Extra tourism marketing, a strong demand for vacations and falling gasoline prices should combine for a strong summer travel season, according to Alabama tourism director Lee Sentell. “If the Fourth of July beach traffic is any indication, the state could fully recover this summer from the lingering effects of last year’s BP oil spill,” said Sentell. “Beach promoter Herb Malone has alerted Gulf Shores and Orange Beach officials to be prepared for the biggest weekend in history.” Officials there expect that nearly all of the 17,000 condo and hotel rooms and 2,500 RV sites will be occupied through Monday, with many guests staying through next weekend. In addition, music concerts are scheduled for the next few weekends to attract even more tourists to Gulf beaches.
“Having the Fourth of July fall on a Monday has encouraged people all over the South to plan road trips to visit friends and families and seek out festivals and fireworks,” Sentell said. “This is especially important for beach tourism.” Gasoline prices have fallen more than 40 cents in the past four weeks in the Midwest, said Sentell, removing a possible deterrent to car travel for families. Using $3.5 million provided by BP, the state tourism department has aired commercials in cities from Baton Rouge to Atlanta that showcase Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island. BP funds were also used to stage the second annual Hangout Festival that attracted 40,000 music fans the weekend before Memorial Day. Similar funds drew fans to a concert of “oldies” musicians at Dauphin Island in June. Some potential tourists have been discouraged from beach vacations in recent years because of storms and the national economy. Sentell said there is a lot of pent-up demand among travelers and many of them are deciding they have waited long enough.