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Tourism no longer summer only industry

By Jimmy Martin | Special to the Advertiser

As fall weather begins to kick in, the days and nights get cooler, and summer vacations seem long ago.
The marinas and boat launches on Alabama’s lakes and rivers become quiet.
The beaches have less people on them.
You would think that the tourism industry all but shutters-up when the thermometer dips.
In the past that may have been true, but tourism is fast becoming a year-round industry for Alabama.
It’s an important industry that is a major economic engine for the state.
There is much more to Alabama tourism than just places to escape the heat.
That was one of the problems folks had with the state license plates Gov. Riley chose as the basic design for Alabama. You’ve seen the plate; it has a picture of the beach on it with pastel colors, sand dunes and sea grass.
The governor’s office said it would promote tourism in the state with a focus on the gulf coast beaches.
No one will deny that Alabama’s beaches are some of the finest in the country with beautiful white sand and turquoise water.
The tourism of Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island are the biggest tourism draws for the state.
The problem is that there is a vibrant and important tourism industry in the rest of the state, and the focus on the 32 miles of Alabama beaches seemed to shortchange everywhere else.
When you think of Alabama, the first image in your mind is probably not beaches, but rolling hills, beautiful lakes and rivers, thick forests and fertile fields, or even bustling cities.
The key is to get folks thinking of those things as tourism destinations, and linking the great destinations and activities to the people who can take advantage of them.
The Alabama Tourism Department has taken the lead on this effort. Right now, they are promoting the Alabama Fall Color Trail, which highlights twelve spots to view some of the best foliage in the southeast.
This week and through the second week in November, it is peak season for the changes in the leaves of the state’s poplars, maples, hickories and other hardwood trees.
From right on the Tennessee border on the Natchez Trace to Buck’s Pocket State Park, all the way down through Mount Cheaha and its surrounding state lands, there are beautiful places to see the amazing colors of fall highlighted on the Fall Color Trail.
While places like Vermont have built an entire industry on foliage, Alabama is working hard to establish our own leaf-viewing trade.
If you have ever had the chance to drive through one of the state’s national forests or through the winding roads of the hills and mountains during this time of year, you know that fall’s natural beauty can become a big draw for tourism, and the Color Trail is a big step in making it happen.
Another Alabama trail that is a combination of nature and development is the nationally renowned Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
There are 11 of these world-class golf facilities scattered throughout the state, encompassing 26 courses and 468 holes.
Built by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the state pension fund of our education employees and state workers, the RTJ Golf Trail consistently ranks as one of the nation’s best public golf courses and its best value.
Most importantly, it brings in thousands of golfers to the state, and millions in tourism revenue year-round.
Another big and growing tourism draw is Alabama’s rich history. From the Civil War to Civil Rights, the state has many places for tourists to visit and learn.
The state Tourism Department has launched a campaign called the “Year of Alabama History” with brochures and a year-round calendar of events that focuses on everything from Native American history to the ancient and modern musical heritage of Alabama.
You can find everything about fall tourism at Tourism Department website: www.alabama.travel.
Last year, travelers spent an estimated $9.6 billion in Alabama, generating over $702 million in state and local tax revenues.
Without those taxes, state officials estimate that each household in Alabama would have had to pay $404 in additional taxes to maintain current levels in our schools and other public services.
Tourism represents 5.7 percent of Alabama’s overall production, and is one of the fastest growing industries in our state.
And now it no longer waits for summer.
– Jimmy Martin serves as Chilton County’s representative in the Alabama Legislature.