Don’t use the word “plateau” when discussing tourism numbers with Jennifer Adams.

 

 

Don’t use the word “plateau” when discussing tourism numbers with Jennifer Adams.

The executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council doesn’t want to hear it.

Maybe the steroid-like growth of tourism numbers in recent years wasn’t sustainable.

Maybe impacts from a difficult 2016 scallop season and recent stormy weather lingered.

But dwell on May bed tax revenue, which dipped by 3.82 percent, the equivalent of a couple of thousand dollars, or a fiscal year which, with four months remaining, is running just 2.32 percent ahead of last fiscal year, and Adams simply isn’t a believer that a plateau has arrived.

“Overall, nationwide, there has been a shift in tourism,” Adams said of national trends that show tourism spending off compared to recent years. “So far we have had four of 10 months (in the fiscal year) that have been down.

“It worries me a little bit. But, overall, I think we are having a very good summer. July is by far the biggest month of the year.”

And she still has a goal of 10 percent growth for the current year and Adams is sticking to it.

In 2012, the TDC collected $210,000 in July; two years later that number was $361,000.

Last year, during a month that was considered a down month, July still saw collections north of $340,000.

And, thus far, July has seen a boom.

The Fourth of July holiday fell on a Tuesday creating the effective equivalent of a long weekend.

“Clearly our summer is July and everybody (lodging partners) says July has been great,” Adams said. “The July Fourth weekend was our busiest weekend.”

And with the St. Joseph Bay scallop population showing signs of recovery, surveys showing a roughly three-fold increase in the population, the harvest season which arrives July 25 figures to also provide bounty.

“Last year we were recovering from a bad scallop season,” Adams said. “This year the (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) is pleased about the increase in numbers but also about the density and spread.”

Researchers from the FWC will be in town next week and work with the TDC on another round of restoration work, caging scallops in a no-entry area of the bay to facilitate more efficient spawning.

Last year, some 2,600 were caged, with roughly 70 percent successfully spawning and creating the increase in numbers found during a survey last month.

Whether eating them or not, Adams added, scallop hunting remains a staple for the adventure vacationer.

“We were out there today and because of the rains the water close to shore is a little murky, but you get out past Black’s Island and the water is so clear,” Adams said.

Those adventure vacationers, so much a target for the TDC’s marketing efforts the past few years, are increasing, at least by anecdotal evidence, Adams said.

There are still the F-150 trucks hauling boats toward water for fishing, but more often are seen the smaller vehicles with kayaks and bicycles racked and loaded.

A recent marketing campaign targeting that audience, and the Millenials that comprise a significant demographic, was a success, Adams said.

“That adventure traveler is spot on,” she added.

That marketing target, anchored by a new brand, “live unpacked” which was unveiled over the past year, will continue into the fall, Adams said, as the TDC marketing moves in-house.

In a sense, a contract with no luggage which was not renewed so that revenues could be moved into a parks and recreation effort, provided the foundation for the marketing with the brand-creation.

Adams and team will not have to reinvent the wheel for a marketing campaign. The framework it there.

That effort, Adams said, will be aimed at May through September, so-called “shoulder” months and what Adams calls “prime season” as well as attracting those, particularly young families, seeking new, and even familiar, adventures.

The marketing campaign is already evident in the ramped up promotion of the TDC’s concierge service, which aims to match visitor with activities.

Leave No Trace continues to be a challenge, Adams said, though she said there had been improvement since implementation three summers ago.

“We are trying our best with Leave No Trace,” Adams said. “There are still hot spots, but overall I think the beaches are cleaner.”