Pleasure Island’s tourism generated income on par with past years
Beth Gendler, President and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, reports that the taxable impact of visitors to the area through the end of this year’s summer season is on par with the past two post-Covid years and this year really marks a return to normal travel patterns following the large influx of visitors during COVID due to the appeal of the beaches and the outdoor options in the area.
Taxable retail sales, which surpassed $1 billion in 2021, are also pacing in line with both 2021 and 2022 – $1.07 billion in eight months of 2023 compared to $1.4 billion for each of the previous years, Gendler said.
“Remember, 2019 was a record year,” she said. “2020 – the year of a worldwide pandemic and a major hurricane – was down only 7%; 2021 was up 48%; and 2022 was up 11% over that. Those are incredible numbers.
“Two of our primary key indicators of the health of our tourism industry are taxable lodging rentals and taxable retail sales,” explained Gendler. “Through August of this year, our area is pacing well above the total year-end figures in both categories compared to pre-COVID 2019, our last ‘normal’ tourism year before the pandemic. For January through August this year, taxable lodging rentals are at $843 million compared to $575 million in 2019. In fact, 2023 so far has also outpaced our total 2021 taxable lodging rentals figure of $815 million, and we are optimistic we will be right in line with the $890 million for 2022 by the end of the year.”
“The entire world was open to travel this year and people have endless options on where to take their vacations,” she added. “From 2020 through part of 2022, there were travel restrictions or people just were not comfortable traveling internationally yet, and our community greatly benefited from that by being an easy drive-to destination. This year, we are back to competing not just on a regional scale, but truly on a national and international scale, just like before the pandemic.”
While final 2023 economic impact numbers won’t be compiled until next spring, the impact of visitors on the area is significant. According to the Alabama Tourism Department’s 2022 report, an estimated 8.3 million visitors came to Baldwin County, with a strong majority of those (6.4 million) coming to Alabama’s beaches. Those visitors spent almost $8 billion in the county and helped employ 65,000 people with tourism-related jobs. Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and the Fort Morgan area account for 55,000 of those jobs.
“We are a tourism economy here,” said Gendler. “It is our bread and butter. It is the number one industry in our county, and tax revenues from tourism make up a large majority of the budget for both the City of Gulf Shores and the City of Orange Beach. Our community relies and thrives on our guests.
“But more than that, the tax revenues generated by our community have a tremendous benefit to the rest of the state – 4% of our lodging tax revenues go to the state’s general fund and 4% of our retail sales tax revenues go to the state’s Education Trust Fund.”
According to GSOBT data, the majority of visitors to the area are coming from the Southeast and Midwest, with some surprises like California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia rounding out the Top 25 states visitors are coming from. Out of a study of 1.2 million trips to Alabama’s beaches, courtesy of Arrivalist, 30.8% of those stayed for 4+ nights.
Gendler further explained that summer continues to be the most popular time for guests to come enjoy the community, but other seasons of the year are expanding, which brings patrons to local businesses year-round.
“We are no longer a summer destination only,” said Gendler. “With sports, special events, meetings, and additional marketing, we have grown spring, fall and winter. Leveling out occupancy throughout the year helps our businesses year-round and keep their employees working.”
Gendler also emphasized the role the tourism office continues to play in the local community.
“For the past 30 years, our mission has not changed,” explained Gender. “Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism serves to develop and execute marketing promotions and programs that promote our community as an attractive travel destination, enhance our region’s public image as a dynamic place to live and work, strengthen our community’s economic position and vitality, and provide opportunities for the residents who live and work here.
“With key programs like Leave Only Footprints and BEach SAFE, we also serve a vital role to those who choose our area for vacation … to keep them safe, informed, and responsible.
“Our role is to support, guide and lead this community in growing our product and visitation in ways that are consistent with the character of our destination. Keeping true to our destination’s character has, and always will, remain a guiding factor for what we do.”
More info: GulfShores.com or OrangeBeach.com.