Bed tax revenue? Up.
Welcome Center visitors? Up.
Visitors to the Gulf County Tourist Development Council website? Up.
The trends are spiking as TDC director Jennifer Jenkins nears her one-year anniversary in Gulf County and the TDC advisory council last week heard about progress made and opportunities ahead.
“Everything is good, going quite well,” Jenkins said while outlining the bed tax revenue for the first six months of the fiscal year was more than $30,000 ahead of the prior year.
Jenkins said that visitors to the Welcome Center, with hours extended in the past month, have risen by roughly 70 percent.
“We are seeing a lot more people,” she told her board.
The board took action on one of Jenkins’ major overhauls this year, a new rubric and award structure for special event funding from the TDC.
In past years, the special event funding has been something of a grab bag, but this year the concentration is on return on investment – how many heads to events put in beds and the extent of draw in a radius beyond 60 miles from Gulf County.
“We have to break from the past,” said board member and Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidson.
In one instance, the board denied an application for funding this year from Project Graduation of Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School due to the new award parameters.
The event was not seen a boon for tourism, despite the fine intentions, said board member Ronald Pickett.
The emphasis was on identifying so-called “signature” events and marking the calendar with so-called “niche” events, events which draw more locals and bed tax collection is not as “lofty,” Jenkins said.
“Our job is to spend the money as smartly as we can,” said Alyson Gerlach, who chairs the TDC marketing committee.
The marketing committee approved, and in turn the full advisory board approved, several signature events – signature events, Jenkins said, were those events in which the expected bed tax collections exceed the amount of the special event award.
Those events include the Scallop Festival, Blast on the Bay Songwriters’ Festival, the Great Florida Plein Air Paint Out and the Semper Fi Sisters Beach Blast.
Bay Day, held twice a year as a fundraising celebration of the St. Joseph Bay State Preserves, is currently considered a niche event that will become a signature event.
The niche events funded under the special grant funding were broken into categories.
Those categories are golfing, snowbirds, pet friendly, fishing, festivals, eco-tourism, art/music and the final category simply local.
A major component to the difference in funding niche and signature events is the role the TDC will play in marketing the events.
For the niche, more local, events the key is that the TDC will hold back 50 percent of any grant award to do the marketing, be it a fishing events such as the Sheriff’s Office annual tournament or a local event such as Ghosts on the Coast.
“I have confidence in our ability to do all that work in house,” Jenkins said. “When we can take these niche events” and grow them into larger events the money will follow.
The TDC staff will have a major presence at signature events, but the amount of the award – for example $10,000 for the Scallop Festival – will go to organizers to handle the bulk of the marketing and advertising.
For any event, at least 50 percent of marketing and advertising must be done outside a 60-mile radius of Gulf County.
And the grants provide something of a road map for the TDC in creating website and social media content.
“(The partners) help us with the content development,” Jenkins said. “I’m starting to tie (events) to messaging and broaden it.”
In total, the TDC received grant proposals requesting more than $107,000. Events qualified for $76,447, but with the TDC share of marketing the niche events backed out the amount awarded this year totaled $54,848.
The TDC board also handed out grant funding for the remainder of the fiscal year for several events and functions.
The board granted addition funding this year of $9,600 to the MBARA for magazine advertising, the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce for additional Scallop Festival funding, the Friends of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, the annual Street Dance in the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe and National Marina Day.