Twenty-eight million tourists spent a record $16.8 billion while vacationing in Alabama in 2019, the Alabama Tourism Department reports, crediting the arrival of more than a million additional guests who spent a billion dollars more than tourists the previous year.

With growth at nearly 8 percent, it was the third consecutive year that travel expenditures in Alabama grew by more than a billion dollars, director Lee Sentell said, adding that it was the first year that guests paid more than one billion dollars in taxes to Alabama state and local governments. He said taxes paid by tourists saved the average state family an estimated $537 a year in taxes.

The travel and hospitality industry employed more than 200,000 workers for the first-time last year, according to the economic impact analysis that used a model developed by state economist Dr. Keivan Deravi. It estimated that some 140,706 direct jobs led to the creation of 64,906 additional or indirect jobs. The Deravi analysis said that every $116,120 in travel industry spending creates a direct job in Alabama.

DeKalb County grew by 11.3 % which is 3.3% greater than the state average. Last year tourists spent $99,832,289.00 in DeKalb County. The expenditures are only counted if our visitors stay overnight and pay lodging tax. Visitors that come to spend the day and leave are not included in these numbers even though the dollars they spend on sales taxes while visiting is very important to all our communities.

Last year visitors paid $510,179.00 on lodging taxes at local hotels, motels, cabin rentals, Bed and Breakfast lodges and campgrounds. This is up from the prior year by 11.3 percent more that an additional $51,000 in local lodging taxes for our communities.

Last year, 1,231 people made their livings in the tourism industry here in DeKalb County, a number that is up from the prior year by 11.5 percent.

It was truly an incredible year for tourism in DeKalb County and in the state of Alabama. Alabama ranks number 14 nationally in the number of dollars spent by tourists out of 51 states, which includes the District of Columbia.

With all of this good news, I must be honest in saying that 2020 has been our worst year for tourism thus far in many decades. Covid-19 has almost wiped out the worldwide tourism industry since mid-February. Only now are we beginning to show some life in our industry as gradually travel bans and stay at home orders are being lifted and people are getting out some.

Our tourism industry is anticipating as much as a 50 percent reduction of travel this year as many people will travel less as they keep an eye on Covid-19.

DeKalb is a weekend motorcar destination and has a population of 11 million people within a 200-mile radius. This will make us popular get a way trip for those who want a vacation but do not want to go as far this year. I look forward to our tourism numbers increasing as the season progresses.

— John Dersham is the president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism.

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