The key to expanding tourism in Calhoun County, according to guest speaker Francis Smiley, the Welcome Center director for the Alabama Department of Tourism, is expanding tourism to the region, state and the whole Southeast.
“It’s all about Alabama,” Smiley said. “We don’t have individuals saying we need this for Huntsville, or we need this for Mobile. It’s we need this for the state Department of Tourism.”
The luncheon kicked off National Travel and Tourism Week. It also served as the chamber’s official thank-you to the hospitality industry in the county and to highlight the chamber’s Visit Calhoun County tourism campaign, which launched in December.
“Historically we haven’t done anything to celebrate our success,” said Ebonee Thompson, the tourism and marketing director for the chamber. “So this is our way of recognizing all of you for everything you do to help tourism in Calhoun County.”
Thompson said that since the launch of the campaign she’s received calls from all over the state as well as Tennessee and Georgia from people looking to take advantage of the county’s attractions. Visit Calhoun County focuses on the culture and outdoor activities in the area.
Thompson also named the chamber’s nominees for the Tourism Shining Star award. They included Elizabeth Hutchinson and Jackie Smart from the Courtyard Marriott in Oxford; Casey Walker from the Hampton Inn in Jacksonville; and Deborah Knoll and Emily Duncan from the chamber.
Smiley said by focusing on the state as a destination spot, tourism trickles down to local areas, as evidenced by last year’s Year of Alabama Food campaign that highlighted places to eat around the state. Smiley said the slogan caught hold in neighboring states, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a six-page story on the campaign.
“It’s catchy slogans and unique ideas,” Smiley said. “That’s what gets people talking.”
Calhoun County’s tourism success can also play a big part in shaping the northeastern region of the state, Smiley said. Mary Patchunka-Smith, director for the Clay County Chamber of Commerce, spoke at Monday’s luncheon, highlighting how a new Clay County tourism initiative can work hand-in-hand with Calhoun County in a mutually beneficial tourism campaign.
“We’re inviting you to come cross the mountain,” Patchunka-Smith said. “We come over here all the time to shop, but we’ve got a lot to offer too.”
Thompson said she plans to continue to push Calhoun County’s tourism campaign this year. She also announced Monday a “familiarization tour” for later in the month. The chamber has invited workers in the hospitality industry – primarily hotel and restaurant employees – to take the free, all-day bus tour on May 22 highlighting destinations in the area.
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.