The Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau is working with multiple local organizations to attract people from around the country to Civil Rights-based commemorations going on throughout the community this year.
Marketing of the city’s upcoming events began in 2011 with brochures directed at tour planners across the country, mainly because they often plan trips a couple of years in advance. Those planners who work with group bus tours became one of the primary target audiences for the commemoration and have already begun increasing their bookings into Birmingham. The tourist brochures show locations significant to the movement and events that would potentially fit their needs and interests.
They’ve targeted not only those who travel by ground, but also by air. “In 2012 we also began running ‘awareness’ ads in Southwest’s in-flight magazine, Spirit,” said Dilcy Hilley, V.P. of Marketing for the CVB. Plans have been made to buy updated ads in future issues of Spirit and other periodicals with wide distribution.
During the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, the CVB has produced 60-second radio spots that promote traveling to Birmingham for the events. Website banners are also part of the bureau’s plan.
The bureau is currently working on the production of the spring edition of the Birmingham Tourist Guide, which will feature a section, about 8-10 pages long, on different events and the city’s civil rights history.
Travel journalists have been increasingly “requesting tours of the city and especially of civil rights related sites,” Hilley told Weld via email. A segment on The Today Show named Birmingham one of the six places across the globe to visit in 2013 and USA Today recently published an article on the commemoration. This coverage resulted from the ongoing cooperative efforts of the CVB and the city of Birmingham’s Office of Public Information.
Working with the Alabama Tourism Department, the CVB plans to sponsor tours specifically for the media between May and September, the months when many of the most important events occurred back in 1963.
For those who are already in the city, the visitors bureau created a free audio tour of Kelly Ingram Park. “The tour, accessible by cell phone, guides visitors through the historical significance of the park’s sculptures and provides a timeline of events as they unfolded in the park and around the city,” said Hilley. Funded by a state tourism grant, visitors can listen to the audio guide by calling 205-307-5455, then pressing any number between 1 and 9.
The state tourism department released its own brochure last year filled with notable places to visit across the state, and accounts of “the personalities and events that reshaped the nation.” They invite readers to experience the “wide range of ceremonies, plays, musical programs and lectures” that await them from Montgomery, to Selma, to Birmingham, and places in between. The brochure can be found here.
Both the city of Birmingham and CVB are working with other cities in creating a national civil rights trail highlighting cities including Selma, Montgomery, Memphis, Jackson, Mississippi, Columbia, and Washington D.C.
The website 50 Years Forward is the city’s main promotional tool for locals and potential tourists alike to discover what the commemoration has to offer. Originally the responsibility of GBCVB, the city is now at the helm. The website still links to GBCVB when looking for specific travel information (such as accommodations, dining, and attractions).
“Birmingham has never before experienced a citywide anniversary of this magnitude, so we have nothing by which to measure [how many visitors the city projects the events will bring in],” said Hilley. But according to 2011 figures, Jefferson County had more than four million overnight visitors, which led to over $1.5 billion in tourist spending. The CVB estimates that those numbers will increase because of the expected rise in visitation.
“I expect we will have anecdotal evidence of increased tourism as we go through the year,” said Hilley.