Sheila Hodges will admit her knowledge of football is limited.

“I’d like to use a football analogy but y’all know I know little about football,” Hodges told the First Friday breakfast gathering of the Coastal Alabama Chamber of Commerce.

It was Hodges’ charge to introduce President and CEO Herb Malone of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism for his annual November report. But this year’s was extra special, marking 25 years of the group’s existence. Technically, the organization is an arm of state government with one specific function: market the 32 miles of white sand from the Alabama-Florida line to the tip of Fort Morgan.

Hodges is the owner of SH Enterprises, a company with a variety of arms all related to the tourism industry, including Meyer Realty. She and Malone were part of the early group in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s working with the chamber in a struggle to support marketing efforts.

“We knew as a committee for tourism to grow we had to plan longer than a year,” Hodges said. “But a year was all our budget was good for because we were funded by memberships, which was annual, and participation by the cities.”

But more was needed, Hodges said, to help the industry grow.

“The only way we could do five-year planning that would allow us to draw in the type of industry — whether it was accommodations, entertainment — was to be able to show that entity we had a five-year plan,” she said.

The tip of that spear, she said, was Malone.

“We took that plan to Herb, and to use a football analogy, he took the ball and carried it to the goal,” Hodges said. “Herb Malone has carried the ball in a lot of things through the years. And in that, he is our champion.”

Malone has been the leader of that effort since the group was formed in 1993. He has been its only president and CEO. Ever humble and ready to spread the praise, Malone spoke next and did just that.

“Sheila, I’ve got to correct one thing,” Malone said. “I was a lineman. We didn’t carry the ball. We made the blocks for the quarterbacks and running backs to score the touchdowns. And that’s what all of you are. You’re the ones that score the touchdowns.”

Malone pointed out that since 1993, lodging revenues have grown from $62 million to a projected $518 million for 2018, and announced those revenues would set a record for eight straight years. Retail sales in 1993 when the tourism board was established totaled $154.4 million compared to projections of $935.1 million.

Malone said Alabama beaches drew 6.3 million visitors who spent $4.4 billion, up from $963 million in 1996. Of that $4.4 billion, Malone said, $1.5 billion was for wages and salaries alone. In 1993 there were 17,000 employed in the tourism industry compared to 50,000 in 2018.