Year of Alabama Arts The award-winning Alabama Tourism Department reaches out to the more than 20 million people every year who travel to the state to visit attractions such as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and the Huntsville Botanical Garden‘s Spring Festival of Flowers. Founded in October 1951 by an act of the Alabama legislature, the office was originally called the Bureau of Publicity and Information. The act stated that the new bureau had “exclusive power and authority to plan and conduct all state programs of information and publicity designed to attract tourists to the state of Alabama.” In May 1984, the state changed the name to the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel (ABBT), and the agency was elevated to departmental status and the director became a member of the governor‘s cabinet. In 2009, the bureau became the Alabama Tourism Department (ATD). ATD is responsible for ensuring that Alabama’s economy gains maximum benefits from tourist dollars. In 2018, close to 28 million travelers spent $15.5 billion visiting Alabama and supported nearly 200,000 jobs in the state.
Headquartered in Montgomery, the department’s director and assistant director are appointed by the governor. Sixty-three merit-system employees staff eight divisions, with managers overseeing the personnel, marketing, media, publications, financial services, mail, communications, and welcome-center divisions.
The ATD operates from Alabama’s General Fund, with an annual appropriation by the state legislature supplemented by a percentage of the State Lodging Tax charged for hotel and motel rooms and campground sites. The department promotes tourism nationally and internationally through advertising in print media, radio, television, and online sites. Most of this advertising budget is spent promoting tourism among southeasterners, because studies have shown that 85 percent of the tourists traveling to Alabama live within a 500-mile radius. State law prohibits the bureau from purchasing advertising inside Alabama. ATD employees write and produce tourism-related materials as well as travel-related articles and press releases. They also distribute press kits and organize press trips for members of the media, tour operators, and travel agents.
Vacation Guide The department maintains and staffs eight welcome centers that give travelers their first impressions of the state. Within the centers, ATD staffers greet visitors and offer refreshments and information, including brochures about events, attractions, historic sites, and lodging options. The Alabama Department of Transportation maintains the grounds of each center. The department also operates a tourist information desk in the halls of the state capitol as well as the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop across Finley Avenue from the south entrance to the mansion.
Working with its advertising agency, a private company chosen by the director and an advisory committee made up of tourism professionals and industry leaders from around the state, ATD plans and organizes special year-long marketing campaigns that focus on a central theme. For instance, 2004 was “The Year of Alabama Gardens” and 2106 was “The Year of Alabama Makers.” The department provides support to individual travel writers who wish to produce print or broadcast stories about Alabama destinations.
Alabama Voices The department’s media division produces and distributes tourism brochures, such as its Trail Series, which concentrates on specialized market segments like African American heritage, birding, Civil War history, the civil rights movement, covered bridges, fishing, gardens, golf, and Native American heritage. For example, the Hank Williams Trail brochure offers a brief biography of Alabama’s most famous singer/songwriter, pointing out locations such as his boyhood home in Georgiana, the place where he took guitar lessons in Greenville, Lake Martin, where he wrote “Kowliga,” his gravesite, and the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery. In addition, the Official Guide to Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail provides a full-color in-depth history and description of the world-class golfing venue that was the brainchild of David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. It describes the famous holes, quoting top golfing magazines, at each of the 10 championship courses across the state.
Each year’s crowning achievement for the department is the Official Alabama Vacation Guide, which offers readers a tourist’s view of the state from the mountains of northeast Alabama to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Highlights across the state include Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; Ivy Green, Helen Keller‘s home in Tuscumbia; the statue of Vulcan in Birmingham; Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile; and the Troy University Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery.
Alabama Bicentennial PastPort In addition to its publications and media-relations efforts, ATD sponsors the Alabama’s Beautiful People program, which spotlights interesting local people whose personal or professional achievements have helped the state live up to its motto, Alabama the Beautiful. The department also produces the annual Alabama Tourism Awards, honoring outstanding work in the state travel industry. Announcements of these awards are included in the regularly published Alabama Travelgram, which highlights ATD activities and is distributed to its mailing list. The annual Alabama Calendar of Events is distributed to 200,000 tourists. In 2004 and 2005, the Southeast Tourism Society named the Alabama Tourism Department its Tourism Agency of the Year award.
In 2017, ATD launched its three-year celebration of Alabama’s 200th anniversaries as the Mississippi Territory, the Alabama Territory, and statehood. Events and content produced for the celebration were divided into three themes, one for each year: Discovering Our Places, Honoring Our People, and Sharing Our Stories. The department produced, in collaboration with private companies, a mobile app and book, The Alabama Bicentennial PastPort, that allowed participants to map out significant locations in the state and “check in” when they visited. Events took place all over the state and included a kickoff party in Mobile, a dedication at St. Stephens, a reenactment of even surrounding the first constitution in Huntsville, and a parade and concert finale in Montgomery. A series of bronze plaques celebrating notable moments and periods in state history were commissioned and erected in the newly created Bicentennial Park across the street from the state capitol in 2020 and unveiled at the finale. Additionally, the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park and Museum were renovated and reopened in a celebration that included the reenactment of Pres. James Monroe’s surprise visit to the constitutional convention in 1819.