On Tuesday, August 23rd, over 80 stakeholders invested in Coastal Alabama’s tourism industry attended the first regional tourism workshop in support of Coastal Alabama Partnership’s regional strategic planning effort. The workshop was held in partnership with Meyer Vacation Rentals, Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Inc. (GMC) and the Coastal Alabama Regional Tourism Council which consists of the eight tourism entities in Mobile and Baldwin counties. The mission of the workshop was to bring together the region’s leaders in the tourism industry to discuss strategic planning, regional tourism promotion, and how we can work together to grow the industry.
Held in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the day began with a brief presentation by Wiley Blankenship, CEO & President of CAP, about the need for a regional strategic plan and the importance of everyone’s input at the workshop. The purpose of the regional strategic plan is “to set a baseline for where our region stands currently, create guiding principles, set a bold vision for our future and to develop an implementation plan” said Mr. Blankenship. He also emphasized that the plan is not intended to replace any others, but to provide a regional perspective on commonalities, redundancies and gaps among the individual plans. The regional tourism workshop is an opportunity to gather the best ideas and thoughts regarding tourism to be included as part of the final plan for Coastal Alabama.
Herb Malone, CEO and President of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, and Al Hutchinson, CEO and President of Visit Mobile, followed with a summary of the purpose of the Regional Tourism Council and highlighted a few of the council’s accomplishments since its establishment in 2013. These accomplishments include the launch of the first regional tourism promotional website for Coastal Alabama: www.VisitCoastalAlabama.org. As of July 2016, the Visit Coastal Alabama (VCA) social media pages have over 7,799 likes on Facebook, 697 followers on Twitter and 2,890 followers on Instagram. Total, VCA has reached nearly 1.7 million Facebook users to date.
Brandon Bias with GMC concluded the presentation by reemphasizing the importance of each participant’s role in the workshop due to their expertise as service providers and key stakeholders in the tourism industry. The workshop participants were then divided into eight groups, with a facilitator assigned to each group to ask questions and encourage conversation aimed at hearing best thoughts and ideas. The groups were given 45 minutes to discuss among themselves the assets, opportunities and concerns they saw throughout the region in regards to tourism. Following the discussion period, each group reported their best ideas and biggest concerns to the entire audience.
All eight groups were fully engaged with the exercise and provided useful information on their view of Coastal Alabama’s tourism industry. Many commonalities were found among the groups, including concerns about efficient transportation for visitors and workers, affordable housing, workforce quality and lack of awareness of Coastal Alabama’s assets. Some “best ideas” presented included increasing walkability and accessibility throughout the region, leveraging digital infrastructure to attract new businesses, expanding the promotion of a unified story of Coastal Alabama and developing a way finding system for visitors to easily navigate the two counties. All feedback given at the workshop was collected, documented and will be vital in developing CAP’s regional strategic plan.
Thank you to all who participated in the tourism workshop and provided your input. Special thank you to Meyer Vacations Rentals for providing the meeting space and lunch. We look forward to continuing to work with our regional tourism partners to better the connectivity of our two counties and expand the tourism industry.