Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mid winter thoughts of spring by John Dersham

Last week we did not have a single sunny day. It was cold, wet, and foggy and it created the exact circumstances each winter that trigger my thoughts of spring. I love all the seasons and I enjoy the changes of the seasons immensely and all the wonderful holidays and special events that are placed firming in each of the four seasons. Each season has its own beauty and its own feeling that is entrenched deeply in each of us created not only by the changes in weather or by the events and family holidays that take place in each one of those seasons, but me it is a feeling much deeper, a feeling that is generated by the changing weather and the changing look of our landscape. Spring is my favorite season and it is now in the coldest dreariest part of winter after the wonderful fall and winter holidays are all over that my mind, my mood, and my feelings of the heart drift to thoughts of spring. This feeling is a carryover deeply entrenched in my physic from my childhood and early adulthood when spring meant playing outside in the sun on the green grass for the first time in months. It meant picnics, baseball and flying a kite in a breezy blue sky. It meant staying light later and playing all those fun outdoor games in the neighborhood with friends after dinner; Hide and Seek, Mother May I, Hop Scotch. It was time to build the annual fort in the woods behind the house. The breeze is cool but the sun is warm. The sun and the blue sky feel good on the face. Spring flowers dot the greening landscape with color. As a young adult getting in the car and driving away from home by myself to hang out in the park and take it all it. It was all about friends out hiking in the woods and sitting on the hood of my car solving all the world’s problems, talking about sports and girls and hoping to have a girlfriend. Then one spring day you do have a girlfriend and you and her drive freely out into the countryside, it is beautiful, she is beautiful, the air is pure, your heart is free and the springtime scenery never looked so good in your life. You are in love; the music you listened to that spring day remains your favorite music for a lifetime. You picnic in a green meadow in the state park, the trees and the grass smell good, she smells good and the world is perfect, absolutely perfect. Spring is as special for me as it was then. Yes, I have to admit the emotions are not as impactful as they were as a youth fueled by newness of everything and the free feeling you get being out in the world, in love  and for the first time you are moving into adulthood without your parents.
Now spring is about the beauty of the environment. The trees as they bud into tiny leaves that when backlit glow and sparkle in the sun. It is about hikes with my wife and dogs in the woods and that joyous feeling of beautiful weather.
Now, in the coldest dreariest season it feels good to let my mind and heart drift to these thoughts of spring.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Promoting tourism at travel shows by John Dersham

It is cold, wet, perhaps snowy and probably clouding and miserable looking outside. It is at this time of year in those more northern locations the major cities host their own travel and sports extravaganzas in their civic centers, fairgrounds or other large convention halls.
Every winter Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) and the State of Alabama Department of Travel and Tourism set up booths at these shows to entice travelers to come to beautiful Alabama on vacation. The shows we attend are in Cincinnati & Columbus Ohio, Indianapolis, Indiana, and sometimes in Louisville, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri. People in these areas love Alabama. They come for better, sunnier weather. They come for the beach and they come for our fishing lakes and our scenic mountains and valleys. Here is where DeKalb Tourism comes in. Typically I will work the both at some of these shows on behalf of AMLA who markets the northern 16 counties in Alabama. At these shows I will hand out our travel guides and speak to potential visitors about the offerings we have in DeKalb County. Almost everyone we talk to has been to Alabama and they want to come back and they wish they were here now instead of in the dreary colder Midwest. They tend to think of us as warmer and sunnier than we really are this time of year but to them our seasonal average temperatures seem warm in comparison. Since many of these areas are very flat they love to come to our mountains. They love our state parks and woodlands. They like our campgrounds and fishing lakes. They like our scenic vistas, our lower traffic and our lower cost to visit. Many Midwesterners come here because we are an easy drive down I-65 or I-59. Some of these visitors like to come in March or April when it is still cold in their area but we are into spring. They call it their spring thaw trip. For many who have never been to Alabama this is a chance for them to see literature and here us talk about our wonderful state. AMLA and the State Tourism office usually have booths next to each other and each of us has a large one making Alabama run about 50 feet on one row. This gives a very large presence. The things people say they like best are; the Robert Trent Jones golf courses, the beach, the mountains, the fishing lakes, the weather and the general overall hospitality in our area. In the last several years as the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights has become major source of travel to Alabama especially, Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma. I look for that to increase even more this year due to the new hit movie “Selma”. This is a refresher on Civil Rights and people love to see where movies are filmed.
After the winter travel shows are done AMLA will attend some of the Southern Women’s Expo’s and some hunting and fishing shows. I will attend some of the women’s shows. Women often make the family travel decisions in many cases and since we are a leisure tourism area they are a good market for us.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I’m thankful for my cool job

