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When visitors arrive in Huntsville, we expect them to look up in awe under the Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, to stroll through dogwoods and azaleas at the Botanical Garden, or take in one of the many local museums. While these features remain foremost stops for guests, the tourism industry is changing, and Huntsville’s hospitality network is working to stay ahead of the curve.

“The millennial traveler wants new experiences they can’t find at home,” said Neville Bhada, an Atlanta consultant with the Tourism Skills Group. “They’re more active, cost-conscious yet willing to spend money to have fun. They’re also likely to take multiple shorter trips to different destinations instead of a longer vacation.”

Huntsville hosted 3.1 million visitors in 2016

It’s not just millennials who are shaking up the tourism market, according to Bhada, who advises the Huntsville Hospitality Association and Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. While business travel remains strong, Bhada says the business traveler will spend less money per day than the leisure or family traveler. He points to untapped potential in the sports and recreation market, and an uptick in visitors to bike-friendly places, locations with craft breweries and cities with a strong artisanal food scene.

“It boils down to technology and topography,” said Bhada. “Find new ways to capitalize on your assets from NASA to your walking trails and activities in your foothills.”

Travel and tourism signaled a $1.19 billion economic impact to Huntsville

Huntsville’s tourism market continues to grow across all sectors – business, conference, leisure and group travel, according to data provided by Bhada. He believes the area is well-positioned in a regional triangle to draw more leisure tourists from Memphis and Nashville and from Birmingham and Chattanooga.

His advice to Huntsville’s hospitality industry:

  • Vamp it up a little with nice hotel rooms. There’s greater demand for mid-priced to luxury rooms, especially in the downtown area
  • Highlight the City’s unique shopping experiences
  • Boost social media presence – create picture perfect “selfie” photo spots
  • Promote the area’s numerous craft breweries
  • Take a fresh look at operating hours for attractions. Many destinations cut hours during the recession and leisure travelers desire greater access
  • Sports recreation, including tournaments, is a growing market and more recession proof
  • Target family travel. Parents traveling with children spend more money

Areas where Huntsville already excels is our clean, attractive and easily accessible city. These attributes continue to earn top marks in tourism surveys. People are surprised to find such an attractive progressive city in Alabama And, there is that other accolade, our friendliness.

People are surprised to find such a beautiful, progressive city in Alabama, and they routinely remark about how friendly and helpful everyone is, according to Bhada.