Last Friday I attended the AAA Great Vacations Expo in Columbus, Ohio. The three day weekend event provides us a great opportunity to promote our area by visiting with potential visitors in person. Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association has a booth there and volunteers from various Destination Marketing Organizations, like DeKalb Tourism and others, come to work the booth to help sell North Alabama as a must visit vacation for the more than 40,000 visitors who attend the event in the downtown Columbus, Ohio Convention Center. These large winter travel shows are fun to work. I always meet a lot of really interesting and fun people who visit our booth. Many have already been to our area and want to come back, some are planning their first trip to our area and some say they have never been to Alabama and do not seem very interested in coming. It is these people we have to sell our destination. They often do not view Alabama the way we do, as residents. They are often surprised when we show pictures of mountains and beautiful fall foliage, they often think of us as flat with mostly pine trees. The ones who have already been to our area love it, they talk about coming back. They like our open spaces, mountains, great fishing lakes, sunny warm weather, great food and friendly people. For those who have not been, but have a trip planned, they learned about us at this show or they heard from a friend or relative who recommended our destination. It is easy to sell them on coming to DeKalb County because of our large terrific parks, mountains, great scenery, hiking, camping and waterfalls. Everyone loves waterfalls and they are all over our brochures and display units. Just the pictures alone attract people to come. Pictures really do speak a thousand words and many people would rather see a picture than read about a destination. Nearly 3 billion dollars are spent by tourists annually in North Alabama. Tourism is the largest non-agricultural business in the state and it is critical to the health of our state economy. These large travel expos that we attend each year serve as a relatively inexpensive way to target markets that we know are good markets for North Alabama. The one-on-one contact with potential visitors with an array of printed material to hand out gives us an edge up as a possible destination for them. These large travel shows are scattered all around the country in larger cities, usually in their convention centers. They often include the exhibiting and sales of boats, RV’s, fishing equipment, camping and hiking gear, bikes, motorcycles and other outdoor environmental products. Destination Marketing Organizations, like ours, usually have an entire exhibit hall dedicated for travel planning. Boats and fishing will have their own hall, as will RV’s, motorcycles etc.