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Holiday Magic Pass Offers Discounts to Major Huntsville Holiday Activities

Visitors set their sights on Huntsville as a top destination for family travel, outdoor recreation, space history and – around this time of year – a premier vacation spot for holiday revelry.

To ease the burden for families to enjoy the wide variety of events without breaking the bank, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), in partnership with area attractions, has released a holiday events coupon sheet providing discounts to six major holiday offerings in the Rocket City.

The free Huntsville Holiday Magic Pass is available online at huntsville.org and at the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center.  The Visitor Center is at 500 Church Street in downtown Huntsville and is open seven days a week. The Huntsville Holiday Magic Coupon Sheet is available to visitors and residents of Madison County.

“Although COVID-19 has affected travel and the way people are able to gather this year, Christmas is not cancelled in the Rocket City,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Our partners are working hard to ensure guest experiences remain as safe as possible, while still keeping the magic of the season alive.

“We’re especially encouraging our locals – many of whom will be staying in town for the holidays – to get out and support these events happening right in their own backyard.”

The Huntsville Holiday Magic Pass features the following discounts:

  • $2 off admission to the Huntsville Museum of Art’s Skating in the Park
  • $2 off admission to Skate with Santa or a Winter Wonderland Skate at the Benton H. Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex
  • 25 percent off general admission to see Burritt on the Mountain decked out for the holidays
  • $3 off any show at the Intuitive Planetarium or general admission to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
  • 10 percent off one store item at Harrison Brothers Hardware (excluding sale and consignment), plus free tour
  • 10 percent off the drive-through light show at the Rocket City Christmas Spectacular at Toyota Field

 To redeem the coupons, guests can either present the coupon or show the digital version on their mobile device, available online at huntsville.org/hsvmagic. Additional information on Huntsville holiday events including dates, operating hours, etc., can also be found on the Holiday Magic  page.

Huntsville Brings Home Top Peak Awards from Alabama Mountain Lakes Association

 

GADSDEN — After taking it on the chin for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Alabama’s $3 billion tourism industry found plenty of good reasons to celebrate at the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association’s 2020 PEAK Awards.

Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (left); and Jennifer Moore, vice president of Tourism for the Convention & Visitors Bureau (right); with award winners Pete Doyle, general manager of the Holiday Inn Research Park; and Marie Bostick, executive director of the Land Trust of North Alabama. (Photo/John Dersham)

Presented as part of the AMLA Annual Meeting in Gadsden, the awards recognized 11 North Alabama hospitality industry professionals and venues for their leadership despite extraordinary challenges that threatened to devastate the North Alabama tourism industry.

Five of the 11 awards went to venues based in Huntsville – including one of three President’s Awards.

Jana Kuner, public relations and customer service manager at Huntsville International Airport, received a President’s Award, presented to any person or organization whose tourism-related project created awareness or presented a positive image for North Alabama in the past year. Kuner’s role in helping stop a human trafficking incident at the airport this year earned her the recognition.

“We were honored to receive the President’s Award from Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism this year,” said Kuner. “Even more than that, we are pleased to be able to shed more light on human trafficking and to hopefully be able to continue to make a difference by keeping our passengers safe.”

“The Peak Awards showcase the work, service, creativity and contributions of those who are leading the way in the North Alabama tourism industry,” said Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association President/CEO Tami Reist. “With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, it has been and continues to be a challenging year for the tourism industry. This year’s winners have demonstrated a commitment … to showcase the best of North Alabama during these unprecedented times. It is a well-deserved win for each of the recipients.”

Awarded Organization of the Year, the Land Trust of North Alabama was recognized for opening its eighth nature preserve – Bethel Spring Nature Preserve in February, offering new trails for the community and visitors to explore.

“Land Trust of North Alabama was thrilled to be recognized by Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association as Organization of the Year,” said Marie Bostick, the Land Trust’s Executive Director. “North Alabama has a wealth of natural beauty and throughout this unusual and challenging year we were reminded how beneficial and rejuvenating those spaces can be.”

The Apollo 50th Anniversary Celebration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, a multimonth series of events that culminated the week of the Apollo 11 mission was named Event of the Year.

“We are honored the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association selected the Apollo 50th Anniversary Celebration for its event of the year award,” said Pat Ammons, senior director of communications for the center. “Two years of planning went into the events that brought people from all over the world to Huntsville to celebrate Alabama’s role in putting Americans on the moon.

“It was thrilling to be able to share those accomplishments with so many.”

