The COVID-19 pandemic caused many government organizations to sweat.
Revenue and tax collections declined for many city, county and state agencies. But the Lake Martin area was insulated from those declines as evidenced by lodging tax and sales tax figures as visitors sought refuge and other places to work from home.
Lake Martin Tourism Association director Brandy Hastings told the Alexander City City Council the pandemic didn’t affect visitors coming to Alexander City as it did across the state.
“Last year we had a record year of lodging tax collections in a year of a pandemic where a lot of bad things were happening,” Hastings said. “Tourism here saw increases and some good things happening. That was not the case everywhere across the state.”
According to Alabama Department of Revenue figures, 75% of Alabama counties saw a decrease in lodging tax collections in 2020 compared to 2019 but not Tallapoosa County.
“We were one of the ones that saw an increase, almost 17%,” Hastings said. “The state as a whole was down 20%. We are outpacing the state; we are outpacing other counties.”
In 2020, the state collected $383,219.80 in lodging tax in Tallapoosa County from stays in hotels, short-term rentals and from overnight stays at Wind Creek State Park. It is a 16.74% increase over 2019’s $328,277.16 lodging tax collection.
Two counties saw a higher percentage increase in collection such as Randolph County at 18.17% and Crenshaw County at 23.68%. Tallapoosa County led the state in actual increase at $54,942.62.
Traditional tourist areas across the state such as Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery and Jefferson counties all saw decreases in 2020 compared to 2019 figures. Baldwin County saw a decrease of 6.21%; Mobile County saw a decrease of 13.17%; Montgomery County saw a decrease of 37.58%; and Jefferson County saw a decrease of 39.73%. The football meccas of Lee County and Tuscaloosa County saw decreases of 36.38% and 35.46% respectively.
The nearly 17% increase in lodging tax in Tallapoosa County is reflected in sales tax collection in Alexander City. According to Alexander City revenue officer Ward Sellers Alexander City collected $20,049,670.83 in sales tax in 2020, a 15.3% increase of 2019’s $10,449,954.39 sales tax collection.
Hastings said she is hearing a similar message across the community. But Hastings is not letting the success of one year be it. She said Lake Martin Tourism is making its presence felt all around the state at visitors’ centers with rack cards pointing people to the area and what is available. And there are other forms of promoting the area.
“We have increased our digital marketing, our social media marketing, we have done some videos — ‘Laking Like a Local’ campaign with local tips from our residents here. We have a lot of great things going on.”
Traditional attractions of the area are still being promoted as well.
“It is definitely helping our community,” Hastings said. “We are seeing the impact from the fishing tournaments, the sports tournaments and our leisure visitors that are coming, they are loving the area and are coming back. They are telling more people about it.”
The Alabama Bass Trail (ABT) has been to Lake Martin every year recently with more than 200 boats with two anglers per boat fishing for a $10,000 first prize. Anglers often come early to practice and locate fish and the patterns to land a winning five-fish bag. ABT director Kay Donaldson said the ABT estimates the economic impact of just ABT’s tournament to be about $400,000. Those numbers are based on spending by fishermen at previous ABT tournaments. It averages to $1,778 per boat in expenditures for things such as gas, fuel, food and hotel stays.
Hastings said visitors are seeking information from her office for the summer and beyond. She doesn’t believe the area is just a fishing attraction and things are lining up for another successful year.
“Our area is on fire right now for tourism,” Hastings said. “The momentum I’m seeing, the calls I am getting, the emails, all show positive signs going into the summer that is going to be another great year.”