Beth Gendler gives update on coastal tourism numbers

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 11/18/21

FOLEY - Beth Gendler, President/CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, gave an update on coastal tourism numbers at the final South Baldwin Chamber Leadership Series of 2021. The annual …

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Beth Gendler gives update on coastal tourism numbers

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FOLEY - Beth Gendler, President/CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, gave an update on coastal tourism numbers at the final South Baldwin Chamber Leadership Series of 2021. The annual presentation serves to provide an overview on what current tourism looks like in the coastal region of the county. “Our entire industry has been different,” Gendler said. “The tourism industry has changed drastically, as has the world, over the last two years. But the good news is that we’ve fared well. Our customers are loyal, they want to return to the beaches and to our area and our destinations. Driving markets remain strong. Safety and open spaces are a top importance to our visitors, and outdoor activities continue to be of interest. It’s been good, but it’s been a challenge.” The “last normal year,” Gendler said of 2019, saw record-breaking numbers in lodging rentals and taxable retail sales in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. While 2020 numbers were down, Gendler said Alabama performed fifth best in tourism spent in the entire United States. “That was in big part due to the visitors that come to our area and continued to do so, still in 2020,” she said. “In fact, our area produces 42 percent of what visitors spend in tourism impact in the entire state of Alabama.” After taking a dip in 2020 due to the pandemic and major hurricanes, 2021 has once more delivered record-breaking numbers in both lodging rentals and taxable sales tax in the coastal communities, said Gendler. For taxable lodging rentals in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, 2019 saw $589 million, 2020 saw $541 million, and 2021 has seen $668 million year-to-date through August. Gendler said if Foley’s taxable lodging rentals were added, the number would increase by $27 million. For taxable retail sales in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, 2019 saw $983 million, 2020 saw $856 million, and by year-to-date through August, 2021 has seen over $1 billion in taxable retail sales. To current date, Foley has also seen over $1 billion in taxable retail sales. When looking at the tourism impact in Baldwin County, 2019 saw 6.9 million guests visit the area. These visitors spent $5.2 billion. Tourism accounted for 54,262 travel-related jobs, and $1.7 billion in wages and salaries. When viewing the tourism impact numbers for 2020, there were 6 million guests visiting the area, spending $6 billion. This accounted for 50,787 travel-related jobs, and $2 billion wages and salaries. Gendler said these numbers are impressive when considering the beach closures of almost six weeks during spring of 2020. The numbers for 2021 will be available in spring 2022. During the past two years, Gendler said major issues have been staffing in local businesses and getting information in the hands of visitors. Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism conducts summer visitor studies, asking about visitor experiences in the area. In 2019, 41 percent of people asked about their summer experience said it was excellent, while in 2020 it was 32 percent and 36 percent in 2021. The percentage of people who said they had a good experience in the area went from 12 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2020 and finally 15 percent in 2021. “Our excellent guest experience is dropping and the good is growing, and we don’t want that to keep happening,” Gendler said. In response to the trend, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism developed the “Worth the Wait” campaign which rolled out this past summer. The campaign was designed to give visitors tips and tricks to avoid long wait times and lines, explain the reasons for the longer wait times, and suggested things to do while waiting for hotel rooms to be cleaned or while waiting in line. Over 2,800 campaign assets were downloaded by local businesses. Gendler said a leisure campaign rolling out in 2022, “The Simple Things,” will continue to focus on outdoor and nature activities. Another campaign next year will focus on group meetings as large in-person business meetings and conventions make a return, she said. “We can be proud of how our beautiful area of the world has fared,” Gendler said. “We’re all in this together. So when you talk about things looking different, imagine how different Foley, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores would look without tourism. It’s difficult to fathom. We’re all part of what makes this a great area of the country, but I want to take that a step further. Being a successful tourism destination is a big part of what makes this a great place to live.” To learn more about Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, visit www.gulfshores.com. For more on the South Baldwin Chamber, visit www.southbaldwinchamber.com.