Nature Tourism Initiative Seeks to Protect Area’s Scenic Beauty and Rich Ecosystem
Joanne McDonough’s career in television has carried her through the world as she gathered footage for the nature moments, which concluded Charles Kuralt's CBS Sunday Morning news show. In 1992, the stunning beauty of Baldwin County lured McDonough to move. Now she is working to ensure that this breath-taking area is understood and preserved through the Nature Tourism Initiative. Begun in 2007 by the AL Gulf Coast CVB, Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC), this partnership produced a three-year project that evaluates the area’s nature-based businesses and provides resources to meet their needs. McDonough’s mission is two-fold: (1) to work with local businesses and communities to provide a quality nature experience for our guests (2) while also encouraging good stewardship and sustainability of our natural resources. Continuation of this project is made possible through funding from the CVB and MASGC.
Recently, the nature tourism initiative introduced the nationally-recognized Dolphin SMART program to local tour operators. Originally established in Key West, Fla., this program encourages the responsible viewing of these unique creatures and offers an education and training program to businesses that wish to become Dolphin SMART recognized. The Alabama Gulf Coast is one of only a handful of areas throughout the nation to offer this program, which is a partnership between NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary and National Marine Fisheries Service, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the Dolphin Ecology Project. The program is made possible in Alabama through the support of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Coastal Section), the CVB and MASGC. To learn more about the program, visit www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov/dolphinsmart.
Building Niche Markets
Established as a family-orientated vacation destination, the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area has become an ideal shoulder season destination as the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau seeks to enhance its emerging niche markets. Outside of the peak summer season, value-packed accommodation rates pair with comfortable temperatures and numerous events that make this area a must-see.
Nine signature golf courses and the nation’s largest artificial reef program lead to man-cations filled with exciting golf games and great fish tales. Meanwhile, the ladies on their girlfriend getaways find great deals with several shopping adventures and visit the area’s selection of spas for some much-needed pampering. Couples and seasonal winter guests converge on Pleasure Island for the numerous activities, events and festivities scheduled throughout the year.
Recently in 2007, the creation of the Alabama Gulf Coast Sports Commission has resulted in a large victory for the island as this group - along with assistance from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach – works to bring quality sporting events to the area. The Sports Commission is a partnership between the CVB, the Alabama Gulf Coast Area Chamber of Commerce and the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. For information, please visit www.alabamabeachsports.com.
Area Showcases Expanded Palette
Similar to the upscaling of the area’s lodging, the dining options have also expanded to include a wide range of palettes. In addition to the traditional beachside dive, visitors to the Alabama Gulf Coast can sample a smorgasbord of options, such as Mediterranean, Italian, California style Mexican, Asian, Cajun or French. A showcase of the area’s culinary experts reveals backgrounds and training ranging from humble beginnings to formally trained chefs. Regardless, hungry patrons have numerous options. Some restaurants will even cook your catch.
Also, the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area is fortunate to serve Royal Red shrimp. Found about a 1,000 feet below the gulf waters, this cold-water shrimp is a delicacy. With a deep red color and sweet, delicate texture, royal reds can be found in a variety of dishes at the coastal restaurants.
The “Upscaling” of Alabama's Gulf Coast
Several new properties have opened and more are expected soon, adding a whole new dimension to our accommodations landscape. From one end of the island to the other, older properties and bargain hotels are giving way to sophisticated luxury facilities. Style and comfort are the order of the day at these hotel and condominium resorts. In addition to posh designer interiors, most offer fitness centers, beach service, several pools and fun water features for the kids. Some are like their own little towns, offering shopping, restaurants and entertainment on premises, so you don’t have to get in your car the whole time you’re on vacation.
And while it used to be that “on the beach” was the only place to find a room, these days there are terrific options nestled quietly on the back bays and along the Intracoastal Canal. The Waterway is fast becoming a ribbon of luxury residential and rental developments, marinas, and waterside dining to rival the beachfront.
Sports in the Sunshine
In addition to the area’s longstanding history as a prime fishing and golfing destination, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism has expanded its sports marketing efforts to attract a larger diversity of athletic events and thus created the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Sports Commission to the foster the growth and development of this emerging niche market. Both cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach feature state-of-the-art sport complexes that have hosted various tournaments and championships, such as the SEC Women’s Soccer Championship; NAIA Men’s and Women’s National Soccer Championships and Women’s National Softball Championship; the USSSA Global World Series; and the AVCA National Sand Volleyball Championship.
Fishing on the Alabama Gulf Coast continues to attract several cable broadcast companies in addition to the numerous fishermen. ESPN2 broadcasts the Redfish Nation All-Star Event while the Fox Sport Network televises the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish and Redfish Championships.
Due to the extreme demand of this growing niche market, a member of the CVB’s sales department focuses full-time on sporting and special events. For more information, please visit media kit page about our sports commission or visit their website at www.gulfshoresorangebeachsports.com.
History Buffs Now Have Another Reason to Visit Alabama’s Gulf Coast
“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” was the historic command issued by U.S. naval commander Admiral David Farragut as his fleet charged into Mobile Bay in August of 1864. His objectives were to capture the forts at the entrance to the bay, destroy Mobile’s Confederate naval squadron and close Mobile to blockade runners.
With the opening of the Battle of Mobile Bay Civil War Trail, visitors to Baldwin and Mobile counties can trace the path of this significant campaign. The trail stretches from the Gulf of Mexico over 90 miles to north Mobile County, and documents the military movements and way of life on and around Mobile Bay during the Battle of the Bay (August 1864) and the Overland Campaign (March - May, 1865). A series of interpretive signs at more than a dozen sites offers detailed exploration of the historic events which restored Mobile and the bay country to the Union. The stories of ship captains, fort commanders and common fighting men are told through first-hand accounts, historical references and detailed illustrations displayed on the signs.
Also the Battle of Mobile Bay will celebrate its sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary in 2014. More details about the event will be shared as they become available. For more information on the trail, visit www.batttleofmobilebay.org.
Birding Enthusiasts Flock to Alabama Coastal Birding Trail
Feathered friends of all species flock to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Rich with a large diversity of native and migratory species, the coastal area is a haven for resting wings and the peering binoculars of birding enthusiasts. This area is the last stop for migratory birds heading across the Gulf of Mexico and consequently, also the first stop on their return trip home.
Featuring all of the birds residing or passing through, the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail is a series of five loops that meander over Baldwin and Mobile counties. Each loop could take as long (or short) as one prefers. Although directions are provided in a sequential fashion, it is not necessary to follow the complete loop. For more information on the trail, please visit www.alabamacoastalbirdingtrail.com.
Each April and October the Hummer/Bird Study Group conducts a bird banding at Fort Morgan. This group of dedicated volunteers delicately captures, documents, and releases migrating neo-tropical birds as they make a layover on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. You might even get the chance to hold, adopt and release a bird before it begins its long journey across the Gulf of Mexico. This event is so valuable to birding research and so popular with the public, it has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine. For more information, visit www.hummingbirdsplus.org.