Summer came to central Alabama with gas prices in excess of $4.50 a gallon and temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. The $50 million Whitewater Park in downtown Montgomery will be next year.
None of this stops the flow of visitors.
Personal travel, family vacations and school trips have kept the city alive during the pandemic and have continued to grow thanks to youth sports and some of the nation’s leading civil rights websites. Now the convention business is back.
Montgomery’s housing tax revenue is up 47% in 2022. Mayor Stephen Reed called the growth rate unprecedented “despite travel challenges”. And he expects it to at least maintain that growth rate through the end of the year, based solely on the number of business conventions already booked here.
Ron Simmons expects even more.
“A lot of what you see right now is vacation travel,” said Simmons, 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 eager to learn more about civil rights that are collectively kicking up the tourism scene.
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Big things are on the horizon. For example, the US Air Force Technology Conference in August coincides with a weekend of high-profile HBCU national football games. The BBC Summit is returning this year for the first time since 2019 and is expected to generate demand on its own for thousands of room nights. Tailed families will be right behind them.
The city is already preparing for the crowd. “We can target certain groups that attend the classics and promote events around it,” Simmons said.
Prior to the pandemic, Montgomery led every major metropolitan area in the state in terms of hotel occupancy. Other areas started to recover earlier, but the demand for rooms in Montgomery is now growing at a rate that outpaces most cities in Alabama. It jumped from 63% occupancy to 69% last year, rising to the third highest rate in the state. And it’s still growing fast.
Meanwhile, Simmons said the vistas of the Montgomery Whitewater Center and other nearby attractions are raising the ceiling for the city’s tourist scene in the months and years ahead.
“We learned from the pandemic that tourists want more outdoor activities,” Simmons said. More things to do, especially outdoors, can lead to longer visits.
“If these conferences are here for two nights, we can get three or four days out of it… There’s a huge opportunity there.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser Correspondent Brad Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org.