Alabama Tourism Will Soon Be Ready to Welcome Visitors Many of Them Local
IT MAY NOT BE TOO EARLY TO START THINKING ABOUT A SOUTHERN VACATION.
USA TODAY | Jessica Levy, for Wind Creek Hospitality - Published 6:00 a.m. ET May 20, 2020
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Alabama tourism was riding high. From the Gulf Coast beaches to the Appalachian Mountains, the state’s natural beauty and numerous historic sites were a winning combination with travelers.
Now, as Alabama and other states slowly begin to loosen virus-related restrictions, the local tourism industry is prepared to welcome tourists back — safely, steadily and with an eye toward locals hoping to ease their way back into traveling.
Beaches and some retail stores are open as of April 30 and instituting precautionary measures to enforce social distancing. That leaves room for tourists to dip their toes back into the water, both literally and figuratively.
“I think that, in the beginning, people are going to test the waters, and they’re going to get out in their cars with the family,” said Patti Culp, president and CEO of the Alabama Travel Council.
“They’re going to drive to attractions that are open; they’re going to drive to the natural wonders, get out in nature,” she continued. “I think people are going to camp. I think people are going to golf like crazy. They will be staying in hotels and finding great food options. And I think that will help our numbers.”
Alabama certainly has enough attractions in all of those categories to satisfy tourists eager to get out and about. In addition to its well-known beaches, Alabama offers outdoor options that include amazing hiking trails, Mobile-Tensaw River Delta boat tours, rock formations at Dismals Canyon, bird-watching, and the Cathedral, DeSoto and Rickwood caverns.
Indoor activities also abound, and many destinations are continually evaluating their plans and hoping to reopen as soon as possible. Popular spots for entertainment include Wind Creek casinos and hotels, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and many more. As of publication deadline Wind Creek casinos, hotels, restaurants and resort amenities were closed. The properties are undergoing deep cleaning and adapting facilities to accommodate social distancing practices upon reopening.
Alabama also has the benefit of being easily accessible to people from neighboring states. If people do want to travel by car at first, as Culp predicted, the state is well-positioned to welcome tourists from bordering Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, as well as other Southern states.
Later, as life slowly gets back to normal and people feel more comfortable taking flights and venturing farther from their homes, Alabama’s tourism numbers could soar even higher. With the Northeast bearing the brunt of coronavirus infections and deaths, the South offers an appealing destination for people who prefer to travel to an area far from the virus’s epicenter.
Culp, who has been working in the travel industry for more than 40 years, saw similar effects after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Then, too, tourists were looking for alternatives to New York and other crowded metropolitan areas.
Since then, she’s seen what she describes as astounding growth in Alabama tourism.
Culp said that although she’s optimistic about the future, she isn’t sure things will bounce back to normal immediately. She predicted that, at least for the time being, tourism will look different than what people are used to seeing. That could mean anything from wearing masks to social distancing to adjusting to a Southern culture that’s much more tempered than usual.
“(Typically) we hug and, you know, we hug and we hug and we hug,” Culp said. “We all miss that desperately, but, at the same time, we also know that for right now we need to stay a little bit physically distanced.”
While it’s hard to tell when things will be fully back to normal, people who are thinking about possible travel may want to start the early steps of their research and planning sooner rather than later.
“I think everybody is going to be doing the same thing at the same time (when conditions stabilize),” Culp said. “If they wait, then reservations might not be available where they want to go and at the price they want it.”
Even if they’re not ready to commit to a date, potential travelers can use this time to begin planning and doing their research. They can do so with the help of the Alabama Tourism Department’s website, a comprehensive and user-friendly way to explore the state’s wide variety of attractions.
Another great resource, Culp said, is the convention and visitors bureau or the chamber of commerce for the city that travelers are interested in visiting. There’s one for every area to help provide information for interested travelers.
Whether Alabama is your home sweet home all the time or just for a long weekend of traveling, the state has a lot to offer, both now and when attractions are fully open again.
To learn more about what Wind Creek Hospitality has to offer, visit windcreekhospitality.com.
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