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Sour times in economy send tourists this way

Officials with the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel announced Thursday that tourism spending in Alabama for fiscal year 2003 was a record $6.8 billion.

The Black Belt area has an abundance of historical sites and potential tourist attractions.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, "families are traveling together," said Judy Martin, who works with Congressman Artur Davis in his Tuscaloosa office. "They’re traveling more by car. They’re doing small regional trips. This has brought a boom to the Southeastern part of the U.S.

Eleanor Cunningham, director of the Magnolia Grove house museum in Greensboro, said visitors had increased to that historic home in the last year. The recent Harvest Festival, held in conjunction with the Gaineswood house museum in Demopolis, featured "a great turnout."

The emphasis on educational programs and a lecture series has also

brought more people to Magnolia Grove, Cunningham said.

The increase in tourism dollars is also a result of state officials putting more emphasis on the industry, Mock said. In rural areas such as the Black Belt it has been difficult to attract industry. "One means of economic development for these rural areas is to grow their own jobs and tourism," he said. "Tourism is one of those economic engines that doesn’t require a lot of input. Either you’ve got sites or you don’t. If you have them, let people become aware of them."

Mock is also the secretary/treasurer of the West Alabama Regional Alliance. The alliance is made up of representatives from Marengo, Sumter, Hale, Greene and Perry Counties.

The regional alliance is in its third year, and the tourism group within the alliance has been the most active component. A regional brochure as well as a web site (on line December 15) will be introduced soon. There will also be a 800 line for information about the five counties.

Officials in the Black Belt are learning to work together to attract more visitors. "They’re learning that we’ve got to have teamwork…and we need a central coordinating unit," Martin said.