Ivey announces 2018 was record tourism year for Alabama, dismisses media chatter over new abortion law
Governor Kay Ivey on Monday held a press conference announcing that one million more people visited Alabama in 2018 than ever before and spent $15.5 billion in the Yellowhammer State during that time span, which was $1.2 billion higher than the previous year.
These numbers came courtesy of the state’s annual economic impact report produced by Montgomery economist Dr. Keivan Deravi for the Alabama Tourism Department.
In 2018, the state’s tourism industry attracted more than 27.7 million visitors, who paid $954 million in state and local taxes, saving the average Alabama family $507 from additional taxes to maintain current service levels.
“We are excited our tourism industry grew by 8.5 percent in 2018, and we are proud to welcome millions of visitors to every region of our state, from the Tennessee Valley to the Wiregrass, to experience our hiking trails, beaches, restaurants and historical sites each year,” Ivey said.
“This great news not only impacts tourism, but it also has a major impact on our employment sector,” the governor continued. “Almost 200,000 direct and indirect jobs were maintained by the industry last year, setting yet another record!”
The 2018 report showed that Montgomery County expenditures jumped by more than 15%, which is likely driven by the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened by the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative last year.
Other highlights include that Jefferson County travel grew by more than 10%, Morgan County by 20%, Tuscaloosa County by 11% and Madison and Mobile counties by approximately 7.5%.
State Tourism Director Lee Sentell credited increased marketing activities, ranging from social media and paid advertising to public relations activations in places such as New York and Dallas, for the success. He also noted then-Raycom Media, majority owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), airing commercials at no cost on 64 television stations across the country.
“We are proud that this past year showed the largest growth in visitors and expenditures in the state’s history,” Sentell remarked. “We substantially exceeded our goals by attracting more than one million additional visitors and increasing expenditures by $1.2 billion.”
The tourism director also lauded the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ continued investments in and expansion of the OWA amusement park in Baldwin County, along with the launch of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail spotlighting landmarks in Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery and Tuskegee.
The tourism industry represents 7.3% of Alabama’s Gross Domestic Product.
There are reasons to be optimistic in further steady growth for the industry, Sentell noted.
This includes the scheduled opening of Decatur’s Cook Museum of Natural Science in June and an upgrade of the infield at the Talladega Superspeedway to be unveiled in October.
Asked by reporters after the press conference on Monday, Ivey dismissed mainstream media salivation that Alabama’s tourism industry could be impacted by the recently signed into law HB 314, despite the fact that this abortion ban is never expected to go into effect.
“[T]he legislature has spoken and [the bill] underscores the sanctity of life that the people of Alabama value so highly,” the governor said.
Ivey emphasized that she has not encountered any push back to the new law from big businesses within the Yellowhammer State, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“[A]nd I don’t expect to,” she added.
“The very fact that Alabama has seen increased tourism year after year for the past five or six years … speaks volumes,” Ivey stressed. “Alabama has a lot of different variety of things to visit and enjoy and our visitors will continue to come.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn