Montgomery County Tourism is Big Business in the River Region, Generating $723 Million
By David Zaslawsky
Photo by Robert Fouts
Montgomery County saw a 9.4 percent increase in tourism dollars, which translated into a $62 million increase from 2014 and a $114 million increase from just two years ago, according to a report from the Alabama Department of Tourism.
Looking at the statewide figures, Alabama tourists spent about $11.8 billion last year, an increase of nearly $800,000 (7.3 percent) from the previous year. Just five years ago, travel-related expenditures were $9.1 billion, and back in 2005, were $7.5 billion.
More than just impressive numbers, travel-related spending means jobs – lots of jobs – about 13,600 direct and indirect jobs in the River Region, including nearly 11,300 in Montgomery County. Across the state almost 170,000 travel-related jobs account for 8.7 percent of the non-agricultural employment in Alabama.
Montgomery County was the state’s only county with a 2014 hotel occupancy rate of 60 percent. That was up 6.1 percent from the previous year.
“Tourism is very important to our economy,” Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange told the Montgomery Advertiser. When the average business traveler spends about $260 a day, that becomes a critical revenue stream.
|Photography by Bryan Carter|
“Every week there is something going on in downtown Montgomery. The hotel chains are beginning to see that and they need to come here and get in on the ground floor with all the things that are happening and all the things that are about to happen in Montgomery,” said Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton N. Dean Sr.
With a major renovation to Cramton Bowl and the building of The Multiplex at Cramton Bowl and the Emory Folmar YMCA Soccer Complex, Montgomery has been attracting scores of youth and collegiate athletic events through the Central Alabama Sports Commission and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitor Bureau.
“All the sporting events are helping drive up tourism along with corporate meetings and family reunions this time of the year,” Dean said.
The city has 6,800-plus hotel rooms and draws thousands of visitors to such places as the Rosa Parks Library and Museum; The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor; the First White House of the Confederacy; and other Civil Rights and Civil War sites. Montgomery was named the Best Historic City in an online poll conducted by USA Today.
While those sites help attract travelers, Montgomery now has the infrastructure as well. The mayor likes to say something akin to, if you haven’t seen Montgomery in the last five to seven years, you don’t know Montgomery.
“We’ve done so many things to move that needle forward, and people now come and it’s almost a wow factor,” Strange said.
That wow factor was first sparked by the downtown Riverwalk Stadium, the home of the Montgomery Biscuits baseball team; then the Riverwalk and Riverwalk Amphitheater. Then the City of Montgomery, along with the Retirement Systems of Alabama, transformed the Montgomery Civic Center into the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, which not only features 100,000-plus square feet of meeting space, but the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre and a full-service spa. Other hotels came on line, including Hampton Inn & Suites Montgomery-Downtown and DoubleTree by Hilton.
Across from the Renaissance and a building or two away from Hampton Inn, The Alley draws visitors and residents alike with six restaurants and the Alley Bar and Aviator Bar.
Visitors who stay at the hotels in East Montgomery not only have a wide variety of restaurants, but also some of the best shopping options in the region at the EastChase development.