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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.

Area Tourism, Conventions are Looking to Rebound in Wake of Pandemic

Tourism has taken a hit in the Tennessee Valley as the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted daily activities across the nation as well as globally.

The good news is some of the impact will not be long-lasting.

For example, the United States Tennis Association’s girls clay court championships that were held here for the first time in 2019 was canceled this year but will return to the Huntsville Tennis Center in 2021-24.

That’s an economic loss of around $175,000.

“The good news is they were so happy with the way it went last year the USTA awarded it to Huntsville through 2024,’’ said Mark McCarter, sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“We’ve been through months of cancelations. The focus now is on how do we get the business back. We got lucky in that a lot of things that were canceled this year were annual events. You hate to lose it for sure, and it’s had an impact, but it’s people who have a history here and they’re coming back next year.’’

In March, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) canceled its 2020 Global Force Symposium and Exposition, which is one of the largest conferences Huntsville hosts annually. It brings over 6,000 attendees and represents an estimated $3.6 million in economic impact.

 “We understand AUSA’s desire to prioritize the health and safety of their delegates, and look forward to welcoming them in 2021, said Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Judy Ryals. “Going forward, the CVB will continue to work with our hospitality partners and public health officials to ensure that the health and safety of our visitors remains a top priority.

“Supporting our local hospitality industry is also of utmost importance – as travel is impacted, we encourage our residents to explore their own backyard and be patrons to our Huntsville/Madison County restaurants, attractions, hotels, and others.” 

Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions for the CVB, has worked closely with AUSA over the past year.

“AUSA has long been a close partner of the CVB, and we will continue to provide support for them in all ways that we can,’’ Koshofer said. “2021 is right around the corner, and we look forward to bringing that business back to the Rocket City.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said, “The City of Huntsville has developed a great partnership with AUSA over the past several years. While we share in the disappointment of the community, we respect their decision to make the health of AUSA members, participants, and our citizens a top priority. We will continue to work with them and look forward to seeing AUSA in Huntsville in the coming years.”

Kristen Pepper, marketing director for the CVB, said the AUSA was one of three large conferences that were planned for spring that had to cancel. 

“Obviously the tourism and hospitality industry has been hit pretty hard, especially compared to other industries,’’ she said. “I know just from talking to our hotel partners we’re starting to be on the upswing now.’’

Pepper said local hotels were operating at about 10 percent occupancy during spring at a time where 80-90 percent is the norm. Now, she said, hotels are reporting closer to 50 percent occupancy.

She also said conventions moving forward are “wait-and-see.’’

“Everyone’s kind of playing it by ear,’’ she said. “We have some conferences that as of now you know they’re moving forward for fall and winter 2020. Some have canceled. It’s very dependent on the meeting planners and kind of the general makeup of their attendees. A lot of the conventions that have an older demographic we’re seeing them be a little bit more cautious, but conferences that maybe have a little bit of a smaller headcount or maybe a different age makeup they might feel comfortable continuing for later this year.’’

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.

 

2019 ‘Banner Year’ for Huntsville/Madison County Tourism

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been given quite a reason to celebrate.

According to the 2019 economic impact report recently released by the Alabama Tourism Department, the Huntsville and Madison County area achieved the state’s highest percentage increase in travel and tourism revenue over the past year, reaching $1.62 billion in sales.

The area also secured the number two spot in county visitation rankings, bringing in roughly 3.7 million visitors and leap-frogging fellow Alabama tourism hot spots Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery.

2019 saw the economic impact of travel and tourism to Madison County reaching its highest levels ever, providing nearly 19,000 jobs, and saving residents roughly $925 in taxes as a result of travel expenditures.

These figures represent a 15.2 percent increase in traveler spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transportation.

In addition to the explosive growth the city has seen over the past year, the CVB attributed much of the 2019 increase to the successful efforts of partners such as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Alabama Bicentennial Commission in promoting two key events for Huntsville – the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Alabama bicentennial. Celebrations around these anniversaries were major tourism drivers for the area.

“2019 was truly a banner year for the Rocket City,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “Not only did Huntsville continue to see growth in our hotel, dining, and entertainment options, but so many of our community partners rallied together to offer top-caliber events and programming around two nationally significant events – the Apollo 11 50th anniversary and our state bicentennial.

“It’s not every year that we get to enjoy such a global spotlight on our city. We worked hard and leveraged that attention to the best of our abilities, and it’s wonderful to see the return on those efforts.”

Sports Tournaments over Weekend Generate $1.7 Million Economic Impact in Huntsville

Huntsville isn’t just a high-tech town known for helping put man on the moon.

It’s also a magnet for competitive sports tournaments that attract thousands of visitors and produce millions of dollars each year in the community. In fact, the Southeastern Short Course Championships and NASA Volleyball Bash this past weekend had an economic impact of more than $1.7 million in Huntsville alone, the city announced in a news release.

With more than 25 sporting events scheduled for 2020, the Huntsville Sports Commission reports an economic impact of over $2 million already this year in Huntsville. Sports Commission Executive Director Ralph Stone said this past weekend was a great example of Huntsville’s potential in the sports tourism industry.

“It was a great weekend for sports business in Huntsville,” he said. “With a combined economic impact of over $1.7 million for the City, it goes to show why the Huntsville Sports Commission does what we do.”

Below are main specs from both tournaments over the Feb. 21-23 weekend:

Southeastern Short Course Championships

  • Host: Huntsville Swim Association
  • Total Economic Impact: $870,312
  • Participants: 945
  • Daily Spectators: 1,890
  • Room Nights: 2,044

NASA Volleyball Bash

  • Host: NASA Volleyball Club
  • Total Economic Impact: $855,672
  • Participants: 1,704
  • Daily Spectators: 2,500
  • Room Nights: 1,864

Nancy Rickmeyer, tournament director for NASA Volleyball Bash, said this year’s event at the Von Braun Center was one of its best competitions yet. Downtown Huntsville was also a key factor in making the event so successful, she said.

