County’s spend-the-night company had huge economic impact last year

Published 12:16 am Saturday, March 8, 2014


Travelers spent $37 million and were responsible for 518 jobs last year in Covington County, according to preliminary estimates from the Alabama Tourism Department. The figure represents a 1.9 percent increase in travel spending over the previous year.

And while that number might seem high to some, Kim Jenkins, who manages the Andalusia Holiday Inn Express, wasn’t the least bit surprised.

“We are consistently full,” she said of the hotel. “And our traffic is not just spring break. We are full Monday through Friday, because of corporate travel.”

The local Holiday Inn Express has an 85 percent occupancy rate, which is higher than the industry standard.

“People say, ‘In Andalusia?’,” she said.

“What I can tell you that our corporate is what keeps me full,” she said. “We do have enough corporations and enough travel to keep us busy, and enough leisure to make an additional impact.”

The hotel frequently has guests who are traveling here to work at Shaw, Vector, PowerSouth or Sitel, she said.

But she also has seen a tremendous impact from sporting events in the last five years.

“We also get weddings and reunions and ball teams,” she said. “We do awesome in Andalusia.”

Brian Jones, public relations director for the Alabama Tourism Department, said Auburn University Montgomery works with his department to calculated the economic impact of travel.

“Everything is based on lodging taxes,” he said. “Then from the lodging tax, they have an economic formula they use. You probably get more impact than that from travel, but we don’t count someone as a tourist until they spend the night.”

The formula is based on interviews researchers have done with travelers to determine typical behaviors.

“For instance, if they spend the night, they’re going to eat at least one meal, and some of them will fill up with gas,” Jones said. “Over the course of the year, that really adds up.”

The impact of travel is among the many things the Covington County Economic Development Council considers when working to attract retail.

“This is a key,” CCEDC president Rick Clifton said. “We don’t want a retail addition that just dilutes business from our existing retail. We want a retail addition that adds to our existing retail.”

A perfect example, he said, is Zaxby’s.

People from here will eat there, but those traveling to the coast or on the bypass, who are familiar with it, will stop, too, while they may not stop for other things.”

CCEDC is working to attract businesses to the bypass in Andalusia, Opp, and to add retail that makes people stop in Florala.

“Right now, so many people go right through Florala on Hwy. 331,” he said. “We want to give them something that makes them want to stop.”

At the Department of Tourism, Jones said that sports has a huge impact on travel in the state.

“Sports tournaments bring so many people, and so many families, to events,” he said. “Whether you have a baseball tournament or a softball tournament, bass fishing, whatever kind of area you are. Nobody comes in for one night, families come.”

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