 As the New Year begins I think about how thankful I feel for the job I have in tourism. Tourism in Alabama is an especially close knit group of professionals who participate together throughout the entire year. We work on projects together, we meet at training seminars together and we have statewide meetings quarterly that bring all of us together. At these functions the State Department of Travel and Tourism and the local and regional Destination Marketing organizations (DMO), like DeKalb Tourism attend. These gatherings help keep us abreast on each other’s activities, ideas and success stories relative to promoting our areas. The state always updates us on their marketing strategies and each DMO has a chance to share theirs too. Alabama’s growth in tourism has been phenomenal over the last decade and all during the great recession tourism has grown. Our growth in DeKalb has been exceptional and has out ranked the state average doubling our expenditures in tourism in less than ten years. We have grown from 35 million in visitor expenditures to more than 71 million. This is a testimony to our area. People love to visit with us. We give them the highest scenic value in the state, with a low cost visit. In addition we hear constantly from our visitors who always complement how friendly and helpful everyone is to them when they are here. This is one of the reasons our visitors return year after year. Our retention rate for return visitors is something to brag about. This all makes me very thankful to have a job in an industry where everyone knows each other and works with each other to improve each areas result. Many of the DMO’s in Alabama also maintain a close relationship with Southeast Tourism Society (STS), who offers tourism education in the form of two annual three day training seminars and they host a three year nationally certified Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) industry education program. I am honored this year to be the Vice Chair of STS representing Alabama on the STS board of directors.
Here is how tourism works in DeKalb County Alabama and in most parts of the country the organization chart is similar.
Local DMO’s promote and manage information for their dedicated local areas, for us DeKalb County. Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) promotes and handles information for the northern sixteen counties in Alabama. We promote specifically visits to DeKalb; AMLA promotes visits to all northern sixteen counties. The state of Alabama Travel and Tourism promotes tourism to the state of Alabama including DeKalb Tourism and AMLA to get people from outside the state to travel to Alabama on vacation. The Southeast Tourism Society does the same thing but does it for twelve southern states. Finally, there is Brand USA and the National Travel Association and they promote our entire country domestically and internationally. All tourism organizations are doing about the same thing; the difference is the layering of marketing for each organization. It is this layering of local, state, regional and federal that gives all the more visitor impressions. All of these layers help DeKalb grow.
John Dersham

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy New Year! by John Dersham

Happy New Year!
Okay let’s make 2015 the best year ever, so far. It is a time for renewal, new commitments, new promises for self improvement…oh my, if that’s the case my list just got real long list.
I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I do make a conscience effort to make some year round improvements along the way. I guess the real measure is if you feel you are making some long term improvements in any category you wish to improve.
At DeKalb Tourism our mission is simple and to the point and we try to get better each year at two focus areas that are in-line with our mission statement.
1-Annual growth in the number of visitors that choose DeKalb as their destination for a vacation.
2-Improved visitor experience at our visitor information center. Provide the best and most updated information with all the options our visitors can see and do in DeKalb.
We have been very fortunate in that tourism has continued to grow each year with last year crossing the 71 million dollars spent by tourists visiting our area. This means taxes were paid into the revenue stream of our area on $71 million. To highlight this number we have doubled expenditures in less than 10 years.
It is our goal to keep growing. There are a number of projects in the works right now that will help insure long term growth in tourism to DeKalb. A few of these projects are: Lookout Gateway Trail system that would link public land trails to Fort Payne and Mentone. The objective is to increase our visitor stay by a day or two. In addition the multipurpose trail would be a boost in health and wellness opportunities for our local communities. There are ongoing projects being considered at the Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center as well as One World Adventure community center in the Quinn building. There are projects being worked on by Landmarks of DeKalb for historical tourism and multiple projects in Mentone including a Cultural Arts Center. This is just a sampling of potential for DeKalb.  There are more, but all of these are long term projects and all upon fruition will bring growth and development in tourism but also growth for all the communities involved.
I’d like to wish each of you a blessed and prosperous New Year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

