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