Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic North Alabama, formally known as the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association (AMLA), is a regional nonprofit tourism and travel organization headquartered in Decatur, Morgan County. It promotes economic development and tourism and represents businesses and attractions in 16 counties in north Alabama. Members include chambers of commerce, convention and visitors’ bureaus, owners of attractions, campgrounds, festival operators, municipal government agencies, tour operators, hospitality industry owners, financial institutions, and individuals. The association promotes tourist destinations and related businesses in areas such as outdoor recreation, sports, ecotourism, agri-tourism, food and wine, and religion.
Lake Guntersville Resort State Park The idea of a regional organization to promote the area was conceived by individuals concerned with the economic development of north Alabama. In 1960, Dick Ordway, director of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, began to organize groups in Decatur, Huntsville, Florence, Sheffield, Athens, Scottsboro, and Cullman to work together in promoting tourism and travel in the area. Chamber of Commerce leaders, attraction directors, and representatives from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources met throughout the region and held public meetings to gather information and to discuss the varied destinations that lined the Tennessee River. Through these discussions, a regional concept for an organization quickly gained traction. The initial seven participating chambers in 1960 had expanded to 16 by 1970.
On June 10, 1964, a group of regional representatives met to formally establish AMLA as a non-profit organization focused on stimulating the economic and cultural development of north Alabama through tourism and travel. Based in Decatur, the organization had one employee, Director Bert Unpingo, and was funded through destination membership dues. Members consisted of representatives of various business, organizations, and agencies in Blount, Cherokee, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, and Winston counties.
W. C. Handy Birthplace, Museum, and Library In its early years, AMLA created brochures and slide shows, exhibited at consumer travel shows, and distributed press releases to local newspapers and television stations to market the region’s attractions. In 1978, then-Director Gil Langley created a funding model for the association that is now a national model for all regional tourism agencies. Langley met with county commission delegates in the AMLA region to develop a concept of revenue sharing derived from a 1-percent lodging tax on hotels and motels. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer of Rogersville, and the resulting legislation divided the tax by spreading .5 percent among each county commission within the region for tourism development, with the remaining .5 percent allocated as the funding base for AMLA. Gov. George Wallace signed the bill in 1978.
AMLA is currently staffed by six employees who manage the office and travel extensively to promote north Alabama. In addition, two individuals distribute brochures throughout the region and two contract employees work on special assignments as needed. AMLA is governed by a 58-member, volunteer board of directors made up of representatives from the 16 counties in north Alabama. Members represent chambers of commerce, convention and visitors’ bureaus, attractions, campgrounds, festivals, communities, counties, golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, vendors, financial institutions, and individuals.
Heron v. Egret at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge The association provides services to members that include marketing through social media, the Internet, printed publications, travel and trade shows, television and syndicated radio shows. It also publishes a comprehensive visitor’s guide to the north Alabama region and visitor’s guides to the northern section of the Alabama Birding Trail, the North Alabama Fishing Trail, the Hallelujah Trail, and the North Alabama Barbecue Trail as well as guides for visitors interested in such topics as mountain music, wineries, the Civil War, and golf. AMLA maintains brochure racks at attractions, restaurants, retail stores, municipalities, and other traveler information locations across the state. AMLA also provides the public with a list of tourism professionals in the region.
Snowboarding in Mentone AMLA has developed many successful campaigns over the years. The Picture Perfect photography contest in 2002 attracted entries from across the southeastern United States. Tourism Rolls in 2007 took the AMLA staff on a tour of its 16 counties to assess the needs of the tourism and travel industry and foster continued growth in the state. Each year, staff and members give away free ice cream to visitors at the three north Alabama welcome/rest centers during National Tourism Week in May. In 2013, the Road Trip Sweepstakes offered travelers the opportunity to win one of 16 road trips to the region.
One of AMLA’s most successful programs is the Alabama Bass Trail and its Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series. Established in 2012, the Alabama Bass Trail has secured Alabama’s reputation as a world-class destination for anglers. The trail connects 13 of Alabama’s premiere bass-fishing lakes and stretches from the mountains of North Alabama south to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. In 2014, the Alabama Bass Trail announced the launch of a new 10 lake team-style tournament series, with championship events taking place on a different lake of the Alabama Bass Trail each year.
Cornwall Furnace AMLA has received numerous awards and other acknowledgments for its efforts, with the first being the Discover America Award in 1970 from the Discover America Travel Organization, a national tourism trade association. Other awards include the Shining Example Award for Tourism Office of the Year and the Chairman of the Board Award, both presented by the Southeast Tourism Society, an organization dedicated to promoting and developing tourism in its member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Tourism and travel is an important segment of Alabama’s economy, and that is also true of north Alabama, given its many popular destinations. According to annual reports prepared by the Alabama Tourism Department, the tourism industry generates some $2.26 billion dollars annually in the 16-county region of AMLA.