Tuscaloosa has a lot to offer travellers, stay-at-home vacationers
Of all the many things swept away, or at least mitigated, by the coronavirus pandemic, the freedom to move has weighed heavily on consumers and the travel industry.
With the perception that COVID infections, while still among us, are diminishing in severity, a return to “normal” could occur this summer, despite gasoline prices surging above $5 a gallon. and flying plane tickets as well.
“Our airlines, and the travel industry in general, are really booming,” said Kimberly Severt, associate professor in the department of human nutrition and hospitality management at the University of Alabama.
While some are beginning to feel free to travel, many airlines have failed to replace staff lost in slowdowns. Demand for seats is also higher, with fewer options available.
Fuel costs have also helped push air fares to the highest figures in five years. Figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times, based on data from the Transportation Security Administration, indicate that flights this summer, from June to August, are 47% higher than last year at this time and 34% higher than summer 2019.
Yet travelers are weighing the options and overall find they prefer to move rather than not move, despite costs and other challenges, such as airline boarding delays and car scarcity. rent.
“I think people really need to look at their budget because if they spend more on gas, they won’t have to spend as much on anything else, like food, entertainment, or accommodation options,” Severt said. .
“But after people lost that ability to travel during the worst of the pandemic, they decided, no, I’m not giving it up anymore.”
It is even with the heavy economic complicating factor that during the most severe shutdowns many people have lost their jobs, while others have left voluntarily, finding risk versus reward factors pushing them to change.
Despite large differences in discretionary income between 2019 and 2022, people still seem eager to travel; this urge may actually be related to the sense of exploration stemming from the realization that a past job was unsatisfying.
low budget travel
An ongoing form of budgeting is combining travel, adding a few days to business travel, to reduce airfares.
“For example, I have a conference (in Washington, DC) in August, so I have to go, but I also take a few extra days and make it our vacation as well, instead of having to pay twice for the ticket. plane.” Sévert said. Figures show hotel stays have increased, which could come from such a doubling, she said.
For those who can’t rush to overtake, Severt suggests looking for getaways closer to home. She moved here about a decade ago from Boone, North Carolina, and thinks Tuscaloosa and the surrounding areas could take more advantage of their natural beauty, much like her former home. Continued riverside development shows potential, she said, and Tuscaloosa “could also capitalize on lake options, camping and boating near the lake and on the (Black Warrior) river.
“I see a lot of people paddling and kayaking, but I wonder if more people aren’t using the waterways,” she said. The main stretch of waterfront between the main bridges, downtown’s twin Lurleen Wallace Boulevards and the Woolsey Finnell on McFarland Boulevard appears to have slowly opened up to activity and attractions, but much of it seems almost hidden, it said. she stated.
Tuscaloosa is in a good central location for a range of short trips, such as Mount Cheaha’s Cabins, DeSoto Caverns in Childersburg, Dismals Canyon in Phil Campbell, or the Sipsey Wilderness in Mount Hope; the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; monuments, museums and civil rights trails in Birmingham and Montgomery; the 10-acre Blount Cultural Park in Montgomery, containing both the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the lavish Alabama Shakespeare Festival; or tack for a few hours, to the snowy beaches of the Gulf Coast, or to Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville or New Orleans.
“Even though we’re off the beaten path, per se, we really have quick access,” Severt said. Despite gas prices, it’s probably still a bargain to drive. “My son lives in Orlando, and I better drive” nine hours, once you count all the current challenges on a plane, she said. Not to mention that four can travel for less than one, by car, and at their own pace.
Stay in Tuscaloosa
Tuscaloosa’s summers are generally considered slow times, following the college calendar, but some visitors actually turn to the city of the druids, said Kelsey Colglazier Rush, new president and CEO of Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports.
“Summer, in my opinion, is actually a really good time to come and visit Tuscaloosa,” she said. That’s much slower than fall, when Crimson Tide football fills hotels and restaurants, and spring, when graduates and their families fill hospitality venues. The benefit of slower days is that hotel prices are lower and easier to land, as are dinner choices.
“You can (find it) a little easier getting in and out of our restaurants,” she said. There are free and family-friendly events such as Friday Live at the Plaza concerts and movies at downtown Government Plaza. The Druid City Music Hall hosts a series of free concerts on Thursday evenings.
UA’s magnet attracts families who come for Bama Bound orientations. And like most summers, Tuscaloosa hosts cheerleading and sports camps, as well as softball and baseball tournaments hosted by Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports and the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority.
“I also want to push our outdoor hobbies right now,” Rush said. “If you enjoy hiking, kayaking, boating and fishing, our area is truly an untapped resource for that.
“Technically, we have six major bodies of water within a 25-minute drive or less of downtown Tuscaloosa,” she said, “each beautiful in its own way.”
After the Black Warrior River, the main tributary from which the city was founded, as this place was once the highest navigable port, there is also Lake Tuscaloosa, at 5,885 acres, the city’s reservoir , completed with the North River Dam in 1970, at a cost of $7,725,000. It is a major recreational location, for boating, swimming, skiing, fishing and other activities.
Nearby, more compact and secluded, are 220-acre Lake Harris and 384-acre Lake Nicol. The latter has a park and is popular for boating, swimming and bird watching.
Hurricane Creek Park is maintained by PARA and is popular with swimmers, kayakers, paddleboarders, picnickers and hikers. There are restrooms, picnic tables, walking and biking trails and trails.
Don Staley, the CEO and outgoing chairman, pleaded for more fishing on the Black Warrior, and a new tournament is planned for the fall. The City of Northport, in its master plan, is also looking forward to expanding its waterfront and downtown options. TTS is working on a unique compilation of information for outdoor activities, which should be completed in the coming months, Rush said.
Hospitality is the biggest contributor to the state’s GDP (gross domestic product) behind medical facilities, Severt said, and Tuscaloosa must continue to get its share. A proposed new convention center would help, she said, because many of our expanding hotels have rooms, but not enough meeting space.
“You gotta have that,” Severt said. “Lower tier cities, they thrive in their group events, their conventions, because people maybe don’t have the budgets to go to Orlando or Las Vegas, so they go to smaller markets .”