Bringing in tourists and promoting the Lake Martin area to tourists were the topics of the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce’s tourism luncheon Thursday.
Lake Martin Tourism Association executive director Rhonda Saunders and Tallapoosa County Tourism director Sandra Fuller spoke at the Central Alabama Community College’s Betty Carol Graham Center on ways the associations are working to bring in more people.
Saunders said an important part of tourism is informing Alexander City residents more about the area so visitors can have a better first impression of the area.
“We want to provide them with the most positive and informative information as possible,” Saunders said. “When I’m new to the area I stop a lot because I’m directionally challenged; even with my phone I’m directionally challenged.”
Saunders said the tourism association is relying on word of mouth for getting visitors because it currently doesn’t have digital marketing. Saunders said the group is also working on branding which was happening before she started in July because of efforts from the chamber of commerce and Main Street Alexander City.
The tourism association is also getting way-finding signs for Alexander City.
Saunders compared Alexander City’s tourism to Clarksdale and Natchez, Mississippi and Travelers Rest, South Carolina, which are small towns that get thousands of tourists every year.
“(Natchez) struggled to keep manufacturing jobs in the area,” Saunders said. “Tourism has kept the town alive. Natchez has a very successful spring and fall pilgrimage.”
The tourism association is interested in knowing its customer base and seeing where visitors are coming from, why they’re visiting and how long they’re staying. The Lake Martin Tourism Association is going to be investing in a software program to establish a base.
“We know from basic research the general traveler travels 250 miles to a destination,” Saunders said. “We need to know where they’re coming from.”
Saunders wants events in the area that will get visitors to stay overnight.
“We want people not to daytrip,” Saunders said. “We want them to overnight and that’s one of our main goals … We want them to dine here. We want them to spend money here.”
Saunders wants to turn the Lake Martin Innovation Center’s front line into a visitor center.
“We want to be the official point of entry to this town,” Saunders said.
Saunders said the tourism association needs to establish a digital market, network, build local partnerships and capitalize on existing events in the area.
Fuller told the audience about existing tourist attractions such as Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, the Living History Cemetery Tour and the traveling Alabama Bicentennial exhibit that was in Dadeville. The traveling exhibit is returning to Alexander City City Hall in November, she said.
Fuller said community amateurism with plants and produce is popular in the area such as the farmers market.
“There are very much a lot of people into growing,” Fuller said. “You’ve got the kiwi farm with 200 acres in Reeltown. You’ve got the strawberry market that’s out in Dadeville and those are just a few.”
Fuller mentioned the kiosks on Smith Mountain Fire Tower are encouraging for people to climb.
“When you get to the top of it, it has kiosks at every location so you can see what you’re looking at,” Fuller said.
Fuller mentioned how fall festivals and events in Dadeville and Alexander City are happening in October in addition to downtown trick-or-treating.
Fuller also mentioned the tourism board’s new website tallapoosacountytourism.com. She said it will constantly add events and people can add in their own as well.
There’s also a film industry feature on the website so filming companies can see locations and places to stay during production. Fuller mentioned a chef who moved to the area after seeing Lake Martin on TV.
“Those are the people we have to realize we have who moved into our areas and want to do something,” Fuller said.
Fuller said the next step is to have local groups connect and partner with each other.
“So we know what we have, now we’ve got to figure out what we want and one thing is partnering together,” Fuller said.