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Gulf Coast tourism industry recovering from 1-2 punch of 2020

The Gulf Coast is rebounding from the one-two punch in 2020 of COVID and Hurricane Sally, according to Beth Gendler, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.

Gendler was the speaker last week for the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s First Friday Forum. The gathering, sponsored by Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, focused on the economic impact that visitors have on the region, specifically through the end of the year’s summer season.

“Two of our primary key indicators of the health of our tourism industry are taxable lodging rentals and taxable retail sales,” Gendler said. “Through August of this year, our area is pacing well above the total year-end figures in both categories compared to pre-COVID 2019, our last ‘normal’ tourism year before the pandemic. For January through August this year, taxable lodging rentals are at $843 million compared to $575 million in 2019.

“In fact, 2023 so far has also outpaced our total 2021 taxable lodging rentals figure of $815 million, and we are optimistic we will be right in line with the $890 million for 2022 by the end of the year.”

Gendler also noted the resiliency of the region’s tourism industry in the past few years.

“Remember, 2019 was a record year,” Gendler said. “2020 – the year of a worldwide pandemic and a major hurricane – was down only 7%; 2021 was up 48%; and 2022 was up 11% over that. Those are incredible numbers.

“From 2020 through part of 2022, there were travel restrictions or people just were not comfortable traveling internationally yet, and our community greatly benefited from that by being an easy drive-to destination.”

According to Gendler, tourism is the life blood of the region’s economy. According to GSOBT data, the majority of visitors to the area are from the Southeast and Midwest.

“We are a tourism economy here,” she said. “It is our bread and butter. It is the number one industry in our county, and tax revenues from tourism make up a large majority of the budget for both the City of Gulf Shores and the City of Orange Beach.

“Our community relies and thrives on our guests.”

Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.

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