Tourism brings $9.6 billion to Alabama each year

Small Towns and Downtowns will be the focus of efforts by the Alabama tourism officials in 2010.

Brian Jones, director of the Mountains Region of the Alabama Tourism Department, spoke to members and friends of the South Shelby Chamber at its monthly luncheon on Thursday at the Columbiana United Methodist Church.

Jones said 23 million tourists visited Alabama in 2008.

“When you consider Alabama has a population of about 4.5 million, that’s a lot of visitors,” Jones said.

Those 23 million left behind about $9.6 billion and helped sustain about 170,000 Alabama jobs, he said. Of that amount, $697 million went to state and local governments as tax revenue.

“Tourism money is new money,” Jones said. “Unlike Alabama residents, tourists spend their money and leave. They don’t demand the kinds of services that residents do.”

Alabama tourism is up 87 percent over the last 10 years, he said. Even in the troubled economy of 2008, tourism in Alabama was up 3.5 percent over 2007.

“We’re a little down so far this year from last year, but it’s still early in the season,” Jones said.

Next year’s tourism theme — Small Towns and Downtowns — is the brainchild of Gov. Bob Riley, Jones said.

“He wanted something that would focus on what he thinks is the real Alabama.”

Tourism officials suggest that Alabama’s small towns participate by planning events like a Homecoming Weekend, which could feature events like placement of a historical marker and walking tours.

Also at Thursday’s Chamber luncheon, Harpersville City Clerk Joyce Robertson, who is retiring after many years in that role, was honored with plaques of appreciation from the city of Harpersville and the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce.

Harpersville Mayor Theolangelo Perkins said Robertson’s contributions will be sorely missed. “She runs city hall,” he said.