Ala. Tourism Department faces deep cuts

Posted by: Cody Holyoke - bio | email

Governor Robert Bentley's slim budget proposal means the state's Tourism Department - like many other general fund agencies - will suffer deep cuts.

"Our budget may be about half next year what it has been," explained Lee Sentell, the department's director.

Sentell is tasked with reducing spending in a department that produces $9.5 Billion for the state's economy.

"It means that we'll just have fewer ads, and we won't be able to support as many festivals and events than we have in the past," Sentell said.

Governor Bentley's press secretary, Rebekah Mason, responded to the cuts:

As the Governor said in his State of the State Address, there are difficult decisions that must be made to the 2012 Budget in order for the state to live within our means.

Under the Governor's budget, the Department of Tourism and Travel gets roughly $8.5 million in General Fund appropriations. The Department of Tourism and Travel will have the funds it needs to promote Alabama's tourism and travel industry.

The individual tourism attractions such as historical sites and halls of fame that were eliminated from General Fund appropriations do not produce significant revenue for the state and are not considered by the Governor to be as essential to the core functions of state government as keeping State Troopers on the road or to providing health care for children and the elderly.

Tourism leaders hope improvements along the gulf coast will continue as businesses owners begin their rebound.

"We've got at least three or four new restaurants that are on the books right now in Orange Beach," said Ken Grimes with the City of Orange Beach.

Sentell says the growth is a sign the state's muilti-billion dollar tourism industry can survive.

"We want to make sure that our money gets the best return on our investment, so we're going to make sure we watch our dollars carefully," he said.

Sentell also says rising gas prices may end up helping the state's tourism industry as more and more southerners forego any cross country trips and travel closer to home.

The department will also re-run old tourism commercials.

They receive free air time on all TV stations owned by Raycom Media, our parent company--funded in part by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

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