FLORENCE — A work group discussing ways to create a unified message for Shoals tourism agreed that music, the Tennessee River, historic landmarks like Ivy Green and Wilson Dam, and the area's geographic location make the area attractive to tourists.
The nearly two dozen member work group also identified several weaknesses, such as a lack of music venues, a lack of access to the river, a lack of tourism resources, and a fragmented "us vs. them" mentality.
The group included tourism professionals from Colbert and Lauderdale counties, tourism board members, music attraction directors, a hotel manager, a Florence City Council member, a former Florence City Council member, and the superintendent of the Colbert County Board of Education.
The group's goal is to come up with a unified "brand" for the area, which co-chair Alvin Rosenbaum said is known outside the area and internationally as "Muscle Shoals."
He said it's not so much an effort to consolidate tourism organizations as it is to consolidate the message into a brand both Colbert and Lauderdale counties can utilize for the benefit of the entire area.
Groups seated at six tables were asked to identify strengths and weaknesses, then opportunities and threats, then report back to the entire group.
While music was a positive, several people mentioned a lack of venues for visitors to see live music, especially during the week. Some, like Sheffield music promoter David Johnson, pointed out that people are more willing to pay a high price to see a show out of town, but balk at paying to see shows in the Shoals.
Johnson said when he was director of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the majority of visitors were from outside the Shoals.
"Attractions should be working together and promoting each other," he said.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Executive Director Debbie Wilson, the former Florence-Lauderdale Tourism director, said there needs to be more "packaging of attractions" and coordination of tour groups.
"The state would like us to have tours every day," Wilson said, but local resources are insufficient for that to happen.
Huntsville was identified as a threat by Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa General Manager Larry Bowser.
"They're trying to steal our music legacy," Bowser said, adding that Huntsville is not the only culprit. "We are blessed to have the quality of musicians we have in this area. We just need more venues for them to play at."
He also identified the Shoals' declining population as a threat, adding that the Marriott often has to outsource certain jobs.
Alabama Music Hall of Fame board member Judy Hood said division is a threat to local tourism efforts.
Tourists, she said, "don't know what that's all about."
Florence-Lauderdale Tourism President/CEO Rob Carnegie, who moved here three years ago, said he's heard of people who live here but have not crossed the river. He also said that phenomenon is not unique to the Shoals.
The group agreed that visitors to the Shoals don't see it as four cities in two counties.
Chelsea Kauchick, director of marketing and leadership programs for the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, said roadside trash and litter is also threat.
"People will call the chamber and say, 'I had no idea there was so much trash around here,'" Kauchick said.
Nancy Sanford added that Inspiration Landing developer John Elkington has also identified trash as a problem.
"That's something a developer here now said we need to work on," she said.
There were also those who suggested that tourism be considered a form of economic development.
Not everyone in the room Wednesday felt like there isn't unity in the tourism community, including former Florence councilman Sam Pendleton.
He referred to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama study, which discussed how well the two counties have worked together in the past. The six work groups are a result of that study.
"We're not divided," he said.
Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau Executive Director Susann Hamlin said her office promotes attractions in Florence, especially music-related attractions, which are included when tour groups come to the Shoals. She said her office has brochures for attractions in Lauderdale County.
The Florence-Lauderdale Tourism also promotes Colbert County attractions.
Hamlin said the area already has a unified brand — Muscle Shoals music. She said the Colbert tourism bureau produced a brochure titled "We Rocked the World" that features information about the four renowned recording studios in Colbert County, and also mentions the nearby W.C. Handy birthplace in Florence.
She pointed out that it is her job to promote attractions in Colbert County, but that doesn't mean she will not promote attractions in Lauderdale County.
"There is no division coming from my office," she said.