Carnival begins selling tickets for Mobile cruises – and tourism officials say that’s just one slice of pie

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Cruises are coming back, Avelo Airlines will start flying out of downtown later this month and Amtrak plans to restore passenger train service this fall.

All the while, area hotels are benefiting from marketing paid for by a fee charged to guests.

It all adds up to unprecedented tourism for the Port City, Visit Mobile President and CEO David Clark told the City Council on Tuesday. He said tourism in Mobile supports 17,000 jobs, with 3 million annual visitors and a $1.5 billion economic impact.

Mobile collected nearly $11 million in lodging tases, a record. And Clark said the tourism agency in fiscal year 2022 booked 110,555 convention room nights worth $98 million.

“This was a record year by double – double – over historical” average, he told council members.

Clark said new ways to get to Mobile and new attractions should boost the figures even more.

“It continues to be exciting,” he said. “It’s like the dominoes when they start falling – they keep falling.”

Carnival Cruise Line, which relocated its Mobile-based ship last year and cut its sailings to six months a year, is returning in October with the newer, bigger Carnival Spirit. And the company announced Tuesday that it is opening sales for departures out of Mobile for the next six-month cycle in 2024 and 2025. Customers can book five-, six-, eight- and 12-day Caribbean cruises leaving from October next year to April 2025.

The announcement comes as Visit Mobile prepares to release a report developed in conjunction with MMGY NextFactor, a consulting firm that has assessed more than 300 destinations worldwide. The project included surveys and nine focus groups. Clark told FOX10 News that the report, due out next month, will help retool efforts to lure visitors.

Soon, the council also will consider renewing a Tourism Improvement District created it created to help promote the city. The Mobile Area Lodging Corp., which runs the district, presented its annual report at Tuesday’s council meeting. It assesses a $1-per-room fee on the hotels and uses the money to help boost business.

The district started in 2020 as COVID-19 was hitting – perhaps, the worst-possible time.

“It just happened to time out that when we finally got all the petitions we needed, it was it was right in the middle of a pandemic,” said Kent Blackinton, who heads the organization’s board of directors. “And no one was traveling.”

Blackinton, who serves as general manager of Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, told FOX10 News that the fee generates about $1.2 million a year. About 15 percent of that goes toward local projects that bring in travelers. For instance, in the fiscal year 2022, the organization spent $75,000 on landscaping at the Africatown Heritage House – slated to open this summer – and $68,000 for indoor tennis courts at the Mobile Tennis Center.

But most of the funds, 70 percent, pay for marketing in cities like Atlanta and Montgomery to try to hook leisure travelers.

Blackinton said it is working.

“We’ve been successful, and lodging has been fantastic since the pandemic kind of closed down – or even in the pandemic, we did well,” he said. “I don’t think we would be doing as well without this program. … We know people are coming. We know people are seeing the ads. We know people are clicking on the ads.”

Clark agreed the program has been an enormous success and added that he hopes the council will renew it.

“Because of the Tourism Improvement District, one of the most innovative private-public partnerships for tourism – in fact, the only one in the state of Alabama – we’re able to tell Mobile’s story better than ever,” he told the council.

Mobile City Councilman Joel Daves praised the results.

“You’ve really got this effort organized in ways that it hasn’t been organized before, showing significant results,” he said. “I love looking at the metrics, and the metrics get better.”