When the BP oil spill changed the Gulf Coast forever, sports were the only game in town in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. While the waterfront destination’s meetings and conventions business is back to booming, sports tourism has hardly let up.
The longtime home of the SEC Women’s Soccer Tournament, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach once again hosts the NCAA’s Beach Volleyball Championship in May. No other destination has hosted the event—the newest in the NCAA’s portfolio, added in 2016—a fact Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission is working hard to maintain.
Impressive projects like developing the Gulf Shores beachfront into a pedestrian-friendly center—complete with the boardwalk—and a proactive initiative to keep the area’s 32 miles of beaches pristine are a sign the region is all-in on keeping events in town.
To its credit, the sports commission embraces the region’s beach culture. Rather than stick the beach volleyball banquet in a banquet hall, a casual beachside restaurant called The Hangout was used. And with only one full-service hotel available in the destination, Perdido Beach Resort, condo-hotels have proven ideal for groups.
In total, more than 17,000 housing units are available, a slightly higher number than the area’s 16,000 residents. That’s one example of how important tourism—and in particular, sports tourism—is to the region. The commission hosted 118 events in 2016, representing 100,000 room nights and an economic impact of $127 million.
“Out cities get it; our hotels get; our restaurants get it,” says Michelle Russ, CSEE, director of sales at Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission. “Where we stand today is because sports tourism withstood challenges. The oil spill is a great example of that.”