Spring break is the official start of the tourist season and this year marks the anniversary of Gov. Kay Ivey’s order to close Alabama’s public and private beaches. It has also been six months since Hurricane Sally left the area severely damaged. Despite the trials and tribulations of the past year, Alabama’s beaches and business are ready and open for business.
Over 877,000 cubic yards of debris has been removed from Orange Beach and Gulf Shores in the months since Hurricane Sally. The only remnants of the storm that remain are the condos, rental homes, docks and piers that are still under construction or awaiting repairs.
Hunter Harrelson is the owner of Beachball Properties, a local family-owned vacation rental and property management company in the area. He said they are at 80.4% occupancy for the core three weeks of spring break and according to his data source, island wide, occupancy is around 65.2%. Last year, his company went from high occupancy for this same time to zero when the beaches closed but business is on the rebound.
“Business has returned to normal. Probably a little above average. Airbnb declared Gulf Shores and Orange Beach the No. 1 vacation destination in 2021. VRBO ran a survey that said 61% of travelers will choose to drive to locations in 2021. Both reports back up the data that we are booming right now,” Harrelson said.
Harrelson attributes the thriving of his business to being fair with customers during the shutdown of the beaches and after Hurricane Sally by offering full refunds.
“The organic publicity from that and putting ourselves out there on social media has paid dividends. We’ve grown from 107 properties this time last year to 165 and growing. Website traffic has doubled. It’s been amazing to watch what we’ve worked so hard to build thrive,” Harrelson said.
While the area’s restaurants and businesses are ready and waiting with open arms for tourists to return, the area’s municipalities want visitors to remember to follow the rules. The City of Gulf Shores prohibits alcohol on the beaches throughout spring break. The City of Orange Beach has closed an area of beach that is known to be trouble and a safety concern. The small portion of the Alabama Point East section of beach in Orange Beach, at the foot of the Perdido Pass bridge, will be closed to the public until further notice. A large portion of Alabama Point East remains open as well as the parking area.
Remember to enjoy the beach but leave only footprints.