GULF SHORES AND ORANGE BEACH, ALA. – A strong partnership between Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism (CVB) and the Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) allowed both agencies to fully maximize marketing funds provided by British Petroleum (BP) to propel the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Foley area to a $200 million* summer rebound for this beach community that suffered the gulf’s largest economic loss from the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
“The strength of this team – along with the support of the area’s entire community who also joined forces – created a synergistic effect that allowed our message to reach many audiences through all mediums,” said Herb Malone, president/CEO of the CVB. “These audiences – comprised of both longtime guests and new customers – identified with our family beach destination, and we saw our tourism driven community bustling with activity throughout the summer with a resurgence of guests. As a direct result of this multi-leveled partnership, they returned to us in record numbers as the data shows.”
The Pleasure Island communities (Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan) gathered a record setting $154 million in summer lodging revenue – an 18 percent ($24 million) increase over the previous benchmark year of 2007, which saw $130 million collected in that summer. Continuing this pace, the area is posed to exceed the 2007 record year by 17 percent (year-to-date).
“What our tourism community accomplished is almost unfathomable, especially considering the national economy,” Malone said. “Last summer, we saw a 47 percent decrease in lodging revenue. Thanks to this partnership, the area not only made up for this decrease to return to pre-spill levels but then continued the momentum to break the summer record of our benchmark year.”
Along similar lines, the Pleasure Island communities also saw record-breaking summer retail sales figures as $235 million flowed through local cash registers – a 51 percent ($80 million) increase over summer 2010 and most importantly, a 7 percent ($16 million) increase over the benchmark year of 2007.
The partnership also extended into the local tourism and hospitality industry and the surrounding community.
“Our area banded together as we have always done during challenging times,” Malone said. “Everyone worked together to help our area rebound as quickly and efficiently as it did.”
With additional marketing funds in 2011, the CVB enhanced multiple events in the area, such as the 2011 Hangout Music Festival, The Wharf Concert Series, and the Southeast Conference (SEC) corporate sponsorship.
“This relationship was a win-win for all parties,” Malone said. “Thanks to the insight of our brilliant team, we best utilized this funding to maximize its reach and impact. We have Governor Robert Bentley and his staff to thank for negotiating this 2011 BP grant.”
Malone added that “the year that we are having this year is the same year that we would have had in 2010 had it not been for the spill.”
“We are excited that Alabama’s Gulf Coast Beaches were able to re-bound so quickly and to set record numbers on top of it,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department. “The BP funding allowed us to market effectively to travelers and those efforts paid off. We will continue to promote our Gulf Coast and hope to continue to set records.”
This excitement is shared among local lodging partners, such as Sarah Kuzma, corporate relations director for Meyer Vacation Rental:
“For over four decades our vacation rental business has hosted thousands of visitors to the area, and our Meyer Vacation Rental teams were elated to once again be back in full swing in 2011. Not only were our loyal customers returning to ‘their beach’ but we gained new customers from markets previously not common for us, primarily due to the successful Hangout Music Festival. We expect to continue to reap the rewards of this year’s new and returning customers in future years.”
Along the same lines, Eva Faircloth, Spectrum Resorts marketing director, noted that the area’s success translated into company records.
“The extra efforts of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, combined with the state tourism department and our own marketing efforts led Spectrum Resorts to gross more revenue in 2011 than ever before as a company,” Faircloth said. “We know our area will see the residual effects of the increased efforts and innovative marketing strategies for the coming year as well.”
Meanwhile, Kaiser Realty also spoke to the area’s rebound this year.
“2011 has no doubt been the light at the end of the tunnel we were all desperately looking for during the dreadful summer of 2010,” said Emily Eiland Gonzalez, marketing director of Kaiser Realty, Inc. “Kaiser Realty proudly welcomed back families who had been coming to stay with us for 30 years, and we embraced tremendous numbers of new families. As the year began we knew our beaches were ready to rebound and be celebrated once again, but we did not know if the guest and visitors were ready and willing to return. The efforts put forth by the CVB and ATD to determine when and where to utilize the BP grant monies undoubtedly paid off.”
Local restaurants also saw the results of the marketing efforts.
“The combined efforts of Gulf Shores Orange Beach Tourism, Alabama Tourism, and the local municipalities have helped LuLu’s to our best year ever, surpassing our 2009 benchmark year by almost 15%,” said Johnny Fisher, general manager of LuLu’s at Homeport Marina. “We’re very excited about the potential for future growth and most importantly, for the opportunity our communities will have to grow and provide a better quality of life for our residents.”
On the same note, Mary Lou Roszkowski, vice-president of operations for Original Oyster House Restaurants added that the year “exceeded our expectations! Thank you CVB for the continued effort to maintain our place in the tourism market.”
“With fall numbers still being gathered, we are on pace to exceed our 2007 all-time lodging revenue record by 17 percent, which speaks volumes to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved in our rebound” Malone said. “We have now transitioned to our fall shoulder season and recently concluded a healthy October highlighted by Thunder on the Gulf and the 40th Annual National Shrimp Festival.”
“We will continue to support Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to get the message out that it’s never been a better time to visit Alabama and our white sand beaches,” Sentell said. “We are thrilled with the support of visitors, especially the loyal customers who keep coming back. It is those tourists that we are deeply thankful for and we welcome their continued visits.”
For more tourism information on this family beach destination, visit www.gulfshores.com or www.orangebeach.com.
*The $200 million rebound encompasses an increase of the combined lodging and retail sales tax figures for the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Foley for Summer 2011 compared to Summer 2010.
Complete Summer 2011 data available at http://www.gulfshores.com/stats/2_a.%20%20Destination%20Growth%20IndicatorsforWebsite.pdf.
Additional Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism information available at www.gulfshores.com/stats.