Thursday, January 29, 2015

Alabama Statewide Tourism Meetings by John Dersham

This week we have our first quarter statewide tourism meetings. Each quarter tourism professionals, attractions, parks, hoteliers, festival planners and others who make their living from tourism meet as part of various planning organizations. Each organization contributes to the success of tourism as partners to the other organizations. To reduce travel costs and to fit everyone’s very busy schedules we have all the various meetings during the same two day meeting four times a year. Not everyone attends all meetings but everyone is invited. I go to all of them because they each have a separate function that is critical to the overall process of planning our local tourism plans. Since I will be making the trip anyway, it makes since to me to be involved in each meeting.
The organizations that meet each quarter each have a different function in tourism but they all roll up to become part of the big picture. Here are the organizations:
1-Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel-our state organization, Lee Sentell is Director.
2-Alabama Tourism Partners (ATP)
3-Alabama Travel Council (ATC)-Brochure distribution-Event planner for the annual Alabama Governors Conference and the Legislative Bash.
4-Alabama Association of Destination Marketing Organization (AADMO)-consists of all the states Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB’s) and all Destination Marketing Organizations like DeKalb Tourism and the membership organizations like Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. AADMO also is the host organization for the annual tourism education scholarships that are given to qualified college students studying tourism-hospitality and culinary. These are awarded at our annual Governor’s Conference.
Over the last two years I served as President of AADMO and I currently serve as secretary of ATC. I have been on the planning committee for the annual Legislative Bash and for the Governor’s Conference each year.
Alabama is a very close knit group of tourism professionals and organizations that network ideas and processes that help each others area become more successful in our local communities. I feel this constant contact internally with our industry partners accounts for much of the reason Alabama as a state has more than doubled the amount of money spent by tourists in less than ten years. Our networking of marketing and promotion plans make each area of Alabama visible to our potential visitors via social media, web presence, TV, radio and print ads that are layered to be seen within the state for travel, but these are also seen nationwide and in some cases internationally.
Governor Bentley and the First Lady greatly support tourism and they are almost always at our Legislative Bash and the Governors Conference. Last year Mrs. Bentley, in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of our Alabama State Parks, visited many of our parks to help promote these beautiful and very popular tourist attractions in our state. Mrs. Bentley came to DeSoto S.P. and visited with Ken Thomas and staff. She also made her way around to some of our local attractions. Tourism is big business; in fact it is the state of Alabama’s largest non agricultural money maker and employer.
I am thankful to work in tourism in Alabama where everyone works together to make Alabama a great vacation destination.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mid winter thoughts of spring by John Dersham

Last week we did not have a single sunny day. It was cold, wet, and foggy and it created the exact circumstances each winter that trigger my thoughts of spring. I love all the seasons and I enjoy the changes of the seasons immensely and all the wonderful holidays and special events that are placed firming in each of the four seasons. Each season has its own beauty and its own feeling that is entrenched deeply in each of us created not only by the changes in weather or by the events and family holidays that take place in each one of those seasons, but me it is a feeling much deeper, a feeling that is generated by the changing weather and the changing look of our landscape. Spring is my favorite season and it is now in the coldest dreariest part of winter after the wonderful fall and winter holidays are all over that my mind, my mood, and my feelings of the heart drift to thoughts of spring. This feeling is a carryover deeply entrenched in my physic from my childhood and early adulthood when spring meant playing outside in the sun on the green grass for the first time in months. It meant picnics, baseball and flying a kite in a breezy blue sky. It meant staying light later and playing all those fun outdoor games in the neighborhood with friends after dinner; Hide and Seek, Mother May I, Hop Scotch. It was time to build the annual fort in the woods behind the house. The breeze is cool but the sun is warm. The sun and the blue sky feel good on the face. Spring flowers dot the greening landscape with color. As a young adult getting in the car and driving away from home by myself to hang out in the park and take it all it. It was all about friends out hiking in the woods and sitting on the hood of my car solving all the world’s problems, talking about sports and girls and hoping to have a girlfriend. Then one spring day you do have a girlfriend and you and her drive freely out into the countryside, it is beautiful, she is beautiful, the air is pure, your heart is free and the springtime scenery never looked so good in your life. You are in love; the music you listened to that spring day remains your favorite music for a lifetime. You picnic in a green meadow in the state park, the trees and the grass smell good, she smells good and the world is perfect, absolutely perfect. Spring is as special for me as it was then. Yes, I have to admit the emotions are not as impactful as they were as a youth fueled by newness of everything and the free feeling you get being out in the world, in love  and for the first time you are moving into adulthood without your parents.
Now spring is about the beauty of the environment. The trees as they bud into tiny leaves that when backlit glow and sparkle in the sun. It is about hikes with my wife and dogs in the woods and that joyous feeling of beautiful weather.
Now, in the coldest dreariest season it feels good to let my mind and heart drift to these thoughts of spring.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Promoting tourism at travel shows by John Dersham

