MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Despite high gas prices and inflation, Alabama’s Tourism Department says this could be a record year for spending in the state.
Thanks to the state’s civil rights history, state parks and beaches, and even some fresh-grown peaches, Alabama is set to bring in more than $21 billion dollars in tourist spending this year.
Small businesses like Durbin Farms Market in Clanton, known for its peaches, are doing their best to keep up with increasing costs.
“We’ve had to mark our prices up a little bit, but still it’s still the best place to shop,” Owner Danny Jones said.
Jones says overall the market has been busy, with some customers stopping on their way to the beach.
“Our numbers are up, they are, and people are still traveling. People are going to go the beach, they’ve waited all year for this for the summer,” Jones said.
Jones is right. According to Alabama’s tourism director, people are still going to the beach and taking trips across the state.
“Alabama is on track to have its strongest tourism summer, strongest tourism year in its history,” Director Lee Sentell said.
Sentell says Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and civil rights museums like the Equal Justice Initiative are helping the state rebound from 2020, when tourism spending tanked 20% — compared to a national decrease of 45%.
“Alabama was down only 20% because our beaches were very strong during the beginning of the COVID year and every year since. That’s why we’re already showing record numbers for this year,” Sentell said.
Sentell says the state is on track to nearly double its tourism spending from a decade ago.
“For about the last 10 years Alabama has been attracting an additional million people a year over the previous year and those people are spending a billion dollars more,” Sentell said.
One of those tourists is Cindy Watson, who’s checking out civil rights sites before escaping the heat.
“It’s so warm that I’m probably going to check into the hotel and see some more in the morning,” Watson said.
Sentell attributes some of the success in tourism to the governor’s funding of a marketing campaign to boost tourism in all 67 counties. That came from $10 million of CARES act money.