Most of our tourists come from within a 200 mile radius of us. In our case, that is 11 million people potentially. We are nearly 100% a “drive to” location.

Our international market is growing. DeKalb Tourism became a member of Brand USA a few years ago and they are the federal agency promoting tourism to the United States in foreign countries. International travelers that visit us typically fly into Atlanta. They migrate here for Little River Canyon National Preserve and other local attractions we are promoting through Brand USA. Many international travelers will rent cars and visit all the national parks in the region they flew into. They love to sight see and our area is a perfect venue for them to discover the relaxing scenic beauty and small towns of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Our international visitors look for cultural things too: museums, music venues, art galleries, local food and other venues where they get a sense of who we are as people.

Our typical visitor from the USA is coming to us from within a 200 mile radius, 35% of them live in Alabama. Tourism is defined by anyone taking a trip and spending their money outside of their local economy. The biggest percentage of our overnight visitors is from the Northern suburbs of Atlanta and Northwest Georgia, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and south central Tennessee.

In the fall our distance demographic enlarges some to accommodate a large audience of people who live further south in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. For those visitors we are the closest area of mountains with outstanding fall color. We are a leisure tourism market, meaning people come here to get away from it all and relax. They site-see, hike, look at waterfalls, they stay at a cabins, B&B’s, campground’s or hotel’s and they are here because we are beautiful and have a great set of state and national parks. We are easy to get around in and we have cool towns and villages to shop in and eat. A majority of our visitors are middle to high income and many of them are retired. They are age 45 and up. It is our desire to add growth to our younger aged demographic with more high energy physical tourism. We want to grow our entertainment tourism too which is food, drink and visual arts and music. Visitor’s love to explore new areas to find local art. Boom Town Makers Market in downtown Fort Payne is exactly what our visitors like.

We are beginning to have more and more people here for physical based tourism which includes; hiking, biking, rappelling, kayaking, rock climbing, caving, zip lines etc. We have several companies in DeKalb offering these services and our state parks and national park are reviewing possibilities of including more of these activities in their available offerings. DeSoto State Park added a zip line this summer. We have a lot of great potential for tourism growth in DeKalb just by appealing to the age demographics that we currently do not have a lot of.

This year the return to the earlier school start date has hurt our summer volume. The World’s Longest Yard Sale was good, but after that we have been very soft. Since school began August 7 at most locations around the state our pool of summer vacationers has dried up. The additional two weeks of summer vacation a few years ago brought millions of dollars of extra tourism spending throughout the state and that was lost this year. Either way DeKalb has a strong visitor following; our visitor return rate is extremely high. The great thing about the tourism product is it adds jobs and revenue that cannot be outsourced or moved to a different country. It is doubtful Little River Canyon can ever be moved elsewhere. Tourism dollars are clean dollars. Visitors come here and spend money then they go home where some other economy is paying for their kids to go to school, pick up the garbage and provide city and county services.

— John Dersham is president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism.

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