It is cold, wet, perhaps snowy and probably clouding and miserable looking outside. It is at this time of year in those more northern locations the major cities host their own travel and sports extravaganzas in their civic centers, fairgrounds or other large convention halls.
Every winter Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) and the State of Alabama Department of Travel and Tourism set up booths at these shows to entice travelers to come to beautiful Alabama on vacation. The shows we attend are in Cincinnati & Columbus Ohio, Indianapolis, Indiana, and sometimes in Louisville, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri. People in these areas love Alabama. They come for better, sunnier weather. They come for the beach and they come for our fishing lakes and our scenic mountains and valleys. Here is where DeKalb Tourism comes in. Typically I will work the both at some of these shows on behalf of AMLA who markets the northern 16 counties in Alabama. At these shows I will hand out our travel guides and speak to potential visitors about the offerings we have in DeKalb County. Almost everyone we talk to has been to Alabama and they want to come back and they wish they were here now instead of in the dreary colder Midwest. They tend to think of us as warmer and sunnier than we really are this time of year but to them our seasonal average temperatures seem warm in comparison. Since many of these areas are very flat they love to come to our mountains. They love our state parks and woodlands. They like our campgrounds and fishing lakes. They like our scenic vistas, our lower traffic and our lower cost to visit. Many Midwesterners come here because we are an easy drive down I-65 or I-59. Some of these visitors like to come in March or April when it is still cold in their area but we are into spring. They call it their spring thaw trip. For many who have never been to Alabama this is a chance for them to see literature and here us talk about our wonderful state. AMLA and the State Tourism office usually have booths next to each other and each of us has a large one making Alabama run about 50 feet on one row. This gives a very large presence. The things people say they like best are; the Robert Trent Jones golf courses, the beach, the mountains, the fishing lakes, the weather and the general overall hospitality in our area. In the last several years as the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights has become major source of travel to Alabama especially, Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma. I look for that to increase even more this year due to the new hit movie “Selma”. This is a refresher on Civil Rights and people love to see where movies are filmed.
After the winter travel shows are done AMLA will attend some of the Southern Women’s Expo’s and some hunting and fishing shows. I will attend some of the women’s shows. Women often make the family travel decisions in many cases and since we are a leisure tourism area they are a good market for us.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I’m thankful for my cool job

 As the New Year begins I think about how thankful I feel for the job I have in tourism. Tourism in Alabama is an especially close knit group of professionals who participate together throughout the entire year. We work on projects together, we meet at training seminars together and we have statewide meetings quarterly that bring all of us together. At these functions the State Department of Travel and Tourism and the local and regional Destination Marketing organizations (DMO), like DeKalb Tourism attend. These gatherings help keep us abreast on each other’s activities, ideas and success stories relative to promoting our areas. The state always updates us on their marketing strategies and each DMO has a chance to share theirs too. Alabama’s growth in tourism has been phenomenal over the last decade and all during the great recession tourism has grown. Our growth in DeKalb has been exceptional and has out ranked the state average doubling our expenditures in tourism in less than ten years. We have grown from 35 million in visitor expenditures to more than 71 million. This is a testimony to our area. People love to visit with us. We give them the highest scenic value in the state, with a low cost visit. In addition we hear constantly from our visitors who always complement how friendly and helpful everyone is to them when they are here. This is one of the reasons our visitors return year after year. Our retention rate for return visitors is something to brag about. This all makes me very thankful to have a job in an industry where everyone knows each other and works with each other to improve each areas result. Many of the DMO’s in Alabama also maintain a close relationship with Southeast Tourism Society (STS), who offers tourism education in the form of two annual three day training seminars and they host a three year nationally certified Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) industry education program. I am honored this year to be the Vice Chair of STS representing Alabama on the STS board of directors.
Here is how tourism works in DeKalb County Alabama and in most parts of the country the organization chart is similar.
Local DMO’s promote and manage information for their dedicated local areas, for us DeKalb County. Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) promotes and handles information for the northern sixteen counties in Alabama. We promote specifically visits to DeKalb; AMLA promotes visits to all northern sixteen counties. The state of Alabama Travel and Tourism promotes tourism to the state of Alabama including DeKalb Tourism and AMLA to get people from outside the state to travel to Alabama on vacation. The Southeast Tourism Society does the same thing but does it for twelve southern states. Finally, there is Brand USA and the National Travel Association and they promote our entire country domestically and internationally. All tourism organizations are doing about the same thing; the difference is the layering of marketing for each organization. It is this layering of local, state, regional and federal that gives all the more visitor impressions. All of these layers help DeKalb grow.
John Dersham