Before traveling to Walker County on Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey was in Birmingham to celebrate a record year for Alabama's tourism industry.An estimated 26.6 million people traveled to Alabama in 2017, …
Before traveling to Walker County on Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey was in Birmingham to celebrate a record year for Alabama's tourism industry.
An estimated 26.6 million people traveled to Alabama in 2017, marking the first time that the state has ever received more than 26 million visitors.
Those visitors spent an estimated $14.3 billion during their stay, approximately $1 billion more than guests who came in 2016.
(Walker County's share of that pie was $66.4 million, up over 12 percent from $59 million in 2016.)
How do Alabama residents benefit from tourism?
Without the more than $879 million in state and local tax revenue generated by the tourism industry, each household in Alabama would have had to pay $467 in additional taxes to maintain current service levels, according to the economic impact report released on Tuesday.
The state of Alabama has gotten a lot of our family's vacation dollars in recent years as we have taken road trips to seven of the state's top 11 paid attractions.
Last year, Wyatt was learning about space in school around the time that NASA officials came to Cordova to celebrate the completion of the SLS Core Stage Pathfinder.
A few weeks later, we took a road trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which hosted more than 786,000 visitors in 2017 and has been the state's most-visited paid attraction for seven years in a row.
In the Davidson Center for Space Exploration (named for Walker County native Julian Davidson), we saw an authentic Saturn V rocket, a moon rock, the Apollo 16 Command Module and a Mobile Quarantine Facility used by Apollo 12 astronauts.
The latter looked like an Airstream trailer and is one of only three in existence.
The crews of Apollo 11, 12 and 14 were kept in these quarantine facility for several weeks after returning to Earth until scientists could determine if they had been exposed to moon germs.
An image of President Richard Nixon talking to Apollo 11 astronauts during their stay in the Airstream is available on NASA's website.
The Apollo 12 unit was believed to have been destroyed by a fire until 2007 when a state conservation official discovered it being used at a fish hatchery in the city of Marion.
Huntsville is also home to the third most-visited paid attraction in the state, the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.
Our family makes a trip to the Gardens each fall to enjoy the Scarecrow Trail, which features dozens of scarecrows and hay bale sculptures decorated by local businesses, school groups, families and nonprofits.
Birmingham has four of the state's most popular attractions — the Birmingham Zoo, McWane Science Center, Barber Vintage Motorsports Park and Vulcan Park and Museum.
If your summer plans will keep you in the state and you're looking for a new place to vacation, the state's tourism department is an excellent resource.
I have used it many times while researching articles or planning our family road trips. I didn't realize how many interesting features the site offered until I started planning our summer vacation and was disappointed in some other states' tourism websites.
At https://alabama.travel, you can check out a list of 80 road trips and more than a dozen tourism trails that encompass a variety of interests.
The state also offers a road trip app as well as separate apps for the state's BBQ and Civil Rights trails and popular "100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama" list.
Whether you stay close to home or hit the open road, I wish you safe travels and a long, relaxing summer.
Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.