The history of Florida’s booming tourism industry furnished him enough information for three different titles.
For his latest book, Hollis turned his attention for the first time to the hidden or forgotten tourist treasures of his home state.
The reaction even from tourism gurus in neighboring states has been “You mean Alabama has a tourism industry?”
“The Alabama tourism industry always has been and I guess always will be primarily for people who live here,” Hollis said.
Hollis dates the beginning of Alabama tourism to the Bankhead Highway, which connects Washington D.C. to San Diego, Calif. by way of Jasper.
The road is named for John Hollis Bankhead, a U.S. Senator who built a home in Jasper in 1910. Bankhead earned the nickname “The Father of Good Roads” for his support of improving the nation’s highways.
Hollis said many local residents are unaware that Jasper was located on one of the first transcontinental highways.
“The first was the Lincoln Highway, which ran through the northern states. Of course, that was not a very good route to take in the winter, so they thought there needed to be a Southern transcontinental highway,” Hollis said.
With the advent of automobile tourism in the 1930s came the opening of Bellingrath Gardens, Ava Maria Grotto and Moundville — attractions that are still open today.
Hollis said he was unaware before starting his research that three Wild West theme towns were located in the state at one time or another. The only one still in existence is located in Oakman at Old York.
“The one thing that Alabama never was successful in doing was an amusement park,” Hollis said.
Construction of a $5 million theme park known as Space City USA began in January 1964 in Huntsville, but plans were abandoned three years later. It was in line to be the first of its kind in the Southeast.
The most recent and memorable failed attempt was Visionland, which went bankrupt four years after opening.
Alabama’s natural features, such as its many caverns and forests, have long been the backbone of Alabama’s tourism industry.
“Generally speaking, the less commercial it is then the more successful it has been, unlike in other states,” Hollis said.
“See Alabama First: The story of Alabama Tourism” is available online and at major bookstores.