Pete Doyle, general manager of the Holiday Inn Research Park, brought home the Tourism Professional of the Year award. (Photo/John Dersham)

Pete Doyle, general manager of the Holiday Inn Research Park, an anchor in Huntsville’s MidCity development, brought home the Tourism Professional of the Year award. He moved to Huntsville from Nashville in 1990 to manage the former Holiday Inn Space Center on University Drive and took the helm at the larger Research Park property in 2000. He led the 195-room hotel property through a newly completed $4.5 million renovation.

He is past president of the Huntsville Lodging Association and the Huntsville/Madison County Hospitality Association and serves on the City of Huntsville Lodging Recruitment Committee.

“I am quite honored to be recognized in an industry that has been my life is very humbling and appreciated,” Doyle said. “In over 30 years of work here in Huntsville, I have witnessed massive growth to our community that seems at warp speed now. That makes it a very exciting time and it has always been my pleasure to assist and give my input when asked by either our Convention and Visitors Bureau, Von Braun Center, Chamber of Commerce or City Hall to improve our stature.”

Zenovia Stephens, center, of Black Adventure Crew was named Top North Alabama Ambassador of the Year. (Photo/John Dersham)

Zenovia Stephens of Black Adventure Crew was named Top North Alabama Ambassador of the Year. Originally from Chicago, Zenovia and her husband’s love for exploring North Alabama with their sons and finding creative ways to be adventurous at home, have her active in the community. She serves as a board member for Chaffee Elementary School PTA and a volunteer at the Southeast YMCA.

“I’m honored that my work in promoting the adventure and beauty of Alabama, and the need to diversify the great outdoors has been recognized,” Stephens said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to showcase all our state and lead in helping to change the outdoors narrative.”

AMLA is dedicated to the promotion and development of the travel industry in the 16 counties that make up the North Alabama tourism region. The membership consists of chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, attractions, campgrounds, festivals, communities, counties, golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, vendors, financial institutions, and individuals.

Other winners were Decatur’s Cook Museum of Natural Science chosen as Attraction of the Year; Philip Formby, operations director for the Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheatre, won the Good Neighbor Award; and Haley Newton, facilities operator for Joe Wheeler State Park, won the Northern Star Award.

Maryanne Floyd, communications director for Decatur Morgan County Tourism, was named Young Professional of the Year; the Lasting Impression Award went to Scotty Kennedy, curator of the Red Bay Museum; and the Chairman’s Cup went to Fred Hunter of Absolutely Alabama.

There were two additional President’s Award winners: Hilda Smith, director of sales and events for the Hampton Inn by Hilton in Winfield, and Mindy Hanan, president/CEO of the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

(Top photo: Jana Kuner, public relations and customer service manager at Huntsville International Airport, receives a President’s Award from the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association. Photo by John Dersham)

Visitors Bureau Launches Online Rocket City Shop

Snagging your own piece of the Rocket City is now easier than ever, with the recent launch of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s online store. The online shopping site – “Rocket City Shop” – offers a selection of branded Huntsville and Madison face masks, with plans to expand to other merchandise.

“We’re aiming for the online store to be a smaller extension of our physical gift shop at the Downtown Visitor Center,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Our products in the gift shop are quite popular, especially with out of town guests who are seeking unique Huntsville souvenirs. As the travel and tourism agency for Huntsville/Madison County, our ultimate goal is to make people aware of Huntsville as a destination, and city-branded merchandise is a part of that.

“If someone wants to represent the Rocket City, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so, regardless of where they’re based.”

The decision to launch the online store was spurred by the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has made us get more creative with how we get our brand out to the public, especially with the temporary Visitor Center closure earlier in the year and more people wanting to buy online instead of in person,” said Kristen Pepper, Director of Marketing for the CVB. “We want people to stay safe and socially distant, while also getting the Huntsville name out there, so the online shop is the perfect solution.”

The shop’s top-selling item by far has been the Keep Your Space Huntsville face mask. Within the first week of the online launch, almost 1,000 of the specially-designed masks had been ordered, originating from 23 states across the U.S.

For now, the Rocket City Shop is limited to face masks, but the CVB plans to roll out additional products like Huntsville-branded slap koozies, magnets, and other gifts in the coming weeks.

A wide selection of products can also be found in the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center’s physical gift shop, including short and long-sleeved t-shirts, books, mugs, and more. The majority of the gift shop’s products are produced in Madison County or designed by a Huntsville/Madison County-based craftsman.

Visit the Rocket City Shop online at www.rocketcityshop.org, or stop by the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center gift shop at 500 Church Street; the hours are Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., and  Sundays from noon to 3 p.m.

Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center Reopening June 19

After being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center will reopen June 19.

