The Gulf County Tourism Development Council reported that bed tax revenue slipped slightly year over year in November, but overall the gains of the prior fiscal year continue.
Bed tax revenue dropped 1.29 percent in November 2012 compared to the same month in 2011, but for the fiscal year beginning in October, which saw an increase over the prior year, bed tax revenue is up more than 90 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.
That continues an upward trend that saw the TDC collect 12.40 percent more in bed tax revenue for the prior fiscal year, said TDC director Jennifer Jenkins during last week’s board meeting.
Those numbers are confirmation of one opportunity that has been seen in the ongoing TDC research into quantifying perceptions of Gulf County and its amenities – that the shoulder seasons, particularly winter, offer growth opportunities.
That was underscored in a Visitor Perception Survey that was completed as part of a multi-layer research effort that will be discussed during a public workshop at 5:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Feb. 5 in the Board of County Commissioners meeting room.
“The research is meant to affect not only what we do today but what we look at in the future,” Jenkins said.
The Visitor Perception Survey findings were discussed during last week’s meeting, though Jenkins emphasized that the survey is just one layer in the research being conducted into the Gulf County market, who does and does not visit and opportunities for building on the existing foundation.
“This is just a midpoint,” Jenkins said.
The survey response, Jenkins said, exceeded expectations.
Some 21,000 were sent out, to visitors and non-visitors alike, and Jenkins hoped to receive back 350. But more than 745 came back completed and 400 were randomly selected – 300 visitors, 100 non-visitors.
“The sample size is well above what I was looking for,” Jenkins said.
The profile that emerges is a profile that shows that the vast majority of visitors drive to Gulf County, 90 percent identify themselves as being from non-urban – suburban or rural – households that include a married couple and, on average, 2.7 other members.
The age range is roughly 35-64 with household incomes typically between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
“There is a Southern skew to those visitors, but the Midwest presence is very strong,” Jenkins said.
Those visitors primarily identify themselves as explorers/ adventurers and planners. They are largely looking for solitude and the outdoors.
More than half of visitors said they stay a full week and have visited in the past year – 90 percent indicated they had visited Gulf County in the past two years.
Nearly one in five indicated they had visited Gulf County at least five times in the past two years.
Summer is the strongest season, but more than half said they visited in the fall or spring, which Jenkins said provides some insight into potential growth opportunities in the shoulder months or winter.
She also noted that 75 percent of visitors venture outside the county to shop or eat, presenting another opportunity for growth by expanding eating and shopping options in the county, Jenkins said.
One in three survey respondents said they wanted to see no changes to Gulf County other than more restaurants and more deals at those restaurants.
Nearly one out of three visitors said they visit Gulf County because it was unique.
However, Jenkins noted that 30 percent of non-visitors compare Gulf County to Destin and 26 percent think Gulf County is like Panama City Beach. Those perceptions, Jenkins said, provide opportunity to educate travelers on the distinct differences between Gulf County and Panama City Beach or Destin.
“What we have found is that we are not an uber destination. We have a lot of very good organic attributes that are very attractive to our visitors,” Jenkins said. “Not only do (visitors) know our beaches are not crowded, the visitors don’t want a crowded beach.”
When asked to provide adjectives to describe free time in Gulf County, visitors used phrases such as “at home” or “peaceful” and “happy.”
“I have never seen at home in one of these surveys,” Jenkins said.
Again, Jenkins stressed that none of the survey numbers were a definitive snapshot of Gulf County and its visitors, but combined with other aspects of the research being undertaken would provide a portrait of what the TDC is doing right and where it could be doing better moving forward.
Jenkins said she will seek approval from the BOCC this week to move ahead with a Request for Qualifications regarding beach cleaning.
Working with county staff, Jenkins and her staff have already made changes to the layout and maintenance of pet friendly stations, improving the trash disposal with inmate crews providing the upkeep for the station.
Incoming Sheriff Mike Harrison was present at the meeting and said he would work with the TDC to bring more consistency to the patrolling of the beaches.
“We are just really looking for some consistency, both in the cleaning but the patrolling,” Jenkins said.
The hope is to have a beach cleaning contractor in place by March.
The TDC will go back out for bids on the printing of the new Visitor’s Guide after no bids completely in compliance were received by deadline.