“Downtown Huntsville has more opportunities than ever for dining, shopping and activities close to the VBC for all participants,” she said.

The Southeastern Short Course Championships also went well, thanks to partnerships within the community, according to Huntsville Swim Association Head Coach Matt Webber.

“The Southeastern championship meet is as well run a meet as you will find in the country,” he said. “The support we receive from the City of Huntsville, Huntsville Sports Commission and Huntsville Parks and Recreation Department is unmatched in terms of contributing to successful competitions.”

A recent study by WinterGreen Research estimates the youth sports industry is a $19.2 billion market in the U.S., rivaling the size of the $15 billion NFL. As traveling sports teams grow in popularity, that figure jumps to $24.9 billion worldwide.

Judy Ryals, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Southeastern Short Course Championships and NASA Volleyball Bash demonstrated the critical role sports tourism plays in Huntsville’s economy.

“It’s evident in the past weekend’s events and in others like the inaugural Huntsville Championship professional golf tournament in April and the U.S. Tennis Association’s national championship for 16-and-under girls this July, and so many other competitions,” she said. “It’s a testament to the excellent facilities and the city leadership in recognizing the benefit of sports to our community.”

Governor’s Conference on Tourism Coming to Huntsville

Elected officials and tourism leaders throughout the state will gather in Huntsville for the 2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The conference, which is Aug. 17-20 at the Von Braun Center, brings the state’s travel and tourism industry together for professional development, networking, and collaboration on strategies to promote Alabama as a premier travel destination.

Approximately 200-250 guests, including representatives from statewide attractions, hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, marketing firms, and other hospitality workers, are expected to be in attendance.

“The conference not only gives Alabama travel professionals the opportunity to learn from experts in tourism and marketing, but to also raise money for in-state college scholarships and reward hard work through industry awards,” said Patti Culp, CEO for the Alabama Travel Council.

Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the city is excited about the conference.

“2019 is such a hallmark year for our city as we celebrate the state bicentennial, the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, new dining, retail, and entertainment developments, and so much more; this is perfect timing to welcome our tourism partners to see the growth happening in Huntsville and experience everything we have to offer as a destination,” Ryals said. “We look forward to the opportunity to showcase our community’s progress to industry leaders and highlight why Huntsville/Madison County is a key asset in the state’s tourism offerings.”

In 2018, the travel and tourism industry, which includes leisure and meeting visitors, was responsible for more than 17,000 jobs in Madison County. The 3.4 million visitors also pumped a record-breaking $1.4 billion into the local economy.

While in Huntsville, the visitors will attend receptions at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Campus No. 805 and , Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park & Museum; play a round of golf at Robert Trent Jones – Hampton Cove; and tour the Huntsville Botanical Garden and downtown.

 

Good Eatin’ Ahead as Huntsville Restaurant Week Kicks Off

Some tasty offerings during the Huntsville Restaurant Week press conference at Stovehouse. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Guests were met with the delicious aroma of roasting garlic and were served complimentary spicy veal meatballs and seafood Fritto Misto from Mozzara’s Italian Kitchen at the Stovehouse during the official kickoff for the eighth annual Huntsville Restaurant Week, Aug. 9-18.

Mayor Tommy Battle laughed that Restaurant Week is 52 weeks a year at the Battle house as he and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau in highlighting the culinary events ahead.

“As Huntsville grows, so does our local dining scene, and we’re excited to have so much to offer to visitors,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, “There are culinary experiences in Huntsville that can’t be found anywhere else: from dining under the National Historic Landmark Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Biergarten, to the one-of-a-kind settings at venues such as Campus No. 805, Stovehouse, MidCity, and so many others.

Judy Ryals

“Huntsville is truly a destination that attracts visitors seeking unique dining and travel experiences.”

More than 50 local eateries and breweries will participate in “ten tasty days of deals” beginning Friday to encourage people to try some of the new cuisine that has come to Huntsville in the past couple of years. Straight to Ale, Old Black Bear, and InnerSpace breweries are also participating with specialty Restaurant Week craft beers.

“As the coordinator of Huntsville Restaurant Week, it has been my pleasure to see this promotion grow,” said Pam Williams, Tourism & Education sales manager for the CVB. “Each year it is surprising to see how many new places have joined the Madison County culinary scene, and 2019 is no different.

Pam Williams

“Ultimately, the CVB’s goal for Restaurant Week is to showcase the Madison County dining scene to visitors, and to remind locals to try something new.”

Patrons will find lunch specials featuring two courses at fixed prices of $10 and $15; with three-course dinner specials in the $10, $20, $30, and $40 range. Restaurants can choose one or any combination of those specials and offer other specials beyond these categories.

The event also features a special “Bonus Bites” category for establishments that do not offer a traditional lunch or dinner, but offer breakfast, desserts, appetizers, or small bites exclusively.

At Stovehouse in Huntsville, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, left, and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle encourage visitors to take in the best food the area has to offer during Restaurant Week. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The CVB has partnered with OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation platform and the official online reservations provider for Huntsville Restaurant Week. With just a few clicks, patrons can view all participating restaurants and secure a reservation.

The CVB’s #iHeartHsv blog will feature dedicated food and beverage content throughout the month in hopes of attracting “foodie” visitors from out of town.

For information on the events of Huntsville Restaurant Week, visit huntsville.org/events/restaurant-week/.

Bon appetit Madison County! There’s some good eatin’ ahead!

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.

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.