we do. We live in an extremely scenic area with a low cost of living and excellent city and county services. We have the most genuinely friendly and helpful people all throughout our area. We support our churches and our civic organizations and in a time of a lot of separation from the communities we live in our area that remains close knit. People here care about each other and come to help whenever someone is in trouble. We should all count our blessings and be thankful each day for the outstanding quality of life we have here. If you have lived here all of your life you might take for granted what I am saying, so now, in this special time of year it would be a good time to remind yourself of what we have. I get to talk to people all the time that come here as tourists. They love it here and they keep coming back over and over. They come because while they are here they enjoy our friendly helpful ways. They enjoy our many scenic venues, our great communities, our places to eat, shop and stay. They love to come here and they relax in a place that is easy to get around in without a lot of traffic. They come for our rental cabins, B&B’s, hotels, state parks, and our national preserve. They come to drive our scenic parkway on motorcycles, they come to hike and enjoy nature, they come for the World’s Longest Yard Sale, and they come to mill around and enjoy music, arts and crafts at our scenic mountain get-a-way of Mentone. They come for events at the Northeast Agri Center in Rainsville, they come for the Alabama Museum and Gift shop. They come hoping to see one of the Alabama boys around town. They come, they stay and they spend their hard earned income in our towns providing tax revenue for our communities. People visit us and want to move here. We hear that all the time at our tourist information center. They come because they love it here… and I do too.
From all of us at DeKalb Tourism we wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year. May your blessings be many and your troubles be few.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

We need a little "Perry Christmas" now by John Dersham

My parents married in May of 1943 knowing that in a couple days my dad would be on a ship heading to the battlegrounds of World War II. He had already graduated from Penn State and was teaching high school in Knox, Pennsylvania when he was drafted two years earlier and it was in Knox he met my Mom. When my dad got on the ship to head abroad he said he never said good bye, he just said I’ll be back when we win. The next 2 ½ years of my parents young marriage was spent an ocean apart. My mom worked in a box factory that was making boxes for the war effort. No one questioned the purpose of the war and everyone was willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary for the war effort. Sugar was rationed along with many other consumable products. No new cars were made. You did without and you did it without question or complaint. Most companies were making products only for the war. Companies reconfigured their factories to produce products that were needed overseas. In that time some of our greatest creativity and invention came about. It came in time to help win the war and when the war was over in 1945 my dad and hundreds of thousands of heroes came home to the beginning of the heyday of American positive attitude, creativity and invention and the beginning of the greatest class of people of all time, the middle class. When my dad got home to his bride 2 ½ years after his departure he came home to all kinds of fabulous support and job opportunities. He took advantage of the newly founded GI Bill and courtesy of his commitment to his country he returned to Penn State and got his Masters Degree. My brother and I were born not too long after the war ended but long enough that by the time we came along our country was booming. Everyone had a job that wanted to work. Families that never owned a home were buying one for the first time. I grew up in a time of great spirit and universal support for our country and our achievements. Our country was full of new products that helped the quality of daily life and they were being made by people who were making good money, living well and knowing they were making the highest quality products in the world. No one questioned that. At the same time we were more relaxed, happier, more content and peaceful in our daily lives and less pressured, after all my parents grew up in the depression and as young adults lived through WWII, everything seemed easy after that. It was the easy, wonderful times and with that came great music and movies and quality radio and TV shows. Television was still a new thing and one guy really fit the mood of the times. Perry Como had his first big hit toward the end of WWII but after the war when TV was just entering every household this young, good looking, laid back, nice guy was just what American’s wanted. He was one of the elite crooners of the era but his style especially fit the needs of the early television viewers. His music felt good and he was a good and nice person, which was important to the viewers of the time. Perry went on for the next 30 plus years on TV and especially at Christmas his specials were a must see of the times. In retrospect he is viewed as pretty square with an out of date sound and attitude, but I can tell you from having lived in that era, we could all use a little “Perry Christmas” now.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Alabama Promotes Tourism by John Dersham

I suppose if you live somewhere other than Alabama you may not think of Alabama as a tourist state. In fact many people do not realize we have mountains or a beach in Alabama. The real scoop is that Alabama is one of the fastest growing tourism states and is up and coming, when many states suffer from the fact they used to be a big tourist draw and now they are struggling. Alabama has a very diverse landscape that attracts a diverse venue of visitor interests and experiences. We have the mountains and lakes to the north, the black belt and coastal plains midway south then we have the gulf coast. Alabama has become a top golfing state with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and we are a top fishing destination with magnificent lakes and now The Alabama Bass Trail which will promote fishing statewide. Some of the top fishing competitions in the world are in Alabama including the upcoming 2014 Bass Masters Classic at Lake Guntersville. We have Civil Rights tourism which has grow very quickly over the last several years as national publications have written articles about Civil Rights tourism in Alabama that includes the Civil Rights Museum and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and the famous walk from Selma to Montgomery and more attention is coming as the Civil Rights movement approaches its 50th anniversary. Finally we have our Alabama Gulf coast which has been a top attraction for many years. Much of our tourism is greatly enhanced by the I-65 , I-20 and I-59 corridors that get our tourists here easily from all directions. Last year tourists spent $10.4 billion dollars in Alabama. This was our biggest year ever and our fist time to cross the 10B mark. It is very simple math. We are a low cost destination, easy to get to and we have a wide variety of things to see and do all across our very scenic state. Our award winning state director of tourism, Lee Sentell and his staff have constantly come up with clever ad plans that get nationwide exposure. Alabama advertises on 46 Raycom network television stations that cover much of our country including Hawaii. Currently Alabama’s theme in the commercial is “Alabama Road Trips”. The commercials begin with a man setting out to take a road trip in Alabama in his 1953 Blue Cadillac convertible. The road trips take him different places in Alabama and they always include some of our great restaurants and attractions. These are beautifully filmed and very inviting to watch. They compel the viewer to want to make an Alabama Road Trip. Alabama Tourism has also continued its 100 Dishes to eat in Alabama before you die. This campaign focuses on our great diversity of food in our state. Increasingly tourism has been contributing more to our economy. In this time of recession tourism has grown every year in Alabama. In fact, since Lee Sentell became Director of Tourism ten years ago the tourism income in Alabama has doubled. We can be proud of the fact so many people want to spend time here with us from all over the country.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Southeast Tourism Society Fall Conference by John Dersham

