Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist 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 sectors such as outdoor recreation, sports, ecotourism, agri-tourism, food and wine, and religion. According to annual reports prepared by the Alabama Tourism Department, the tourism industry generates some $4.3 billion dollars annually in the 16-county region of AMLA and employs more than 46,000 people directly and indirectly.
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 gathered throughout the region and held public meetings to acquire information and to discuss the varied destinations that line 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 the current 16 chambers 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 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 slideshows, 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 one-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 distributing half the funds among each county commission within the region for tourism development, with the remaining half allocated as the funding base for AMLA. Gov. George Wallace signed the legislation in 1978.
Heron v. Egret at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge AMLA staff manage the office and travel extensively to promote north Alabama. In addition, several other individuals distribute brochures throughout the region, and several contract employees work on special assignments as needed. The organization is governed by a 58-member volunteer board of directors made up of representatives from the 16 counties in north Alabama. The association provides services to members that include marketing through social media, online and print publications, travel and trade shows, and television and syndicated radio shows. Staff also offer workforce training and advocacy, and the organization hosts informational meetings, “how-to” workshops, and training seminars. It also publishes a comprehensive visitor’s guide to the north Alabama region as well as guides for visitors interested in a wide variety of topics. AMLA stocks brochure racks at attractions, restaurants, retail stores, municipalities, and other traveler information locations across the state and also provides the public with a list of tourism professionals in the region.
Snowboarding in Mentone One of AMLA’s most successful programs is the Alabama Bass Trail and Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series and 100 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 the team-style tournament series for amateur anglers, with championship events taking place on one of 10 different lakes each year. The 100 Series launched at the beginning of 2021, drawing professional along with amateur anglers from across the United States to compete on three Alabama Bass Trail lakes.
In 2014 and 2016, AMLA worked with the Appalachian Regional Commission on a national tourism campaign entitled “Bon Appétit Appalachia” highlighting culinary destinations in the Appalachia region, including north Alabama. The campaign showcased unique local foods and educated travelers and residents on local farms, farmers markets, farm-to-fork restaurants, chefs featuring local ingredients, vineyards and award-winning wineries, craft breweries and distilleries, heritage food festivals, and other distinctive culinary events.
Cornwall Furnace Each year, AMLA hosts a Road Trip Sweepstakes that gives travelers the opportunity to win a trip to the region as well as spending money. The North Alabama Ambassadors program, an online influencer program for engaging bloggers and content creators to produce compelling material highlighting north Alabama, launched in 2019. In 2021, AMLA partnered with the Holistic Performance Group to create Flawless Delivery, a certified customer service training program designed especially for housekeeping, front-desk personnel, and other frontline hospitality workers. The Unexpected Adventures in North Alabama podcast hit the airways in 2021, educating listeners about destinations and experiences in the 16 regional counties. In 2022, the podcast earned a Silver award in the Audio category of the 2022 MUSE Creative Awards, an international competition that receives more than 6,000 submissions from around the world. 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. The Southeast Tourism Society (STS) has honored AMLA with its Shining Example Award for Tourism Office of the Year, Chairman of the Board Award, and the Dorothy Hardman Spirit of STS Award. Along with Alabama, the STS is also dedicated to promoting and developing tourism in its member states of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.