Our area has been a leisure tourism destination for more than 100 years. The beauty of our area, the parks, the waterfalls, the mountains and pleasant valley views have all contributed to the desire for people to come here and relax. With that, desire a tourism business grew up around it. Summer camps, rental cabins, B&B’s, campgrounds, boutique retail and restaurants all to attract our visiting public. Jack Jones founded Cloudmont Golf and Ski resort years ago to give our leisure visitors more activities once they were here. Tourist attractions like Sequoyah Caverns and Manitou Cave were very important to the leisure tourism in DeKalb County. Both caves have been closed for quite some time but Manitou cave is now open by appointment. To contact them use this email; Manitoucaveofal@gmail.com. Leisure tourism is the category that the vast majority of all of our visitors fall into and this has allowed us a successful tourism industry for all of 66 years. Our organization was founded in 1953 by Jack Jones and several other attractions who were interested in consolidating all of the visitor attractions in our area so they could publish a travel guide together. As the number of places to visit grew so did the number of hotels, B&B’s, campgrounds and rental cabins to support the increasing number of visitors.

Leisure tourism continues to fit the demographic for the majority of our visitors, but the model is changing and it has to. Generational marketing is a large part of tourism education in our industry and each generation has interests different than their parents. For us to continue to prosper and grow we need more visitors of the millennial and X generations. These individuals are 40 and younger and they like a higher degree of activity based attractions. For our area it is ecotourism, tourism based on outdoor activities like zip lines, hiking, rappelling, kayaking, rock climbing, caving, canoeing, biking, horseback riding, jogging, waterfall viewing and outdoor photography and causal hiking. In short, eco-tourism consists of activities other than sports based on the outdoor environment. The new zip line at DeSoto S.P. will be a wonderful addition to the park, but also serve as a great incentive to bring in a new younger generation of young campers and visitors to the lodge and the rental cabins. The increase in business will not only help DeSoto S.P. but the volume will spill out into restaurants, private rental cabins, B&B’s, retail and other venues around our area. The Zip line at DeSoto S.P. is due to be open soon and should be in use by the time the school year ends in May.

As visitors increase so does demand and everyone benefits. True Adventure Sports, Little River Canyon N.P., the Jacksonville State University Canyon Center and One World Adventure Company all offer ecotourism related events and activities. Another growing category of tourism is agri-tourism. These are events revolving around agricultural based events like horse and cattle shows, competitions, off road vehicles, horse riding events and exhibits, and any other event whose subject description falls into the broad base of events that emanate out of the agricultural community. Our new Northeast Alabama Agri-Business Center in Rainsville is already providing a large number of agri-tourism visitors to our area.

We have a bright future in tourism here. Our area is very conducive to ecotourism and agri-tourism and our leisure tourism should continue to be strong.

For more information on ecotourism or agri-tourism events in our area, please visit www.visitlookoutmountain/events and click on our calendar of events to see what is happening.

— John Dersham is president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism.

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