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This Saturday in Birmingham our 40th annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism begins. Governor Kaye Ivey will greet everyone and give the opening remarks to begin the conference. This annual event is hosted by the Alabama Travel Council and is supported by the State of Alabama Department of Travel and Tourism. Organizations from all over the state who promote tourism for their livings such as Convention and Visitors Bureaus and Destination Marketing Organizations, like ours, attend this annual event. Also in attendance are hoteliers, attractions, parks, museums, and arts and entertainment. The three day event is primarily comprised of educational seminars that help us stay attune to various current strategies that help us market ourselves to potential visitors. In this digital culture our means to more effectively promote changes every year. Mobile websites, mobile apps and all kinds of online advertising, including social media, has become the leading way to promote for most of us. As the way people get their information changes we have to adapt or not be seen. DeKalb Tourism tries diligently to stay current. We track our results as best we can of all types of ads we run to make sure we are getting the most views at the lowest cost. In addition to online advertising, social media and website print advertising has stayed strong and actually has regained some strength after a few years of people thinking print was dead. In fact, we are mailing out as many or more brochures as we ever had. We continue to run print ads in newspapers and magazines and we use TV and radio. How much of each ad method is determined by the success of each based on the cost. The annual Governors Conference is a very important way for us to learn other people’s strategies and for us to learn more about what is working well in today’s ever changing business climate.
Every year the Alabama Department of Tourism headed by its Director Lee Sentell gives us an update on their ad plans. Lee also gives us the numbers. Last year was Alabama’s best tourism year ever. The state took in 13.3 billion dollars in taxable spending from visitors last year. Those dollars are in turn paid to the Alabama General Fund which helps pay for schools, police and other statewide programs. Here are some impressive numbers; there were 25.8 million visitors in Alabama last year of which $13.3 billion dollars were spent by them generating $836 million dollars of tax revenue. More good news, 179,644 people are employed in the tourism industry in Alabama making it the largest non agricultural employer in the state. Last year nationally, tourism ranked in the top three of growth industries. Despite the recession over the last nine years, tourism has continued to grow nationally and in Alabama and in DeKalb County. During this last decade of which Lee Sentell has been Director of Tourism, Alabama tourism income has doubled. Much of this is due to his department’s clever award winning advertising plans; such as, our current Alabama Road Trip commercials seen on 46 network affiliate TV channels all around the country. In addition, the Year of Food in Alabama continues to generate a lot of attention. Alabama has a lot of great places to visit and we are becoming one of the top growth states in tourism in the Southeast, ranking as the 14th largest tourism economy in the U.S. including the District of Columbia.