Friday, May 25, 2007

Big Season Anticipated at Gulf Shores Beaches

Published by Mobile Press Register
Friday, May 25, 2007
By RYAN DEZEMBERStaff Reporter

GULF SHORES -- Will high gas prices keep visitors from flocking to Alabama's beaches this weekend for what is traditionally the start of the summer tourist season? No way, tourism officials said.
Lingering doubts about the state of the beach in the wake of the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 have done more to deter vacationers over the past two summers than high fuel prices, they said. With a lack of storms last year, officials expect this season to top the beach's banner year of 2004.
"We think it's going to be
the best summer ever," Gulf Shores Mayor G.W. "Billy" Duke III said. "We think it's going to set all records."
Strong advance bookings at area condos and hotels combined with good weather -- highs in the 80s with little chance of rain -- a slate of big events and millions spent on marketing have locals expecting one of the busiest summer kickoffs ever.
"I'm not seeing any downturn because of gas," said Marie Curren of the real estate conglomerate Brett/Robinson. "I think if you're coming down to spend a few thousand dollars, $30 is not going to make you cancel."
Curren said her firm has the weekend booked for all but a few of the 1,929 hotel rooms and condos it manages.
"We're turning away people for Memorial Day because we don't have any rooms left," she said late Wednesday. "We're at about 98 percent occupancy, which is about as high as we can go."
Meyer Real Estate of Gulf Shores, which manages more than 2,000 condos and some 300 beach houses, has had to forgo the standard Saturday-to-Saturday weekly rental requirement in order to accommodate the droves of customers who want to spend the holiday on Baldwin's beaches, corporate relations director Sarah Kuzma said. She advised anyone looking to make a late reservation to call ahead. "We're down to just a handful."
Across Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said he expects a flock of visitors this weekend drawn by new rental units, the town's public boat launch and, of course, the beach.
"It's already been busy before the holiday weekend," Collier said Thursday afternoon. "The public beach has been running over with people."
Like Curren and Kuzma, others in coastal Alabama's tourism trade don't see prices at the pump, which floated above $3 per gallon this week, threatening business since most of the area's visitors come from within a 1,000-mile radius. At 20 miles per gallon, an additional 50 cents per gallon on a 2,000-mile round trip would add $50 to the cost.
A family could make that up by staying in for dinner one night or scrimping in another way, said Herb Malone, president of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Visitors Bureau data show that while fewer tourists traveled to south Baldwin County last summer than in 2004, those who did come -- about 505,000 -- collectively spent nearly $3 million more than the 543,000 tourists of 2004.
An event-filled holiday weekend should help Baldwin maintain the banner-year pace it set this spring. The events include:
The Mobile Big Game Fishing Club's annual Memorial Day Tournament in Orange Beach.
LuLuPalooza, a free daylong concert Saturday at Lucy Buffett's LuLu's at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores, headlining the Wes Loper Band and Mac McAnally.
Hank Williams Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd in Orange Beach on Saturday night at The Wharf's 10,200-seat amphitheater.
"It looks like it will be a sellout, but we hope that there will be a few walk-up tickets so people won't be disappointed," The Wharf's Beason Wilkes said. "We're just totally excited because traffic has been surging all week long and we can see that summer season is upon us."


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