New health and sanitization protocols will be implemented for visitors and staff. Highlights of the new protocols include:

  • All Visitor Center staff will wear protective face masks.
  • Curbside service – visitors may call the Visitor Center to request brochures be brought out to their vehicle.
  • Entry/exit – guests will enter only through the front doors facing Church Street, and exit through the Cleveland Street side doors.
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be installed near entrances, elevators, bathrooms, and other areas throughout the facility.
  • All “touch” surfaces will be cleaned thoroughly each morning with disinfectant wipes (counters, light switches, door handles, bathroom counters, handrails, etc.).
  • The front counter will be wiped after each customer service interaction and every hour throughout the day.
  • Benches/furniture will be removed or spaced appropriately to allow for at least six feet between seating locations.
  • Signs and floor markers will be located throughout the facility to mark social distancing of at least six feet.
  • Disinfecting wipes will be made available for visitors.
  • The #RocketCitySelfie station and digital guest sign-in kiosk will be removed until further notice.

Huntsville/Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau officials hope the increased safety measures will inspire confidence in visitors, quickening the recovery process for the local travel and hospitality industry.

“We’re looking forward to the return to travel, but we also understand that reopening needs to be done cautiously and with strict adherence to the health guidelines recommended by the CDC and our public health officials,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB. “The more our visitors see us doing our part to keep them safe, the more comfortable they’ll feel in slowly getting out to local restaurants, hotels, museums, and other venues.

“Reopening our local travel economy will be a process, and it starts with us.”

The visitor center hours will be 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and noon – 3 p.m. on Sundays. The visitor kiosk at the Huntsville International Airport will remain closed until further notice.

Information on reopening announcements and travel-related health protocols from Huntsville tourism partners can be found on the CVB’s digital reopening guide and COVID-19 resource page.

 

Tourism/Travel Creates Record-Setting $1.4B Economic Impact Here

The Huntsville-Madison County area continues to be a major tourism and travel attraction with 2018 setting another record.

According to figures released by the Huntsville/Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Alabama Tourism Department, the economic impact of travel and tourism to Madison County reached its highest levels ever.

About 3.4 million people visited Madison County last year, supporting more than 17,200 jobs and creating an economic impact of $1.4 billion – a 7.6 percent increase in spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transportation.

“Travel and tourism in Madison County is thriving,” said CVB President/CEO Judy Ryals. “More people
than ever are coming to see all the amazing things we have to offer as a community; they’re experiencing our arts scene and our incredible dining options, they’re witnessing first-hand how Huntsville built the U.S. space program and sent man to the moon. One
thing is for sure – once people visit Huntsville, we know they’ll be back. We are proud of how the travel and tourism industry supports local jobs, and we are honored to create a better quality of life for locals and our visitors.”

This year is also expected to be record-setting with celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing and the state bicentennial on tap.

The moon landing anniversary has garnered international media attention for Huntsville, landing the city a spot in The New York Times’ coveted “52 Places to Go in 2019” list.

Huntsville’s Magic Number for Downtown Hotel Rooms is 1,000

The newest edition to Huntsville’s skyline is only one of many new hotels planned for downtown.

City planners don’t plan to stop until they reach 1,000. Not the number of hotels, obviously, but the number of hotel rooms available in the center of the city for highly-attended events.

The AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown, a Marriott property, is open for business and joins the Embassy Suites as two hotels overlooking Big Spring Park. AC Hotel is on the corner of Williams Avenue and Monroe Street and will anchor the mixed-use City Centre development.

The six-story building, which has 120 rooms, will eventually be joined by other hotels as part of the vast growth of business in the downtown area.

“It’s been a goal to get to 1,000 rooms,” Downtown Huntsville Inc. CEO Chad Emerson said. “It’s not necessarily about the number of hotels but the number of rooms.”

Construction will begin in the fall for a seven-floor Hampton Inn and Suites at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Monroe Street. The site is next to the garage that serves the Von Braun Center and is used for event parking.

One more hotel is in the planning stages and, like the Embassy Suites, AC Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites, will be within a one-mile radius of the VBC. Curio by Hilton is slated for Jefferson Street near the Courthouse Square and an Autograph Collection boutique hotel by Marriott adjacent to Big Spring Park and PNC bank is planned.

And city planners aren’t stopping with the addition of these hotels.

“There have been three new hotels announced,” Emerson said, “and there are some that have not been announced.”

As the makeover of downtown Huntsville continues and expands, two new franchises are getting ready to open.

The Poppy is a traditional English pub on the North Side Square and held its grand opening Monday.

The Mercantile, in space formerly occupied by Crossroads Music Hall at 115 Clinton Avenue, is an entertainment and private party venue. The Mercantile will host its first musical acts July 3 with local rockers Rob Aldridge and the Proponents opening.

“We’re actively engaged in in the booking process,’’ co-owner David Clarke said of The Mercantile. “We’ve got quite a few bands booked.’’

