Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism unveils 2020 economic impact report and 2021 Outlook at annual summit

Local and state tourism officials are optimistic for the travel industry’s recovery in 2021

GULF SHORES AND ORANGE BEACH, ALA. – Earlier this month Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism (GSOBT) held its annual Tourism Summit virtually to provide valuable updates to travel industry partners on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. This year’s event had a distinct theme – though 2020 was a year of great change and impact, tourism on Alabama’s Gulf Coast remains strong and officials are optimistic for the upcoming peak season.

Attendees were greeted by Chief Executive Officer Herb Malone who introduced his successor, Beth Gendler, who was recently named Chief Operations Officer and will become CEO when Malone retires later this year. Gendler shared data from the 2020 Economic Impact Report released annually by the Alabama Tourism Department. In 2020, Alabama’s Gulf Coast welcomed 6 million visitors who spent $6 billion in the destination up from $5.2 billion in 2019. Tourism revenue supported 50,787 tourism related jobs and $2 billion in wages and salaries.

"The last year has been undoubtedly difficult for tourism, and our destination is no different, including the impact from Hurricane Sally," Gendler said. "Even with a global pandemic and a natural disaster, these encouraging numbers point to a bright 2021 along Alabama's beaches."

Going into summer of 2021, vacation rental companies are reporting inventory still down by 22% after Hurricane Sally, while GSOBT expects occupancy to be the same or higher than the summer of 2020. According to data collected by the CVB, vacation rental bookings are pacing ahead of 2019 and 2020 for the month of June with July bookings closely behind.

These insights led GSOBT to develop Worth the Wait, an in-market campaign to provide summer guests with tips and tricks to enjoy their vacation by avoiding long wait times and heavy crowds. The campaign will thank guests for their patience and understanding as many partners continue to be short-staffed and work diligently to ensure continued safety and a positive experience for everyone. Resources related to this campaign will be available for Industry Partners to download in the coming weeks.

Speaking to GSOBT Industry Partners, Gendler said: “We implore you to keep your business’ information up-to-date in the MyGSOBT portal. It is a great resource to ensure we have accurate information to make referrals and better serve our guests.”

A significant change occurred in March 2021 when the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission officially rebranded as Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. Vice President of Sales, Sports & Events Michelle Russ said the change allows for a budget and grant program specifically for supporting new and existing leisure events in the area. On the meetings and sports side, Russ said leads have been increasing each month this year. In March 2021, 9,198 room nights could be attributed to meetings and sports guests. Several large meetings are on the books this fall, including the Alabama Governor’s Conference and the Alabama Council of Association Executives annual meeting.

According to Grey Brennan, deputy director of the Alabama Department of Tourism, 2020 saw tourism expenditures fall by 20% in Alabama, while Baldwin County only saw a 6.2% decrease, helping the state overall. Brennan cited U.S. Travel Association data that shows tourism declined by an average of 42% in all states, with Alabama only dropping by 28%.

As of April 2021, Alabama Tourism has spent 7.3 million in CARES ACT funding on advertising a safe return to travel in the state. As Baldwin County accounts for 26% of all tourism employment in the state, it received the heavy emphasis in the state’s advertising. The “Take it All In Responsibly” campaign, which ran in the last three months of 2020, was one of the largest campaigns ever completed by the state tourism department.

“We want people to see themselves on the coast,” Brennan said. “Enjoying themselves and doing what they love doing.”

For more information about tourism on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, visit GulfShores.com.