One World Adventure by John Dersham

I love to see people making things happen in our community. We have such a great area and our tourists love us…but we need more to keep them here longer. The average visitor in DeKalb County will spend over $400 at day if they spend the night. They buy lodging, food, gas, retail purchases and they go to attractions. Our average overnight visitor, if they are here as a tourist, spends two nights on average. Just think if we could get them to spend three or four nights. The tax revenue would increase rapidly. Bill and Angie Shugart, founders of One World Adventure in 2008, are involved in a whole lot of things in DeKalb that perpetuate our long term success in growing our tourism expenditures but also in contributing to the health, physical fitness and education of our young people in our community and visitors. One World Adventure offers a host of current endeavors that include summer adventure camps on Little River. These camps offer an outdoor experience for youth, things such as Kayaking and canoeing, interpretive hikes, rappelling and climbing. The cost structure is based on income, affording all kids the opportunity for a great outdoor education and an extremely fun time while school is out. My granddaughters attended this last summer and they came back with great stories about the things they learned and the fun they had. In today’s culture many children do not get to participant in many outdoor activities other than organized sports programs.
During the school year, One World Adventure provides environmental education outreach to FPMS. Three years ago they started volunteering in Mrs. Baker’s Wildlife Elective class. Now in its third year, they go into the school once, sometimes twice weekly to teach students about Alabama’s waterways, the many uses of water and water conservation. On the school campus they have added a native plant garden and compost station and are in the process of adding rain barrels.
Throughout the year, the One World Adventure Little River Waterkeeper program is active in educating our community about water and habitat conservation, responsible outdoor recreation and sustainable economic growth. The program also works with local government land agencies such as forestry, coop extension, and our public land agencies to monitor our river for pollution, working with farmers and timber companies to prevent or lessen their impact on the watershed.
One World Adventure has a large project in the planning stage for our community. The old Quinn Hotel will become the WM Beck III Discovery Museum. The 17,000 sq. ft. historic building will be the year around home of One World Adventure and a place for quality out of school time for area youth. The center will be themed to accommodate natural light, green technology and interpretive nature and art exhibits. There will be an outdoor climbing wall on the East facing wall, green rooftop, and outdoor retail space. Not only will the center be a downtown hub for the community and its youth, visitors will find an incredible facility filled with wonder that will enhance their experience in our area. The project has a 1.5 million dollar price tag. Currently the process of raising funds for the project is underway with a projected opening date of April 2016.
In addition, the Shugart’s are intimately involved in a project called the Lookout Mountain Gateway Trail Project that would connect the cities of Fort Payne and Mentone to a top of the mountain trail system, including new trails but also using existing trails already in place at DeSoto S.P. and Little River Canyon N.P. and the Wildlife Management area. This multipurpose trail system would be for hiking and biking with some areas that are for equestrian use too. With the tremendous total length of this system it is estimated we could add an extra day or two to the length of our visitors stay in DeKalb. The trail will have points in various locations to park and get on and off the trail. It is our goal to have well marked trails that serve our local population with a great access to a quality a physical fitness platform for our community and a place for the visitors to spend multiple days feeling comfortable they can find their way. This project was the result of a Gateway Communities seminar hosted by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to look for projects to help rural areas grow and develop in the area of overall increase of quality of life. The Shugart’s, myself and a host of city and county leaders are on the planning and developing committee for this project. Our group attended an ARC meeting in Abingdon, VA last January to kick off the program.
I want to pass along my thanks to the Shugart’s and to all of you who are working toward improving the quality of life for all of us in DeKalb County.
To learn more about One World Adventure and all their activities, please visit their website at