GULF SHORES, AL (WLOX) - Money is once again flowing into coastal Alabama. New construction can be seen everywhere you look. To say that Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have made a comeback would be a huge understatement.
Just look at the numbers. In 2013, the two cities raked in $349 million in lodging revenue, and $683 million in retail sales. That is an increase of more than 30 percent since 2010, the year of the spill.
If there's one reason for the turnaround, it's this, according to tourism bureau President Herb Malone.
"The main thing we've done here is work together. Our organization represents both the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and we have a great synergy of everybody working together, particularly in times of crises," Malone explained.
Sports is a big part of the tourism equation. The cities are very aggressive in luring tournaments to the area's three sports venues. Duncan Harrity is a Tournament Site Director.
"The complexes are nice. They are very accommodating, and it's a place that a lot of teams want to come to. We've had a lot of returning teams and a lot of new teams each year," Harrity said.
Small businesses are thriving with the guidance of a helping hand. Michele Crawford is the owner of one of those businesses.
"I couldn't give more credit to the City of Orange Beach, to the visitor's center, to the Chamber of Commerce. They make sure that businesses like ours succeed. They go out of their way," said Crawford.
So much so, that new businesses are opening everywhere, including this sandwich shop on the beach highway, which is owned by Deborah Collard.
"There has been a new growth, and we're very confident that we'll be able to sustain a good business here," Collard said.
Business is zipping along nicely at the Gulf Adventure Center, which caters to family fun. Craig Bryan is a zip line guide.
"Business has been great. We're running 12 trips a day, and every trip is booked. Today, we're booked all the way through the end of the day. It's been awesome," said Bryan.
What's also awesome is the number one draw here; the beach and blue water. Even on a weekday morning, the beach is packed.
The condo and real estate market is rising once again as well. One development office is constantly busy these days. That's where real estate broker Jay Stradley works.
"The activity is up about 12 percent year to date over last year. Prices are coming up on the beachfront condos and on Ono Island. A lot of buyers coming into the marketplace that have been coming to the area for the last three or four years," Stradley said.
You know the old saying. You have to spend money to make money. The area does just that, spending more than $5 million a year on promotion, according to Malone.
"Promotion is what we're all about, and it's really about spreading the word, letting people know all the different things that we have to offer," said Malone.
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a lot of our economy is based on tourism for certain, but we have other businesses to back that up, shoulder some of the economic load so to speak. Heavy industries like Chevron and Ingalls, the casinos of course and the military presence.
In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there is none of that. Almost every single dollar brought in is based on tourism, and because of that, they have to work extra hard.
Tony Kennon is the Mayor of Orange Beach. He explained exactly what that hard works entails.
"It's customer service. We want our visitors to return. We don't want a one shot deal, and I think we do a very good job of making them believe we appreciate them and we want them to come back. We're a true example of what old fashioned southern hospitality is all about," Kennon said.
One change has been made that could mean more tourism success on the Mississippi Coast in the future. Starting now, for the first time, all three coastal counties will be promoted as a single destination. A new tourism director has been hired and will start her job in two days. The change was made possible when the legislature passed a law creating the new Coastwide Convention and Visitors Bureau.