Twice a year the Southeast Tourism Society (STS) holds educational conferences for their 12 state southeastern USA coverage area. This fall we were in Virginia Beach. The conference is always held in one of the 12 states participating with this organization. STS is a leader in promoting tourism domestically and internationally with its focus on bringing people to our region. They are also a leader in education and development of tourism leaders and industry professionals from Destination Marketing Organizations, like ours and from Convention and Visitor Bureaus, attractions, lodgings, museums, theme parks, state and national parks. In fact if your job is in tourism or related to tourism these twice a year seminars are extremely beneficial. In this ever changing world where technology is changing faster than ever it is critical that as an industry we know how to utilize these technologies and strategies to help us more effectively tell our story to our visitors and potential visitors.  Those who do not adapt to the changes in the market place will get left behind. Our visitors are finding out about us very differently than they did just five years ago and completely different than fifteen years ago. Marketing tourism has gone from years and years of running ads in magazines and mailing out travel guides to the computer age of websites and online travel guides to social media, smart phones and instant access to travel information as you go.  If you are in our industry and do not have a mobile website or are not actively using social media, nearly 50% of today’s consumers will ignore you. According to a recent industry forecast given to us at our fall symposium, 40% of people are now getting some or most of their information about travel on their smart phones or through social media. It is predicted that in 2014 it will cross the 50% mark. In addition to offering all the latest technologies we have to be offering them correctly and smartly in order to be the destination that wins the customer. Our spring and fall conference which is comprised of 200 plus people from all over the southeast depend on this education to bring the information home and implement it. Tourism has been a shining star in the economy during our economic downturn that started in 2008, in fact tourism has had moderate growth as an industry this whole time. Last January the federal government listed tourism as the third fastest growing industries in the US with $3.1 trillion dollars spent by tourists in the US. The industry currently employs more than 7 million people. At this seminar we got a facts and figures update and trending report from industry leader and educator Dr. Suzanne Cook, Ph.D., now consultant to US Travel and former Senior Vice President of Research for the U.S. Travel Association. She reported tourism should continue to grow and is gradually growing at a faster rate as the overall economy improves. She reported that even though the average consumer is travelling shorter distances on most of their vacations they are taking shorter weekend trips, more often. Suzanne also reported international travel is up especially from Japan, China, the UK, Germany and Brazil. Our overseas vacationers are here for longer periods than domestic vacationers and they spent more money on average. We do the same thing when we travel abroad. All of the seminars at these conferences are specific to improving our performance or updating us on the facts, figures and latest trends.
In addition to the fall and spring conferences, STS offers a one of a kind three-year Marketing College program to help educate new employees to the industry but also to update seasoned veterans. Graduates of this program are awarded the TMP (Travel Marketing Professional) diploma.
For more information about the Southeast Tourism Society and how to become a member you can visit their website at

Thursday, October 4, 2012

57th Annual VFW DeKalb County Agricultural Fair by John Dersham

Our fair is another example of the close fellowship we enjoy here in DeKalb County. The fair exemplifies fellowship of a whole lot of people volunteering their time, working together with civic organizations, agricultural organizations, art and cultural clubs, local businesses and schools to produce one of the finest county fairs you will see anywhere in our region. Year after year our VFW fair is a big success. It is the effort of so many people representing various entities in our county that make it so successful, including the efforts of the fair staff and committees headed up by VFW Fair Chairman, Charles Stephens. The difference in our fair, compared to other counties in our region has nothing to do with the midway and the carnival portion , but instead, the well organized, highly attended locally produced venues.
We treat our fair just like most everything else we do here in DeKalb County. We get involved and we participate. If you question this go to any local football game on Friday night and further more go to an away game and see how many are there from our home towns. We are exactly how we Americans like to define ourselves. We support the efforts of our communities in the area of schools, law enforcement, political offices, volunteer agencies, churches, local civic organizations and clubs. We support fighting for our freedom and for our way of life. When there is a disaster we are out in force to help.
Today in this crazy world where everything seems to be changing minute by minute it is nice to live and work in a community that has transcended these changes and kept its identity even in a world of high tech, population shifts and population diversity. We still seem like the good old USA and for that I am proud to call DeKalb County my home.
Our award winning fair seems a little better each year. This year we were blessed with the perfect weather again. There is something about fall and the fair. Those towns and counties who don’t get a slot in late September or October are missing part of the joy of it all. It is great to see pumpkins and Mums adorning the landscape with the clear blue sky above and just the right temperature. Our region really supports our fair, I guess because it is the very best fair anywhere around. The crowds are always good. We always go with our grand kids on Saturday and get the $15.00 all you can ride package. They have so much fun. They are so full of joy and innocence. It always takes me back to my early “Fair Days” when I was a kid... Somehow life seems so full of joy at the fair. Happy faces and lots of laughing, joyful families make a great contribution to that feeling.