April bed tax numbers were up for the Gulf County Tourist Development Development Council, but the lens through which the future can be viewed is now a bit less rosy.

 

April bed tax numbers were up for the Gulf County Tourist Development Development Council, but the lens through which the future can be viewed is now a bit less rosy.

The fiscal year has yet to reach expectations, but the TDC will have to craft a new budget for the coming fiscal year, one that dramatically reduces marketing dollars, and aims to hurdle two significant obstacles.

One, promoting that there will be a scallop season, longer than last year and forecast to be positive, and dealing with a beach restoration project that, at the earliest, will now begin in October.

“Every year I try to come up with aggressive goals and I am going to do it again this year,” said Jennifer Adams, TDC executive director, during a special meeting last week.

April bed tax numbers, the most recent month available, came in 16 percent above the same month last year, just the second month during the fiscal year that began in October that has finished in the black by double-digits, percentage-wise.

For the year, bed tax revenue is up 3.8 percent compared to last year; the TDC”s stated goal for the year was 10 percent growth.

This month and July are crucial, the months, TDC advisory board member Alyson Gerlach said, that bed tax collectors make their money to tide them year long.

And that could be particularly true this year, as David Warriner, president of the TDC advisory board, said his current forecasts for August are “terrible.”

Part of that, Warriner said, is due to the message not resonating that a scallop season will take place this year in St. Joseph Bay.

The 2017 season will be longer than last year’s, starting later than the rest of the state, July 25, and ending before the rest of the state, Sept. 10,

Bag limits will return to state mandates after being reduced in 2016.

And, after a population restoration program undertaken last year and continuing into 2017, as well as the migration of red tide well away from local waters, some scallopers are looking for a good season.

“Everything indicates it should be an excellent season,” said Herman Jones, a diver, and expert on local waters.

This after a 2016 season that was two weeks long and was in question altogether from April until a final decision was made in June.

“When you miss a season like that people forget about you,” Warriner said. “Our fall campaign was to coincide with scallop season.”

But the TDC will be getting the word out, and undertaking whatever fall campaign toward “prime season” is on the radar, without its current marketing consultant no luggage.

With the decision of the Board of County Commissioners (see related story) to suspend the marketing contract as part of a realignment of TDC funding and operations, all marketing and advertising is to move in-house.

Two new employees will be hired, and Adams said she will be seeking help in three key areas: public relations, strategic planning and planning.

The TDC’s concern, the momentum built the past four years, culminating with a new brand rolled out this past year, will be lost, that the metrics of the past four years will move in reverse.

“That is my concern, that the cuts to our marketing, which helps everybody in the county… it will stop the momentum of the past several years,” said advisory board member Tony Whitfield.

And, Gerlach noted, when beach restoration begins, that will mean lodging establishments will be forced to reduce rates, provide discounts and refunds and weather tough months.

Warriner added that forecasts are for a national slide for tourism in the coming years and the local trends so far this year were less that hoped.

At this time, tourism drives the economic engine for the county, employees rely on paychecks, and the “unquestioned success” of the past four years could be in a for rude end, several board members worried.

“I am scared,” said Jeri Ashcraft of the TDC advisory board.