Alabama tourists spent a record $14.3 billion in 2017 as an all-time high 26.6 million people visited the state.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced the results of the Alabama Tourism Department’s annual report at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham. The venue is among the most-visited attractions in the state each year.
“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. These gains were especially seen in those areas which have invested in sporting venues which attract youth sports tournaments.”
The tourism industry added 7,399 jobs last year, bringing total employment to 186,906.
The $1 billion jump in tourism spending is the largest dollar value increase the state has seen.
“We were thrilled when we saw the report and then compared it to last year’s to show that tourists spent $1 billion more in our state,” said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell. “We had never had that kind of growth from year to year in the 20-something years we’ve been keeping this kind of study going.”
Where did the visitors visit?
Baldwin County added 82,238 guests for a total of 6.4 million guests who spent a record $4.4 billion.
Jefferson County’s hospitality industry grew by a record 9.8 percent and 148,498 tourists. About 3.3 million visitors helped Jefferson County cross the $2 billion mark in tourist spending for the first time.
In Madison County, an increase of 85,728 visitors yielded 3.1 million guests who spent $1.3 billion for a 9.8 percent increase.
In Mobile County, tourism grew by 8 percent. An additional 178,770 visitors meant a total of 3.4 million guests who spent $1.2 billon.
Montgomery County, which ranked fifth, added 8,940 guests for a 3.3 percent increase in tourist spending. The city had just under 2 million visitors who spent $841 million, according to a study by Auburn University at Montgomery economist Dr. Keivan Deravi.
John Oros, CEO of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Birmingham also saw another milestone last year: selling the most hotel room overnight stays in the Magic City’s modern history.
“Today is a day for celebration in the Birmingham region,” he said. “Tourism is alive and thriving in Birmingham and Jefferson County.”
Jeff Ray, executive director of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, said the venue had 65,000 visitors last year and more than 240,000 attended events at the Barber Motorsports Park.
“Barber Motorsports Park is a prime example of a world-class tourism destination that Alabama offers,” Ivey said. “Attractions like Barber Motorsports Park are essential to a healthy tourism climate in Alabama and has a major impact on our whole state’s economy.”
She said those who visit such attractions stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, shop at stores and fill up at gas stations.
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, an increase of 5 percent over the previous year, the report said. Some $70 million was generated in state lodgings taxes, of which 75 percent benefits the state General Fund.
Deravi’s report said that without those taxes, each household in Alabama would have had to pay hundreds of dollars more in taxes to maintain current service levels.
“You can clearly see that without this income, the families of Alabama would have to pay additional $467 in taxes every year, so, let me tell you, tourism is important and vital to the great state of Alabama,” Ivey said.
Ivey said the numbers show that people from around the world want to experience the attractions Alabama has to offer.
“So from our award-winning food to our mountains, our beautiful beaches, our caves and hiking, our sporting events and to the Southern hospitality of our people, Alabama is a sweet place and the world knows it,” she said.
You can watch the entire press conference (which was carried live on Alabama NewsCenter’s Facebook page) below.