With the beaches and some businesses across Alabama starting to reopen, tourism officials received good news with the release of the Alabama Tourism Department’s Tourism Economic Impact Report. …
With the beaches and some businesses across Alabama starting to reopen, tourism officials received good news with the release of the Alabama Tourism Department’s Tourism Economic Impact Report. For the ninth consecutive year, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach continued to see a rise in taxable lodging rentals and retail sales. Baldwin County had another banner year with a record number of visitors to the area and for the first time, spending by those visitors surpassed $5 billion.
Tourism-related jobs (direct and indirect) in Baldwin County also increased to more than 54,000, up more than 3,000 positions from 2018, with Baldwin County leading the state with 26 percent of the tourism-related jobs in all of Alabama.
According to Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism (GSOBT), Alabama’s beach destination ended the year with:
Combined with Mobile County as part of the Gulf Coast Region, Baldwin County helped account for 40 percent of the state’s travel industry.
While 2019 was another tremendously successful year at the beach, the current coronavirus situation has a very different outlook going into the normally busy summer season. For Malone, a tourism industry veteran, it is hurtful to see the difference for business owners and their employees.
“More than 54,000 people work in the tourism industry here, and they have lost almost two months of their key season,” he stressed. “54,000 people who owe their livelihood to the millions of visitors who spent more than $5 billion – that’s billion with a b – in Baldwin County last year. That visitor spending covers paychecks for workers to provide for their families, allows businesses to expand or add new services and employees, and allows our cities to provide the quality of life improvements that we as locals enjoy.”
Malone knows 2020 will be a very different year, but he is still optimistic for the coming summer season and rest of the year.
“We have already started to see a slight uptick in hotel and vacation rental reservations for the coming weeks, but occupancy is well below normal for this time of year. And that is OK – it allows our residents and our visitors to feel safe as we are easing back into this new version of the summer season.”
Malone added he sees encouraging signals and once restaurants and attractions can reopen, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are well positioned to get back to business.
“The Alabama Gulf Coast checks many of the boxes that multiple traveler sentiment studies are showing as top interests to Americans in the coming months,” he explains. “Road trip or a drive destination, small town, beaches, and outdoors and nature activities.
“We have set records for the last nine years,” says Malone. “I always say we know a setback will come, and it is not a matter of if, but when. Normally we expect those setbacks to come in the form of a storm, but this time it is a virus that is impacting the entire world. One thing we know from prior experiences: our guests are extremely loyal, and they will come back to our beaches when they are ready. And we look forward to welcoming them back … because we sure have missed them.”