Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Tight racing through the trioval at the Geico 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway.

Recent studies on tourism in Calhoun County and surrounding areas have yielded positive results, researchers said Wednesday at the county Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon at the Anniston Museum of Natural History.

Brian Jones of the Alabama Tourism Department said at the luncheon that visitors spent more than $95 million in 2018, which created 1,112 jobs in the county. According to Jones, a report by the department showed a 5 percent increase in visitor spending from 2017.

Last year, the chamber contracted with the Digital Research Group to profile the average Calhoun County visitor. Trav Burnett, the group’s assistant research director, said the group surveyed visitors to Calhoun County in September and October to determine the type of people who visited, why they came and what they did here.

According to Burnett, the group interviewed more than half of the visitors in Oxford, and interviewed the rest in Jacksonville, Anniston and the Delta community near Cheaha State Park.

“It seems to me like there are some very encouraging findings here and potential for some real growth in tourism in the future,” Burnett said.

According to Burnett, the majority of the visitors surveyed reported that they were satisfied with their trip and were likely to return to Calhoun County. Nearly two-thirds of visitors said they would recommend the county to others.

Based on the survey’s results, Burnett said, the average age of Calhoun County visitors is 47 and nearly two-thirds of visitors had been to the county before. Burnett said half of the visitors said they came with their significant other or family. Most of the visitors, Burnett said, came from Birmingham and Atlanta.

According to Burnett, tourists visited Jacksonville State University, Cheaha State Park and the Talladega National Forest most frequently.

“These are things that you can’t go to other areas to find,” he said.

Burnett said nearly two-thirds of visitors came on vacation and more than 80 percent stayed at a hotel or motel. According to Burnett, the 62 percent of visitors who stayed in Calhoun County overnight stayed an average of five nights.

Burnett said 30 percent of travelers started making plans for their trip and 22 percent made lodging reservations within a week of visiting. More than half of the visitors used general internet searches to plan their trip.

Chamber of Commerce chair Gayle Macolly said members have watched tourism in Calhoun County increase over the years and she’s glad to see numbers that show its growth.

“This actually put it down and made it more specific. We now can say that this has increased, this is the amount of money it’s bringing in,” Macolly said. “For us, it also gives us a baseline to work from so we can compare later and measure our successes; hopefully, not too many failures.”

While there are several tourist attractions such as Cheaha State Park and the Talladega Superspeedway nearby that aren’t inside Calhoun County lines, Macolly said, the county is the place to go for lodging, restaurants and smaller activities.

Macolly said the chamber plans to promote local tourism through statewide commercials, word-of-mouth and increasing staff in their group. She said the chamber hired its new tourism director, Audrey Maxwell, last week.

“She was what I would consider close to a full-time volunteer,” Macolly said. “She knows us and we know her. She knows how we work and she really does believe in our mission.”

Contact Staff Writer Amalia Kortright at 256-235-3563.