As the weather slowly gets warmer with the promise of longer days and more opportunities to spend outdoors, Lake Martin Tourism Association (LMTA) Executive Director Brandy Hastings is excited to welcome visitors from both near and far.
“It’s going to be a strong summer for us,” said Hastings, who joined the nonprofit in 2020.
Originally from Louisiana, Hastings began her career in broadcasting in Florida and later transitioned into a career in tourism. After serving in different roles to market the Sunshine State, she realized her true passion was to make a big impact on smaller, more targeted destinations.
In February 2020, Hastings made her first trip to Alexander City and experienced a slice of what Lake Martin has to offer.
“Everyone was amazing,” she said, sharing how a chili cook-off, a trip to Wind Creek State Park and a delicious meal at the iconic Kowaliga Restaurant left an impression on her.
Hastings’ enthusiasm for Lake Martin and all it has to offer is evident in the great strides LMTA has made in growing its digital presence. With a new website that launched in September 2020, consumer and tourism industry e-newsletters, and a fresh social media presence across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn, Hastings is committed to finding new ways to tell the story of “Alabama’s Freshwater Coast.”
She said unlike some destinations, the Lake Martin area has continued to grow and thrive despite the pandemic.
“While a lot of destinations were really hurt by decreased tourism numbers, we had record bed and sales tax collection numbers, which is unheard of,” Hastings said. “We were a destination people felt safe coming to. People needed to get out and be doing something, and coming outdoors was a safe way to do it. We will continue to take safety precautions because our visitors are coming to us to feel safe, and it’s our duty to give them that experience everywhere they go.”
Hastings said she expects tourism around Lake Martin will continue to grow in 2021 because a renewed interest in safe outdoor activities isn’t likely to wane, even after the pandemic subsides, adding that people who may not have been particularly outdoorsy in the past are now investing in outdoor lifestyles and hobbies.
“Memorial Day through Labor Day is a very busy time for us, and it remained strong last year,” Hastings said, explaining that tourists are still looking for safe, outdoor destinations in light of the lingering COVID-19-related travel risks. “We have another group of people who weren’t ready to travel before, and they are now getting ready to make those travel decisions, and they’re putting their toes in the water – hopefully they’ll be putting their toes in our water.”
Looking ahead, Hastings said LMTA’s top goals are to continue to increase visitation to the Lake Martin area, boost lodging and sales tax numbers, and grow brand awareness within the market’s 200-mile radius.
LMTA aims to “introduce the unique spirit of Lake Martin to visitors from around the world,” and Alexander City certainly has plenty of allure that makes it stand out as a prime destination. Beyond the pristine waters for fishing tournaments and water sports, the area offers one-of-a-kind experiences like Goat Island, Peanut Point, Wind Creek State Park, country legend Hank Williams’ cabin, on-the-water dining and plenty of lodging options and noteworthy businesses.
“We offer great opportunities to experience the outdoors and to really come make memories with your family, friends, pets or even by yourself,” Hastings said. “No matter what your travel consists of, we are a great place to go and take it all in.”
In addition to reaching and engaging tourists, Hastings is putting a special focus on working and partnering with Alexander City merchants and residents – both seasonal and full-time – to ensure they have the resources they need from the tourism association, in addition to encouraging them to experience the area themselves.
One way LMTA is doing this is through “Lakin’ Like a Local,” a new, unscripted YouTube video series that features Lake Martin locals talking about their love for the community, where they like to go and what they like to do.
“Authenticity is so important in the story we are telling,” Hastings explained. “The lake is one part of the story, but there is so much more, too.
“It’s very important for me that people want to come here,” she added. “We want to show that we welcome them with open arms to come to our community.”
Lake Martin boasts the designation of being a Treasured Alabama Lake by the Lake Martin Resource Association (LMRA), an honor it has held since 2010. The designation signifies that Lake Martin stands out for its water, beauty and recreational opportunities, and the ongoing efforts designed to ensure those qualities will be preserved for generations to come.
In advance of Earth Day on April 22, Hastings highlighted efforts of LMTA and LMRA to maintain and care for the lake and its community. In addition to Renew Our Rivers cleanups, the buoy placement project for boater safety and many other initiatives, Hastings said LMTA is teaming up with LMRA on a “tourism gives back” program to keep areas in and around the lake clean and presentable.
“Keeping our area clean is a main priority to us because we are the ones welcoming visitors in,” she said. “It’s the same way I feel about cleaning my house before company comes – we are encouraging people to get out and help us clean before company comes. It’s a way for our tourism industry to give back to the community.”
Hastings said LMTA wants to always be giving back, and welcoming people in.
“With COVID, I think this has been a very crazy year for all of us, but time with family and friends and making memories is more important than anything. We are a place to do that.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)