Governor Kay Ivey announced Tuesday that Alabama’s travel industry grew by $1 billion in 2017, noting that tourism in Mobile County saw similar gains of roughly 8 percent.

In a statement to the press May 22, Ivey said tourism in Alabama brought in a record $14.3 billion last year — an increase of  7 percent — and created an additional 7,399 jobs in a sector that employs more than 180,000 Alabamians.

“Every part of the state saw dramatic growth, from the beautiful mountains of the Tennessee Valley to the stunning white sand beaches along the Gulf Coast,” Ivey said. “Most communities generated more revenue and gained jobs through hosting meetings, conventions, sporting events and visits to museums, among other attractions.”

Ivey noted there was a trend in tourism gains in areas that have “invested in sporting venues which attract youth sports tournaments.” After the announcement Tuesday, Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson said she’s been “preaching” that for years.

“I’ve long been aware of the tourism associated with youth sports and the benefit it brings, not only for our citizens in Mobile County but also as a venue for tournaments that bring people into our community,” she said. “During the Great Recession in 2008 and the years following, youth sports tourism was the only area of tourism that did not suffer and continued to grow.”
From 2012 through 2016, Hudson pushed that theory in pursuit of county soccer complex that could support youth sporting tournaments and events. She planned the facility to eventually expand and include other features like a water park and natatorium.
The idea was voted down at the time, though Commissioners approved a less costly proposal earlier this year Hudson says will still be able to support multi-team tournaments in the future.

Whether from sports tourism, museums or annual events like Mobile’s Mardi Gras, Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell said the statewide gains in tourism seen in 2017 were the largest since the 2010 BP oil spill — something he called “great news for Alabama.”

“In 2017, we had more visitors than at any other time in our history – visitors whose spending added one billion dollars more to the state economy than the year before,” Sentell said.

As one might expect, Baldwin County, with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, saw some of the highest recorded economic activity from tourism with spending from 6.4 million guests adding an estimated $4.4 billion to the local and state economy.

In Mobile County, tourism grew by 8 percent, as an additional 178,770 visitors meant a total of 3.4 million guests who spent $1.2 billion in the area — the fourth highest amount of tourism revenue reported behind Baldwin, Jefferson and Madison counties.

According to a study by Montgomery economist Dr. Keivan Deravi, which Ivey’s office based the reported tourism gains on, the hospitality industry was responsible for $627.5 million in state taxes and an additional $251.6 million in local revenue for a total of $879 million in 2017.

It’s estimated that an additional $70 million was generated in state lodgings taxes, of which 75 percent benefits Alabama’s General Fund.

In his report, Deravi states that, without those taxes, each household in Alabama would have had to pay $467 in additional taxes to maintain the current level of state services.