The tourists are coming back to Pleasure Island.
“Pleasure Island,” so named by Gov. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom in one of his coastal tours, is the jewel of Alabama tourism. Stretching from Mobile Bay in the west to the Florida state line (and the Flora-Bama), the area is highlighted by the beach communities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores that sit on either side of Gulf State Park.
Pleasure Island generates a significant portion of the state’s tourism revenue, and this year, despite the BP oil spill that still weighs heavily on the minds of vacationers, the tourists are back — and in even greater numbers.
Winter lodging revenue was higher than it was in 2007, and that year was the strongest fiscal year on record — until now.
In April, retail sales were up 19.7 percent from last year.
And here comes June, July and August, the months that typically account for around 70 percent of the business for the year.
Along with the reports coming in from retail sales and rentals are the results of what tourism industry officials call “parking lot research.” That is when they go out to see if the lots are full and check license plates to see how far folks travel to visit the shore.
From October to April, the lots filled up and often with cars from places that do not traditionally visit there. Though the measure is hardly scientific, according to Mike Foster, the vice president of marketing of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, “you kind of get a sense that there are pockets of people (coming in) who are brand new to the area.”
That is good news, for Pleasure Island surely lost some visitors to other resorts when the spill closed the beaches.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon sees a “pent-up demand” in this surge of activity. “People want to come to the beach, they want to boat, they want to fish.”
So they are coming.
With gas prices dropping and summer’s heat upon us, the natural urge to relax at the coast is taking hold.
That is very good news.