Thursday, April 9, 2015

Main Street Alabama - Fort Payne by John Dersham

Your are invited to a social event at the Vintage 1889 at 6 P.M. tonight for wine tasting, music and an auction to help raise money to support the initial Main Street program fees.
Over the last few months various elements in the business community of Fort Payne have been meeting and working on the potential of Fort Payne becoming a “Main Street” community. Some of you may not be familiar with the program. It is a nationwide program to redevelop the original downtowns of small town America. Over the last 5 decades many small towns have lost their downtown, retail, restaurants and offices to a suburban outskirt environment often on an outer loop or next to an interstate. The Main Street program is a comprehensive marketing and business plan to revive downtowns.
Here is Main Street Alabama’s mission statement;
  Main Street Alabama is focused on bringing jobs, dollars and people back to Alabama’s historic communities. Economic development is at the heart of our efforts to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods. We have developed a tiered program of services to help communities organize themselves for success, improve the design of their neighborhoods, promote their districts and enhance their economic base.
Towns and cities in Alabama like Athens, Decatur, Opelika, Cullman, Gadsden, Fairhope, Florence and Auburn speak for themselves. If you have been to any of these lately you will see almost 100% of storefronts occupied, lots of restaurants, gift shops, art galleries and entertainment venues. These towns have thriving downtowns again much in part to their becoming a certified Main Street downtown.
Fort Payne has gone through several steps already. Main Street has made a public presentation, and the Fort Payne Merchants Association has sent Lynn Brewer and Connie Fuller to the Main Street annual seminar of which must be attended in order to fill out an application to be considered eligible for Main Street selection. Only three cities per year are selected. The selection committee takes a look at how ready our community is to begin the program. Things like the willingness of business owners to participate and how engaged the local elected officials and community leaders are toward the program. Once selected as a Main Street community the process begins which is four tiered.
1-    Technical Assistance; How to get funding, training seminars, market analysis, strategic planning, planning guides and on-site visits.
2-    Educational Recourses; Multitier program to instruct and educate each step of the process toward a successful Main Street downtown.
3-    Downtown Network; Networking with existing successful Main Street cities for help and advice.
4-    Designated Main Street; Officially a Main Street city and can use the official trademark logo’s and sign package making it a Main Street Community.
There are many benefits that accrue as a city or town becomes a Main Street community. More jobs, more open businesses and more tourism. Most historic Main Street communities have become successful tourist towns. The historic quality of the old downtown areas coupled with the ambience it projects tend to attract restaurants, bars, boutique shopping, antiques stores, the arts, cultural events and museums, walking parks, gardens, coffee shops, craft beers, wineries and all the things visitors like to go to.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finally it is Spring by John Dersham

Wow! What better feeling can there be than those first sunny warm days of spring. Especially after an unusually long, dreary and cold winter like this one has been. Last Sunday after a miserable wet cold day on Saturday the skies cleared and Sunday was a beautiful sunny pleasant day. In fact I could not go inside for very long. I had to be outside with my face in the sun feeling the warmth and witnessing the beginnings of spring already evident in the maple trees that send out little reds blossoms early in the spring. The blossoms die and for a little while the trees look bare again and then all of a sudden little leaves begin to appear. Soon the cherry trees will be blooming and the daffodils finally got enough warm weather to really bloom. They have been trying to bloom since late February but they keep getting frozen and slowed down.
The improvement in weather has a very positive effect on tourism too. People from all over our region get the urge to come see our beautiful parks and waterfalls. All of a sudden Little River Canyon N.P. and DeSoto State Park are bustling with hikers and sightseers. When this happens we start getting weekend visitors for our campgrounds, cabins, B&B’s and hotels.
Over the last several years we have tried to lure spring breakers to our area by running ads and press releases to promote a spring break vacation here. We have had a little success at that but not like we would like mostly because kids tend to convince their parents to go to the beach or somewhere with higher activity based attraction content for their age demographic.
Our tourism season begins in March and grows each month through July then drops off a little as school begins and picks up tremendously in October and November. DeKalb has always struggled for visitors in the winter. Cloudmont Ski Resort does well when weather permits the making of snow. We will have overnight visitors for skiing but not in large quantity. Many young people come and go in the same day.
Our area has been a successful leisure tourism area for more than a century. Now, we are in the process of expanding our visitor experience by including activities of a younger demographic by increasing our physical based entrees; things like an upcoming zip line at DeSoto S.P. and more venues for hiking, biking, rappelling, caving, canoeing and kayaking. This can be a real boost to our environmental tourism business. If you will look at our website ( and view our calendar of events you can keep up with some of the offerings we have through True Adventure Sports, Jacksonville State University Canyon Center and One World Adventure. In the future we hope to have an extensive trail system for biking, hiking and some equestrian. This trail system is in the planning stages but requires property right-of-ways and funding. Our tourism future is very bright as we add layers of visitor interests to our venues that appeal to a variety of generations.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Alabama Statewide Tourism Meetings by John Dersham

This week we have our first quarter statewide tourism meetings. Each quarter tourism professionals, attractions, parks, hoteliers, festival planners and others who make their living from tourism meet as part of various planning organizations. Each organization contributes to the success of tourism as partners to the other organizations. To reduce travel costs and to fit everyone’s very busy schedules we have all the various meetings during the same two day meeting four times a year. Not everyone attends all meetings but everyone is invited. I go to all of them because they each have a separate function that is critical to the overall process of planning our local tourism plans. Since I will be making the trip anyway, it makes since to me to be involved in each meeting.
The organizations that meet each quarter each have a different function in tourism but they all roll up to become part of the big picture. Here are the organizations:
1-Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel-our state organization, Lee Sentell is Director.
2-Alabama Tourism Partners (ATP)
3-Alabama Travel Council (ATC)-Brochure distribution-Event planner for the annual Alabama Governors Conference and the Legislative Bash.
4-Alabama Association of Destination Marketing Organization (AADMO)-consists of all the states Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB’s) and all Destination Marketing Organizations like DeKalb Tourism and the membership organizations like Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. AADMO also is the host organization for the annual tourism education scholarships that are given to qualified college students studying tourism-hospitality and culinary. These are awarded at our annual Governor’s Conference.
Over the last two years I served as President of AADMO and I currently serve as secretary of ATC. I have been on the planning committee for the annual Legislative Bash and for the Governor’s Conference each year.
Alabama is a very close knit group of tourism professionals and organizations that network ideas and processes that help each others area become more successful in our local communities. I feel this constant contact internally with our industry partners accounts for much of the reason Alabama as a state has more than doubled the amount of money spent by tourists in less than ten years. Our networking of marketing and promotion plans make each area of Alabama visible to our potential visitors via social media, web presence, TV, radio and print ads that are layered to be seen within the state for travel, but these are also seen nationwide and in some cases internationally.
Governor Bentley and the First Lady greatly support tourism and they are almost always at our Legislative Bash and the Governors Conference. Last year Mrs. Bentley, in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of our Alabama State Parks, visited many of our parks to help promote these beautiful and very popular tourist attractions in our state. Mrs. Bentley came to DeSoto S.P. and visited with Ken Thomas and staff. She also made her way around to some of our local attractions. Tourism is big business; in fact it is the state of Alabama’s largest non agricultural money maker and employer.
I am thankful to work in tourism in Alabama where everyone works together to make Alabama a great vacation destination.

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.