When Gulf Shores first banned alcohol on the beach to stifle unruly spring breakers who had fled a similar crackdown in Panama City, not all businesses in the resort town were on board.
But the business at the beach has not gone away. Both sales taxes and lodging taxes have increased every year since 2015, the year before Gulf Shores instituted an emergency ban in the middle of the spring break season.
According to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, lodging tax collections from March, April and May increased from nearly $103 million in 2015 to more than $127 million in 2018. In those same three months in retail sales taxes, $214 million was collected in 2015 versus $257 million in 2018. The tourism bureau’s jurisdiction covers Pleasure Island from the Alabama-Florida line to Fort Morgan. The marketing arm is funded by 2 percent of lodging taxes collected in that area and is used to promote Alabama’s beaches.
City and business leaders have been happy with the growth seen in revenues in the spring despite the yearly ban in Gulf Shores and increased enforcement in Orange Beach by its police department. This year’s ban in Gulf Shores is from March 2 through April 28.
“We feel it’s been super positive,” Gulf Shores spokesman Grant Brown said. “The families that said they would never come back are now coming back. And the sports teams that are here for high school softball and other events are happy to be here.”
Brown says those are the family visitors the city wants rather than the younger, rowdier spring breakers.
“They’re going out to restaurants, they’re buying souvenirs,” Brown said. “It’s not the cheap college crowd that would typically come and bring a trailer full of beer from wherever they are coming from and eat at McDonald’s for three days. They don’t spend the money that families do. It created a whole lot of problems, but the ban seems to have solved most of those issues.”
Gulf Shores Police Chief Ed Delmore said the emergency ban in the middle of the 2016 spring break quickly quelled the crowds and has been working for his department every year since.
“The results were immediate and the results were wonderful,” Delmore said. “We had a mixture of spring breakers and families on the beach, exactly the atmosphere we’re looking for.”
Over in Orange Beach, Patrol Lt. John Simonson says while there’s no ban on alcohol on beaches there, officers are on high alert and recently issued their annual warning to spring breakers.
“If the spring breakers from college that want to throw parties don’t want to come to Orange Beach because we’re too hard on them, then that doesn’t hurt our feelings,” Simonson said.
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