How to measure success, gauge impact.

How to measure success, gauge impact.

The Gulf County Tourist Development Council board discussed that issue during last week’s regular monthly meeting, which boiled to a briefing on the many hurdles along the path in 2017.

Given the primary role the agency plays in the local economy, the questions, and challenges, ahead are significant.

*Given current timelines, it appears likely that a beach restoration project will mean sand being pumped on the beaches during the height of summer.

Three primary hots spots are the target, though local officials remain hopeful that the entire project, with one of two permits already in hand, will be funded by the time the Florida Legislature finishes its work in May.

*All that beach activity will make year three of a Leave No Trace ordinance as daunting as ever, given the gap, on the ground and in support, between the ordinance and its enforcement.

*The status of the St. Joseph Bay scallop season offers another mystery.

From the TDC viewpoint, any decision, yea or nay, on the season is better sooner rather than later.

As executive director Jennifer Adams said, “Don’t tell me June 24 … by then it is late.”

*The TDC is also tracking what is happening in Tallahassee in the run-up to the March 4 start of the 2017 legislative session.

The incoming House Speaker has already trained a microscope on state spending on tourism; an early result has been a housecleaning at Visit Florida after details of a $1 million contract with an artist known as Pitbull were revealed.

Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has openly wondered if tourism spending in Florida is even necessary, has also expressed a desire to put the spending of agencies such as tourist development councils in the crosshairs.

Given an attempt in previous years to overhaul how tourist development councils spend bed tax revenue, TDC’s are on alert.

David Warriner, who was elected to a third term as chairman of the TDC advisory board last week, said large expenditures by TDC’s “put a target on all of us.”

If that was not sufficient to keep board and staff busy, the TDC is rolling out a new brand beginning this week while pondering a broader question oo how to quantify success in putting, as Adams said, “heads in beds.”

The new brand, conceived out of a nearly yearlong exercise last year, revolves around “Live unpacked” and the concept that visitors to Gulf County are adventurers, seeking connection to the county’s bountiful waterways.

“Our job is to connect them emotionally as quickly as we can,” Adams said.

The brand, and new logo, replace all other marketing programs and icons that have characterized Gulf County through the years.

In addition to the brand overhaul, the visitors guide is being replaced by two editions.

One is a photo book of the sites of Gulf County and aimed out-of-market; the second an in-market guide book to the activities and locations that make the county special.

But the new marketing work arrives at a time when Adams said her team must take the next step in understanding the market by undertaking a market analysis.

Bed tax revenue has always been the barometer, but TDC board members have long expressed frustration with the accuracy of the numbers, or more particularly what they represent.

Two recent months underscored the point.

In October 2016, bed tax revenues were down even though by all accounts lodging partners reported a banner month.

In August 2016, bed tax revenue was up despite a shortened scallop season which lodging partners uniformly reported impacted occupancy.

Bridging the margin between bed tax revenue and data on room occupany and visitor spending has always been vexing business for the TDC.

The lack of a uniform reporting system, which is under construction online, and the reality that lodging businesses are not compelled to, and may not be comfortable with, sharing occupancy numbers are significant obstacles.

That is particularly true for those lodging partners with more than two units, which make up 87 percent of the market.

Adams said the sort of market analysis needed was typically done by TDC’s and she said as she entered her fifth year at the helm it was time to tackle the task.

“I can’t get to the next level without an analysis of the market, visitor spending and occupancy trends,” Adams said.

The data is essential, Adams said, in understanding the market and how, and to what extent, the TDC impacts the local economy.

“When we put heads in beds we impact the local economy” in a trickle down fashion, Warriner said, noting spending throughout the community that funds badly-needed jobs.

The TDC board approved soliciting requests for proposals for the market analysis work.

Scallop and Music Festival

Very preliminary talks have been had with a vendor to put on the annual Scallop and Music Festival.

The vendor, based out of Nashville, TN, has put on events in Bay County, such as Gulf Coast Jam, and would provide all the infrastructure, including lining up the entertainment, for the festival.

At the price of $300,000 over three years.

The potential is there to transform the festival into a major regional event.

“It is the next step,” said TDC board member Tony Whitfield. “There is only so much you can do with all volunteers.”

Warriner, though, noted the TDC does not have the money and also expressed a desire to have an event unique to Gulf County.

Talks will continue though an answer must be firmed by next month if the vendor is to take over the festival this year.

Salinas Park

Adams said the TDC has not cut trees from gulf side Salinas Park, contrary to comments from the community.

County work crews recently cleaned the park where controversial tree-cutting was undertaken early in 2016, but no trees were cut down, she said.