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Tourism good sale for state

Features Editor

The state lodging tax brings in about $8.5 million to the tourism coffer each year, but none of that money stays in Alabama.

"That’s the law," said Frances Smiley, assistant director, Bureau of Tourism and Travel for the State of Alabama. "The reason is that the tax money is to be used to attract tourists from outside the state – to bring dollars into state."

And, the state’s advertising campaign seems to be working, at least those in the know think so.

Smiley was the guest speaker at a tourism luncheon at the Holiday Inn yesterday hosted by the Pike County Chamber of

Commerce. She told members of the Troy Exchange Club and other interested citizens that Alabama’s

‘Now, This You’ve Gotta See,’ tourism campaign was rated the number one best new campaign in the United States in 2001 and many people evidently came to see.

The growing trend in tourism is toward history and heritage and Alabama is rich in both, Smiley said.

"We have much to be proud of in Alabama and a lot to see and do," Smiley said. "The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has given Alabama the distinction of being one of

the 10 best states for golfing by Golf magazine. And our number one tourist destination is our Gulf Coast. But, the one thing that tourists always mention when they speak of Alabama is the people. Our people are our number one asset."

And, Smiley said, it’s the responsibility of these number one people to promote their state.

"We should be cheerleaders for Alabama," she said. "We should not echo the negative things that are said about our state. We are the new Alabama. We are the new South."

And, travel writers are coming to see the new Alabama and write about the new South.

In June, the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel will host the Travel Media Showcase with about 250 travel writers attending.

The Travel Writers Marketplace will also be held in the state, bringing another 40 travel writers to see what it is they’ve "gotta see."

But, Alabama isn’t just a place that tourists have "gotta see."

Its residents must also take to the highways and byways to enjoy all that their home state has to offer.

"Alabama has much to offer tourists and our own residents," Smiley said. "Just to mention a few, Alabama has, of course, our Gulf Coast, the U.S.S. Alabama, the Space and Rocket Center,

the Birmingham Zoo, the State Capitol, the Shakespeare Festival and our state parks are wonderful. We have so much and we need to promote our state, locally and to other states."

Smiley said her agency, works with co-ops, chambers of commerce and other groups to promote Alabama.

"We promote our state through releases to radio stations and newspapers and public service announcements are one of our best tools for promoting Alabama," Smiley said. "We have many partners that help tell the story of our state."

Alabama’s story is being told and people in the travel industry are listening.

What is important, now, is that Alabamians listen and understand the possibilities and benefits of tourism in their state.

"Helen Keller said that to be able to see and have no vision is worse than not being able to see," Smiley said. "It is time for Alabama to have a vision about its future."