Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation season and the Alabama beaches are always packed. This year with the Coronavirus still infecting and killing people, state health officials are worried about reports of booked up reservations at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and large crowds already along the “Redneck Rivera” white sand.

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism reports crowds have grown bigger each weekend since reopening after six weeks closure by Governor Ivey due to the pandemic. Some lodging is reporting 100% occupancy for the weekend.

Large crowds and packed beaches produce dollars for restaurants, hotel and motel proprietors, condo owners and amusement operators and also possible conduit for COVID-19. Along with the 4th of July and Labor Day, Memorial Day weekend is one of the top tourist times of the year.

“The beaches are the anchors of the tourism in Alabama, because last year people spent $6 billion in Baldwin County and that draws people throughout the country down to Alabama,” said Alabama Tourism Department Director Lee Sentell.

The economic impact from the Gulf Coast beaches is not just felt in Baldwin County. 6,880,489 visitors made Baldwin County the number one destination in Alabama in 2019. Not surprisingly, Baldwin County has the greatest percentage of travel related jobs in the state according figures from the Alabama Tourism Department. Those figures translated into $26.3 million in state lodging tax alone in 2019; up $2 million over 2018.

By comparison Baldwin County accounts for more than 36, 000 travel related jobs, Jefferson County almost 22,000 and Tuscaloosa County just over 6,000 (2019 Alabama Tourism Department Annual Tourism Report). As the figures reveal, the Alabama Gulf Coast produces a significant amount of the state’s annual revenue and pays for a lot of state services.

Nowhere any more than the Alabama beaches is the battle between lives and livelihoods more evident than this holiday. As the state loosened restrictions and opened the beaches; leadership of both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach promised to enforce health restrictions such as 6-feet apart social distancing to keep them open. This coming holiday will be their first major test.

If officials follow thru on their promises the large crowds will be forced to spread out, restaurants and bars will allow only half legal occupancy and passive beachgoing may attract more people than the amusement venues.

The sun and sand may help many to push COVID-19 at least temporarily to the back of their mind but State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris hopes it remains in the public’s consciousness. “Even a temporary lull of practicing proper health safety,” advises Harris, “could have disastrous consequences.”

 

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