FOLEY - 2020 has been an unpredictable, ever-changing year. This has impacted everything from families, schools, businesses, and locally, our tourism. Herb Malone, president & CEO of Gulf Shores & …
FOLEY - 2020 has been an unpredictable, ever-changing year. This has impacted everything from families, schools, businesses, and locally, our tourism. Herb Malone, president & CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, addressed what marketing and tourism trends have looked like this year during a South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce Leadership Series.
In 2019, Baldwin County saw 6.9 million guests visit our area. These guests spent $5.2 billion dollars, creating 54,262 travel related jobs in the community. These tourism-focused jobs saw $1.7 billion in wages and salaries. Since 2011, Malone says lodging and sales tax in Foley, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach have steadily increased, breaking records with each passing year.
“These guests made a conscious choice to visit here, to come visit our beaches, to come fish in our waters, come and play golf on our courses, ride the rides at OWA, shop at Tanger Outlets; but we have to remember that our guests have lots and lots of choices,” Malone said. “They’ll only choose to come back by the way we treat them and the experiences they have while they’re here. So the marketing that we do helps bring people here for the first time, but it’s what all of those in the hospitality industry do that brings them back.”
While the numbers for 2020 have not yet been calculated, Malone says he expects 2020 will be the lowest year the area has seen since the BP Oil Spill in 2010. January and February were some of the highest in terms of revenue, Malone said, with the snowbird crowd here in full. His team was pushing out spring advertising aimed at families looking for their Spring Break location. Then in mid-March the beaches were closed due to COVID-19.
“I’ve never seen the beaches and the traffic as empty as it was during that period of time,” said Malone. “Occupancy rates went down to less than 7% which is unheard of … We stopped some of our big ads, but we wanted to continue to communicate with guests so they’d know we’re still alive and we’re still looking forward to the day they can come back.”
The department began a “Stay healthy, stay safe” campaign, putting out the message that while the area was closed, many businesses were working on renovations, improvements, and enhanced sanitary procedures as they prepared for the day they could welcome back guests.
Once the beaches were reopened, the “We’re ready when you are” campaign was pushed, letting visitors know they could return whenever they felt ready. According to Malone, he believes March and April will both be down from what they were last year, but that May - August picked up once again. September was going strong, until the arrival of Hurricane Sally.
Thus began the “Preparing for brighter days ahead” campaign as the Gulf Coast continues to recover from the aftermath of the storm.
“No matter what the crisis is, an oil spill, virus, or hurricane, this resilient community that we live in, we’re going to come back bigger, better, and stronger than ever before,” said Malone. “We always have, and we always will.”
For more information on Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, visit www.gulfshores.com.
For upcoming SBCC events and information, visit www.southbaldwinchamber.com.