Anecdotal evidence about tourism in May was more than supported by the numbers.
Bed tax revenue for the month jumped 33 percent over May 2013 and represented the fourth month in the calendar year during which tourism revenue increased by percentages in the double digits compared to the prior year.
For the fiscal year, bed tax revenue is up 12 percent and Tourist Development Council executive director Jennifer Jenkins said, while acknowledging the hefty lifting ahead, she is not taking her eye off a 20 percent increase by the end of the fiscal year.
“In my mind we are shooting to make that 20 percent,” Jenkins said.
The May numbers were gaudier when considering that many school systems in areas from which Gulf County draws tourists, particularly the Southeast and lower Midwest, were late finishing for the year due to weather days.
Jenkins identified several key factors in May’s impressive showing, all the more impressive given that a busy June ended with the opening of scallop season last week and is followed by what is typically the busiest month of the tourist season, July.
“We had a really good spring promotion,” Jenkins said of the #GCFLnofilter promotion that included collaboration across several platforms and a partnership with Outdoor Nation, a non-profit seeking to connect so-called Millenials to the outdoors.
“We also had some good marketing,” Jenkins said of an effort to bring writers from a host of publications, print and online, to Gulf County, an effort that has already produced positive ink in several significant markets.
Jenkins has also made significant inroads during promotional trips to New York and Birmingham, for example.
“It is about building relationships,” Jenkins said.
The bed tax numbers are just the iceberg represented by a tip that consists of increased traffic at the TDC Welcome Center in Port St. Joe, to the TDC website and its Facebook page – the goal of 10,000 “likes” was eclipsed more than a month ago.
Though Jenkins missed her goal for the shoulder season – Jenkins and her team targeted an increase of 20 percent during non-traditional months of fall and early spring but ended with growth of 12.5 percent – the winter season mitigated some disappointment.
“Our winter was very good, we were up about 21 percent,” Jenkins said.
This is the first season that Jenkins has been able to fully implement the marketing and promotional plans – receptions for winter guests, bringing writers in to enjoy and trumpet Gulf County, seasonal promotions, a change in special event funding, among other items – she envisioned when arriving just more than two years ago.
She said much of what is in place remains a “process” which she and her team will assess as the fiscal year progresses with an eye toward honing the message in the coming year.
Though, May and June are reflective that the message is getting through.
“June was also a good month,” Jenkins said.