As thousands of Jimmy Buffett fans prepare to flock back home following the conclusion of the annual Meeting of the Minds convention, you may be wondering; how might this massive event impact the …
As thousands of Jimmy Buffett fans prepare to flock back home following the conclusion of the annual Meeting of the Minds convention, you may be wondering; how might this massive event impact the island's tourism long-term?
The City of Gulf Shores announced in September that the Jimmy Buffett fan club would be moving their annual event to Gulf Shores for the first time, as the event was previously held since 1997 in Key West, Florida. Things have not slowed down since, and for seven days these Parrot Heads celebrated, danced and sang along to their favorite artists in the heart of Gulf Shores.
Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach sports and events, said that while it is too early to know the exact data surrounding the economic impact of the convention, it could positively improve tourism during a time when the island is typically less busy.
"We would love for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to become the permanent home of the Meeting of the Minds, and the convention is locked in for 2024, which will take place in late October or early November," Russ said. "From an economic impact standpoint, this time of year is ideal with it being otherwise slower between fall breaks and the holidays. The boost from a social convention like this brings a lift in retail sales, lodging rentals and charitable impacts that are invaluable."
Russ said the city received a call in June 2022 from a lodging partner who said the organization was interested in moving the event to a new tropical destination.
"They needed a venue for up to 3,000 people, and this is different than the typical convention or meeting," Russ said. "With three jam-packed days of live music from the trop-rock community, our organization set up site visits for the following month with several possible venue options."
Russ said the organization made the call following major renovations in Key West and would have been left without a location for the event if moving it to Gulf Shores had not worked out.
"The group had to complete several site visits in a few beach towns as well as the Alabama Gulf Coast in a short amount of time," Russ said. "They wanted to announce right before the 2022 MOTM in Key West to give members plenty of time to make arrangements."
However, Russ said she understands that some attendees may be disappointed in the location change, especially those who may have grown attached to Key West in the last 26 years that they hosted the event.
"Change is hard, and we certainly understand that. Fortunately, with our location being an easy drive market for many Parrot Head clubs across the country, attendees have more freedom to explore Gulf Shores and Orange Beach as well as neighboring communities," Russ said. "Ashley Wilson (sales manager) visited with a guest who volunteered for registration bag stuffing prior to the event kick-off, and they were thrilled with the appeal of driving from their home in Indiana. They were able to come early and have the opportunity to stay later and discover more of our coastal culture."
Ally Dorrough, communications and marketing manager, said that MOTM also presented over $37,000 to various charities and local organizations, including Jimmy Buffett's Singing for Change Charitable Foundation, Bra's Across the Causeway, South Baldwin Community Theatre, Christian Service Center, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, Lone Palm Foundation, PHIP Scholarship Fund and the TRMA Artist Relief Fund.
The organization also donated 132 pints of blood at the MOTM blood drive and 115 toys and 61 pairs of shoes to the Christian Service Center.
Russ said another added bonus is the connection to the late Jimmy Buffett's upbringing, as he was born in Mississippi and lived in Fairhope and Mobile as a child.
"Gulf Shores and Orange Beach was a special place to Jimmy Buffett and a big part of his upbringing, inspiring his music and lifestyle," Russ said. "Of course there will be economic impact to report, but the things you can't measure are just as important for keeping this special group long-term."