For a third consecutive year, the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have reached record tourism numbers.
The Gulf Shores and Orange beach area ended 2013 with a lodging revenue of $343 million growing by 5.9 percent, and a retail sale of $683 million dollars, increasing by 6.5 percent from the previous year.
Since 1999, nearly 9,000 lodging rooms have been added to Pleasure Island. Officials attribute that growth to a number of investments by the cities since the harsh impact of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, including the large interest in sports tourism, the Hangout Music Festival, and good old southern hospitality.
Thursday, FOX10 caught up with city officials about the big concentration on sports tourism.
Orange Beach officials say they attract tournaments of all types, from tennis, to soccer to softball and baseball.
Orange Beach invests millions every year to keep up the endeavor, and they say it’s paid back.
It’s also an investment for the future. Officials say they concentrate on women’s sports in hopes families will return in the coming years.
“Traditionally the women’s sports are something that we’re really proud of, because we know that they’re the decision makers,” says Ken Grimes, City Administrator for Orange Beach, “As they grow and mature with their families, they’ll want to come back to our beautiful, sandy beaches.”
Local residents say they believe these sporting opportunities aren’t just good for bringing in tourists, they also believe it will bring in permanent residents.
“We have these wonderful facilities that they can definitely keep their kids out of trouble, they have the opportunity to exercise, play a sport year round, so I think a lot of people see a lot of opportunities of moving to this area, for those advantages,” says Rhett Russell, a resident of Orange Beach.
Local business owners on Pleasure Island say it’s impressive how far the area has come.
John Boller, owner of a local rental company, tells me tourists are planning longer stays. He’s says he’s able to increase prices on rental properties because of higher demand.
“Of course after the oil spill, things were a little slower, but for the last couple of years, the business has really picked back up, people are coming back to the area, and our business has been great,” says Boller.