GULF SHORES, Alabama -- The sugar-white sands of Alabama's Gulf Coast drew a record crowd last spring, nearly 300,000 visitors spending $133 million, and tourism officials say this year is shaping up to be a repeat performance.
Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, said the word from many condo and beach-house rental companies is that early bookings for spring break are trending ahead of last year.
"I have talked frequently with many of our lodging partners around the island," Malone said, "and they tell me that their reservations for spring and actually early reservations for summer both are running somewhat ahead of last year's, which is great news since we had a record year last year."
According to data compiled for the tourism bureau, over the spring months of 2012 -- March, April and May -- the number of visitors to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, as well as Fort Morgan, jumped 6 percent from 275,900 in 2011 to 294,400, and the tourists opened their wallets and purses a bit more too as spending was 11 percent higher, $119 million to $133 million.
Emily Gonzalez, marketing and public relations manager for Kaiser Realty Inc. by Wyndham Vacation Rentals, said reservations for the company's roughly 500 beach properties are slightly above 2012.
"We're pacing really close to last year," she said. "And basically what we're seeing is that the entire breadth of the season is so long. I think a lot of people think of spring break as a week or two but we look at spring break as a 7-week process. We have some weeks that are obviously higher than others when you look at when schools are out and when they come down so we have some weeks that are already completely, for all intents and purposes, sold out, and then we have other weeks that have occupancy."
Gonzalez said the entire spring-break season for Kaiser this year runs from March 9 to April 26.