A robust tourism industry in South Baldwin County is continuing to grow at a record pace, including averaging more than 8 percent growth in taxable lodging annually during the past five years.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism President and CEO Herb Malone shared the recurring good news during the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s monthly First Friday Forum. Again.
“Somebody said, ‘Herb you say the same thing every year,’” Malone said. “Well, when you get good results, what’s wrong with that?”
His comments were greeted warmly by the pro-business crowd at the Orange Beach Event Center breakfast meeting.
“Once again, we have seen strong numbers in terms of lodging tax and retail sales tax revenue, which continues the trend we have experienced since 2011,” Malone said. “We know summer is our most popular time for guests to come enjoy our beaches, but we are also seeing more guests enjoying our area in the other seasons of the year.”
Shoulder season events like the Hangout Music Fest in May and the National Shrimp Festival in October keep the tourist engine driving outside of the traditional opening and closing dates of the season from May to September. Those off-season days are also filled with sporting events that have grown to almost 200 events each year, including the ongoing SEC Women’s Soccer Tournament at the Orange Beach Sportsplex.
“These events, when they bring somebody here for the first time to participate or watch their son or daughter playing a sport, they discover us,” Malone said. “And they come back and they come back.”
Malone made comparisons between 2014 numbers and those from 2018 that have driven the 8.6 percent growth and record-setting seasons every year since 2011, the first year after the BP oil spill.
In 2014, retail sales were at $791 million and ballooned to $985 million in 2018, a 6.3 percent annual increase. Taxable lodging stays generated $433 million in 2015 and are projected to be $574 million for 2019.
Visitors spent $3.5 billion in 2014 and that rose by $1.2 billion to $4.7 billion in 2018. As for raw numbers of visitors, the total increased from 5.7 million in 2014 to 6.6 million in 2018 for all of Baldwin County. Malone said the area of the county from Foley southward contributes 80 to 85 percent of that total. The tourism industry created 53,000 jobs in 2018 compared to 46,000 in 2014.
Besides the economic good news, Malone pointed out several “best of” awards for the destination and for the individual towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in the past year. Among those are AARP’s “Best Beaches,” Golf Advisor’s “Top 50 Golf Courses in the U.S,” Reader’s Digest’s “Best Zoo in Every State,” Southern Living’s “South’s Best Beach Towns” and USA Today’s “Best Small-Town Food Scene.”
“We have a hand, somewhat, in a lot of that in that we invite in through our PR team various writers and bloggers, influencers to come down and experience what we have,” Malone said. “A lot of you are generous enough to share rooms with them, deals with them. This is just a small sampling of what we had this year.”
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