A millhouse in northern Alabama

UA Center for Economic Development Boosts Alabama Tourism

Alabama’s biodiversity, history and attractions make it a tourist destination with more than 28.8 million guests spending $23.5 billion in 2023 according to the Alabama Department of Tourism. The University of Alabama Center for Economic Development plays a vital role in attracting guests from around the nation and world to the Yellowhammer State through its Tourism Development Program.

UACED recognizes the importance of arts, culture and history, its preservation, and the strength it has in drawing visitors to the state as immersive tourism. Utilizing nature- and heritage-based tourism as an important economic development strategy, UACED works with Alabama communities to assist them in displaying their assets.

“Tourism is a great economic driver for all communities as it brings new tax dollars to an area,” says Candace Johnson, director of tourism and community development with UACED. “Many of our Alabama communities do not have a dedicated office to tourism development and often UACED helps to fill that gap.

“Through UACED’s decades of building relationships with organizations throughout the state, we can often pair a need with a resource that elevates tourism in a community. Plus, we can offer an outside perspective on what makes our communities special and to help see what we can hang our hat on to become a tourism destination.”

The Gulf State Park overpass in Gulf Shores Alabama
UACED served as a project manager for the $143 million enhancement of Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores.

From Sea to Tennessee

The UACED Tourism Development Program assists communities from the beautiful Gulf Coast to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in elevating their appeal to tourists with numerous interests.

  • UACED served as a project manager for the $143 million enhancement of Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. The project entailed environmental and economic sustainability of the park by adding The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel; learning campus for students from around the world; 16 additional miles of trails for exploring the park; and dune restoration to improve resiliency in the area and rebuild habitat.
  • The Alabama Front Porches website highlights tourist attractions in southwest Alabama. The website offers day trip ideas, restaurants, shopping and more in the state’s Black Belt.
  • UACED supported efforts in applying for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Appalachian Gateway Community Initiative, which was awarded in May. The purpose is to set up the northern region for future funding in preparation to be the Gateway to the Bankhead National Forest.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama
ACED’s Tourism Development Program brings together many organizations to promote tourism for Alabama’s many heritage and historical sites, like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, among others.

Transformational Influence

With tourism playing a prominent part in the state’s overall economy, UACED’s Tourism Development Program brings together the many cultural, heritage, rural, public lands and arts constituencies under the economic development umbrella to unify efforts to promote natural, cultural and heritage tourism. The program’s various projects can be seen in all 67 counties in Alabama.

“UACED has been said to serve as the chamber of commerce for The University of Alabama since we provide outreach and travel the state so often through our various projects,” Johnson said. “This has made us very approachable as we are often in the communities and know the leadership of our cities by name and more importantly, they know ours and feel comfortable reaching out to us for complex projects or just a quick question.

“As much of our state is rural, they often don’t have the funding and or manpower to dedicate to tourism development, so they appreciate us serving as a liaison to those resources that help them accomplish their economic goals.”

two student researchers examine equipment in the analytical research center

The University of Alabama is driving growth, boosting innovation and supporting communities throughout the state of Alabama.