As Memorial Day weekend approaches and more people are vaccinated, setting out on that long-awaited, long-overdue vacation sits atop many Americans’ to-do list.
The proof is in the data – the U.S. Travel Association reports more than 7 in 10 Americans (72%) are planning a summer vacation or getaway, up from 37% in 2020. This is all great news for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), the official travel and tourism agency for Huntsville, Madison and Madison County.
“After the past year, people are ready to travel more than ever,” said Judy Ryals, president/CEO of the CVB. “And we are ready to welcome them – more than ever.”
Travel by the numbers
Reflecting national trends, travel to the Rocket City is up as well. In April 2021, the Huntsville International Airport serviced more than 60,000 passengers – not quite the level of pre-pandemic traffic, but a positive trend nonetheless. Lodging is also on the rise with Huntsville and Madison hotels reporting 73% occupancy in April.
“2019 was such a record-breaking year for tourism to Huntsville that it will be a challenge to rise to those levels again, but I know we will,” Ryals said. “Right now, all of the ‘vital signs’ of our industry – hotel occupancy, airport traffic, attraction visitation, convention attendance and others – are trending positively, so we feel certain there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
According to the Alabama Tourism Department’s 2020 economic impact report, Madison County was the third most-visited county in the state last year, bringing in roughly 2.8 million visitors. Although visitors are the focus of the CVB’s mission, Huntsville locals benefit the most from these efforts.
Hospitality supports more than 14,700 area jobs, and residents save upward of $700 in taxes annually as a result of the $1.2 billion in economic impact pumped into the community by visitors.
When it comes to attractions, Huntsville hits the top of the list there, too. According to the Alabama Tourism Department, Huntsville had the state’s first, second, fourth and ninth most-attended, paid attractions for 2020: the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (part of which runs through the city at Hampton Cove), U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville Botanical Garden and Huntsville Museum of Art, respectively.
If you’re looking to scratch the travel itch but are still hesitant about straying far from home, you might consider a “staycation.” With more entertainment, dining and recreation options than ever before, now is the perfect time for locals to explore their own backyard. Huntsville has options for almost every interest, whether you’re into music, art, the outdoors or food. Even if you’ve lived here your entire life, new experiences abound.
Memberships to local attractions and museums are a great way to enjoy a staycation throughout the year. Several Huntsville museums like the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville Botanical Garden, Burritt on the Mountain and others offer affordable membership options for individuals or families. Many also offer benefits like early bird ticket access to special events, VIP experiences, discounts to gift shop merchandise and more.
Looking to the future
So, what’s to come for tourism in Huntsville? From the CVB’s perspective, the future looks bright.
“It would be an understatement to say there’s a bit of progress happening in the Rocket City,” Ryals said. “Everywhere you turn, there’s construction underway – you could easily joke and say that cranes are the new City skyline, but this is all a great sign of growth. Within a few years, all of these projects will be contributing to not only the local quality of life, but to our visitors’ experiences as well.”
From new boutique hotels to the much-anticipated Huntsville Amphitheater to an ever-increasing array of dining, retail and entertainment options, Huntsville is quickly becoming a world-class, must-see destination.
To put it in the terms of a space-centric city, you might say Huntsville is a go for re-entry – and the CVB looks forward to welcoming explorers of all types.