Summer arrived in central Alabama with gas prices topping $ 4.50 a gallon and temperatures surpassing 100 degrees. The $ 50 million whitewater park in downtown Montgomery is still a year away.
None of that is stopping a surge in visitors.
Personal trips, family vacations and school outings buoyed the city during the pandemic, and have continued to rise thanks to youth sports and some of the nation’s top civil rights sites. Now the convention business is returning.
Montgomery lodging tax revenue is up 47% so far in 2022, a rate of growth Mayor Steven Reed described as unprecedented, “despite the challenges of travel.” And he expects it to at least maintain that growth rate through the rest of the year based solely on the number of business conventions that are already booked here.
Ron Simmons expects even more.
“A lot of what you’re seeing right now is leisure travel,” said Simmons, the head of Destination and Community Development for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. He said it’s an army of history buffs, small reunion groups and people seeking to learn more about civil rights who are collectively lifting the tourism scene.
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Bigger things are on the horizon. For instance, an Air Force technology conference in August dovetails with a weekend of high-profile, national HBCU football games. The Air Force summit is back in person this year for the first time since 2019, and it is expected to create demand for thousands of room nights on its own. Tailgating families will be right behind them.
The city is already preparing for the crowds. “We’re able to target specific groups that attend classics and promote the events around it,” Simmons said.
Before the pandemic, Montgomery led all of the state’s major metro areas in hotel occupancy rate. Other areas started recovering sooner, but Montgomery’s room demand is now growing at a rate that outpaces most Alabama cities. It has jumped from 63% occupancy to 69% occupancy in the past year, rising to the state’s third-highest level. And it is still growing fast.
Meanwhile, Simmons said the promise of the Montgomery Whitewater center and other nearby attractions raise the ceiling for the city’s tourism scene in the months and years ahead.
“Something we learned from the pandemic is that tourists want more outdoor activities,” Simmons said. More things to do, especially outdoors, could add up to longer visits.
“If those conferences are here two nights, we can get three or four days from that.… There’s a huge opportunity there.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brad Harper at email@example.com.