FLORENCE — A majority of work group members examining unity among the Colbert and Lauderdale tourism agencies agree collaboration between the two groups is essential to attract more visitors, and make their visit easier to navigate.

The work group, which sprung from the Committee For a Better Shoals study, has been discussing ways to unify local tourism efforts. 

After about an hour of discussion, the group voted 16-2 to create a unified brand for the Shoals, which would not only aid tourism bureaus, but those who benefit from tourism, such as restaurants, hotels, attractions and other businesses.

Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau Executive Director Susann Hamlin and Colbert County Commissioner David Black were the only two who did not raise their hands to support the unified brand.

"Susann has already branded our county without spending a lot of money," said Black, who is also chairman of the Colbert tourism board of directors.

Most of the members, which included tourism professionals from both counties, operators of attractions such as Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and Ivy Green, and government officials, agreed that collaboration is a good idea.

Lauderdale County Tourism board member Larry McCoy tried to quell fears that there are efforts to merge the Colbert and Lauderdale tourism offices.

"We're not trying to merge the two organizations, but we have to collaborate and work together," McCoy said. "We have to sit down and talk first."

Suggestions included periodic meetings between the leaders of the two tourism offices to discuss issues and strategies.

The recommendations the group will bring to a larger Greater Shoals meeting next month are: 

• Create a single brand for all of the Shoals;

• Provide more things for visitors to do and things to buy;

• Use data to target specific markets and areas to expand into.

One suggestion to make visiting the Shoals easier included establishing a single website or "one stop shop" that showcases the two counties, their attractions, hotels, restaurants and other information.

It would provide all the information an individual would need to plan a visit without having to visit multiple individual websites.

The suggestion was offered by Keely Law, a sales manager of the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, who said Kansas City has a one-stop site that includes the Kansas and Missouri sides of the city.

Nancy Sanford, a co-chair of the work group, said data such as Google Analytics can be used to help target the right market and expand the Shoals brand.

Co-Chair Alvin Rosenbaum said there are more Google searches for "The Muscle Shoals" than "The Shoals" by more than a 10-1 ratio.

Larry Bowser, general manager of the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa, suggested an increase in lodging taxes would provide additional resources to better market the area.

"We're still in the very preliminary stage of trying to figure out how to move forward after this particular initiative in June ends," Rosenbaum said. 

Shoals Chamber of Commerce Director Caitlin Holland said there is an effort to create more unity between the chamber and the Shoals Economic Development Authority, but that effort does not include tourism at this time.

"We'd be thrilled to be a part of any ongoing discussions of how to best promote the Shoals," Holland said. "We will do that at the request of our tourism professionals."

There were six work groups formed out of the Committee For a Greater Shoals study, which was conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. There will be a final meeting to hear the recommendations of each committee on June 18.

russ.corey@timesdaily.com

or 256-740-5738. Twitter

@TD_.RussCorey

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