Tourist Development Council executive director Jennifer Jenkins set a lofty perch to reach for the fiscal year just ended.
She and her team missed by this much.
With a September that brought in a bed tax revenue increase of 26 percent compared to the prior year – the second consecutive month showing an increase of 26 percent – TDC bed tax collections for the year ending Sept. 30 spiked 14 percent compared to last year.
Jenkins set a goal of 15 percent and was still trying to move on from her near miss on Monday.
“The numbers are very high for the past two months,” Jenkins said. “The last month we had any kind of increase like that 26 percent was in January.
“It’s great. Especially when you think that we really didn’t have a chance to kick in our concentrated marketing strategy until February.”
But that 15 percent – that would have been icing on a delicious cake.
And the work hardly ends as Jenkins has set a goal of 20 percent growth in bed tax revenue for the coming fiscal year, including a 30 percent increase in revenue for the so-called shoulder seasons of fall and winter.
To convert percentages into dollars, this past year’s fiscal year TDC budget was crafted based on a revenue projection of $600,000. The TDC collected nearly $900,000 in bed taxes.
As a result the TDC advisory council recently increased the projected budget for the just-started fiscal year at $650,000.
“I want to set those high goals because I don’t want us to be complacent,” Jenkins said. “I don’t spend ad valorem dollars. I spend bed tax dollars and I have a lot of partners. I owe it to them not to be complacent.
“And we have done this with not a lot of money. Six hundred thousand dollar is not a lot in the big picture.”
One critical aspect of the prior year, Jenkins said, was contracting an in-depth multi-layered research of a kind the TDC had never performed and provided a trove of important information about who visits Gulf County, why and what they do, where they come from and want from their experience.
The research helped shape marketing approaches across multiple platforms and was noted repeatedly by elected officials during decision making months after the research findings were released.
“The research really put us on the right track,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think we could have done what we did without the research.”
The outstanding last two months have been fed in part, Jenkins said, by an increase in international tourists from Europe and Great Britain. Jenkins noted two men from the UK who came on vacation and stayed for the recent Songwriters Festival.
The “shoulder season” is strong in other key ways.
“I also have heard from partners that they are able to keep their workers on, they are not having to lay off as much,” Jenkins said, adding that jobs are as important in her bucket list as heads in beds.
Jenkins said she also pleased with the informational kiosks built by county maintenance crews and placed at eight parks around the county.
She also emphasized the face time her team – staff grew as Jenkins took nearly all functions of the TDC in-house – devotes to getting out in the community and “talking to people and our partners.”
“That has been very important,” she added.
The results are evident in climbing traffic on the website, a growing number of “fans” on the TDC Facebook page and growing traffic at the TDC Welcome Center in Port St. Joe.
“It has been really busy just today,” Jenkins said on Monday.
Next year’s visitors’ guide will jump from 68 pages to 80 and will include new sections, such as pages devoted to hunting, and partners.
But as is the case in the world of Jennifer Jenkins, works remains.
“I really missed snowbird season though I can chalk that up to just being new here,” Jenkins said. “I would like to get ahead of Spring Break in April and May and I missed out some on fishing.”
She also wants to implement a proposed “beach ambassador” program emphasizing enjoying paradise in a safe manner, a kind of concierge/beach patrol.
There will also be a signage program pertaining to county ordinances on beach driving and pets, but signs that will not be “in your face.”
“Now we are ready to polish (the foundation laid the past year) up a little bit,” Jenkins said. “My team is excited about it.”