The Gulf of Mexico’s coastline continues to recover from BP’s 2010 oil spill, but thanks to a three-day music festival, Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are back in business.
The 2012 Hangout Fest, held in Gulf Shores, Ala., attracted tens of thousands of visitors. (Photo by B. Cantrell)
Held on the sandy shoreline, Hangout Music Fest drew some 35,000 attendees per day in 2011, creating a $30 million economic impact on the area, according to Kim Chapman, tourism spokeswoman for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
The Hangout Music Fest, which was recently awarded “Best Festival of the Year” honors by leading concert industry outlet Pollstar and features main stage headliners The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews Band, Jack White and The Devil Makes Three.
While the festival doesn’t draw the number of attendees Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival touts in nearby Manchester, its economic impact is far from meager.
Following the oil spill, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala. witnessed a 50 percent decrease, Chapman said. But since Hangout’s inception in 2010, business has picked up and taken off.
“This is a wonderful kick-off to our peak season,” Chapman noted. “Not only did we make up the difference from the oil spill, but we surpassed it and even set a new record (last year). We have high hopes for this year.”
The area continues to witness a residual impact of The Hangout Fest; newbies to the area fall in love with the beaches and opt for a trip back to the coastline, she added.
“(Hangout) is another reason for people to discover our amazing beaches,” Chapman said of the 32-mile island.
With the influx of more than 35,000 visitors to the area, condos, hotels and timeshares fill up fast. Village by the Gulf and Paradise Isle are at 100 percent capacity, said Scott Cooper, who manages the properties with his wife, Linda Williams.
“This makes up for the lull between Spring Break and summer season,” he said.
On-site manager Cathy Hodo noted how “the concert is good for condos, but for restaurants, I wouldn’t say it’s all that great” because she’d heard that several patrons left without paying last year.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach aren’t strangers to the tourism industry -- the communities thrive on visitors to its sandy beaches year in and year out. Cooper pointed to Spring Break, 4th of July and a shrimp festival in mid-October that really bring in business.
He said all are essential in recovering after the oil spill and hurricanes that hit the coast in years past.
“We were hurt in 2004 with (Hurricane) Ivan and then Katrina in 2005. And just as we started to recover back from those two hurricanes, BP wiped us out,” Hodo explained. “But BP worked real hard down here to help us out.”
Coupled with The Hangout Fest, Cooper says, “Business is as good as before, if not better.”
Gulf Island Grill, located directly across from the festival, gets its fair share of patrons spending dollars on food and drinks.
Manager Chris Bridges has watched the festival grow from its beginnings in 2010. Business starts out slow, but as attendees opt to extend their stay, they flood local restaurants and bars.
“Just like the commercial says, “The Gulf Coast is open for business.”
It has always been open for business, though, Bridges noted. He expressed his frustration with the impact the oil spill had on tourism in the area.
“If people thought about how little time they actually spend in the water (when they’re here) … we were all still here and open,” he said.
“You don’t go into business on the beach and not be controlled by tourism. But by all estimates, we should be back on track where we were before the oil spill.”