Clarke said he and his partners at PBG Holdings want to provide a unique experience with the two new sites. They’re also bringing Arsenal Coffee food truck to the exploding downtown scene.

“We’re paying attention to details and trying to create a destination at The Mercantile,’’ Clarke said. “We want the people of Huntsville to come but also have people coming from Nashville, Birmingham.’’

Emerson is confident the new businesses will attract visitors.

“The Mercantile and The Poppy will bring unique new retail options to downtown Huntsville,’’ he said. “Both add another interesting and creative destination to our city center.’’

The AC Hotel by Marriott recently opened as part of the CityCentre development in downtown Huntsville. It’s the first of its kind in Alabama by Marriott and features 120 rooms and six levels. The hotel is one of two planned for CityCentre and another two have been proposed within the vicinity of the Von Braun Center.

Convention & Visitors Bureau names Koshofer VP, makes 2 other hires

Jamie Koshofer, former director of sales and marketing at the Westin Huntsville, has been named vice president of conventions by the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The CVB also made a pair of other hires. Beth Ridgeway is the social media specialist and Mark McCarter was named convention sales manager.

Koshofer will oversee the CVB’s conventions department, which works to promote Huntsville/Madison County as a premier destination for meetings, conferences, tradeshows, and other events. The conventions team services a wide variety of markets, including government/military, sports, education, family reunions, religious, corporate, and multi-cultural groups.

Ridgeway is the first social media specialist for the CVB, expanding the bureau’s marketing department to three full-time staffers.

McCarter is responsible for the sports, fraternal and education markets in the convention industry.

 

Alabama State Games are gold for Huntsville

 

Thousands of athletes are racing to the Rocket City this weekend for a chance to win gold.

Meanwhile, Huntsville stands to reap some gold of its own – or green – through the economic impact from the  Alabama State Games XXXVI.

The city is hosting more than 5,000 athletes competing in 25 sports throughout the Huntsville-Madison County area in the state’s version of the Olympics.

“This is the largest State Games in the number of sports,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Vistors Bureau. “It will bring a $1.5 million economic impact and is a showcase for Huntsville’s venues.” 

The 36th annual event was also known as the Alabama Sports Festival when it was created and through its first few years.

“The Alabama State Games created a ‘sports festival,’ ” said Anthony Terling, vice president of external affairs for the ASF Foundation. “There are 25 sports and it’s not just a youth games. There is competition for adults, seniors and Miracle League.

“All types of individuals can compete.”

Some sports have on-site registration while team sports have already registered. For information, visit asffoundation.org/alabama-state-games and www.alagames.com.

Also, it’s not only about sports, Terling said. “We’ve given away $300,000 in scholarships.”

Huntsville is hosting for the first time since 2003-04 and will play host this year and next, with an option for a third year.

Ryals said it took teamwork by state, county and city officials to bring the games back to Huntsville, after Dothan hosted last year.

“Sen. Arthur Orr asked why we can’t have the Games,” Ryals said. “So, Mayor (Tommy) Battle and (Madison County) Chairman Dale Strong came to me and said ‘Let’s make it happen.’

“The whole team at the CVB, Huntsville Sports Commission, Parks and Recreation did make it happen. The city and county school systems offered their assistance, too.”

The State Games start Friday with Opening Ceremonies at the Von Braun Center. The ceremonies begin at 7 p.m. and are open to the public. They will also be televised statewide over Alabama Public Television.

“The Opening Ceremonies are going to be spectacular,” Ryals said. “The athletes will march in and we will be honoring first responders.

“It’s really nice to honor that group and give them recognition.”

https://www.asffoundation.org/alabama-state-games

Venue Map and Schedule

Travel industry sets record in Madison County

Visitors to Madison County provided a nearly $1.3 billion economic impact in 2016, according to figures released Wednesday by the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Alabama Tourism Department.

It was the highest level ever for the county as travel and tourism provided more than 16,400 jobs. It was a 9.2 percent increase in spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transportation, according to the figures provided by the state.

“Travel and tourism to Madison County is big business,” CVB President/CEO Judy Ryals said. “It directly impacts the pocketbooks of local residents, and we’re excited to release this information, especially since 2017 was yet another record-breaking year for economic impact.

“We are proud of how the travel and tourism industry supports local jobs, and we are honored to serve the roughly 3.1 million visitors that traveled to Huntsville/Madison County over the past year.”

Statewide, the travel industry grew by $1 billion in 2017 to a record of $14.3 billion in expenditures, and increased jobs by 7,399 to some 186,906 employees, Gov. Kay Ivey announced. She said that the industry grew by 7 percent and attracted an additional 810,000 visitors to top 26 million guests for the first time.