In baseball parlance, the Gulf County Tourist Development Council enters the regular season off an excellent spring training.
With bed tax revenue continuing its climb in February, the TDC advisory council held its regular monthly meeting last week as a spring promotion gathered steam and peak of the season looms.
The revenue numbers from February maintained a positive winter trend.
February bed tax revenue grew 18 percent over the same month last year and follows monthly increases of 3.48 percent in January, 48 percent in December – went some tax collectors were still reporting quarterly – and 6.8 percent in November.
Year to date, year over year, revenue has climbed 7.8 percent.
The goal for this year is 20 percent over the prior fiscal year and the county’s tourist season is only now starting to pick up in earnest.
“We are pacing well,” said TDC executive director Jennifer Jenkins. “We clearly have room for growth. We are reporting monthly so these are accurate.”
The switch from quarterly to uniform monthly reporting was critical to Jenkins for honing her marketing focus throughout the year.
Bed tax revenue mirrors a busy period of the shoulder season, typically and traditionally a slower time for vacationers and visitors, but one Jenkins and her team have been focusing on as they try to build tourism during such shoulder seasons.
The Welcome Center in Port St. Joe saw a jump in visitors of 31 percent and traffic to the agency’s website has increased 169 percent.
Last month alone, Jenkins and her team distributed some 15,000 visitors’ guides.
The number of Facebook fans, with a goal of 10,000 this year, has already reached over 9,600.
“The numbers are really good,” Jenkins said.
And the visitors noticed the effort and focus of the TDC, indicated several advisory board members.
Board chair David Warriner said he thought better communications and networking among visits was well-fostered by the TDC and Ronald Pickett noted an increase in available activities beyond two appreciation receptions.
“I think a lot of them were impressed with what we were doing as far as providing activities,” Pickett said.
The spring promotion on Instagram has gone well, Jenkins said, though the numbers are less than she had hoped. The quality of the photos posted to reflect how folks think of Gulf County, however, have exceeded her hopes.
“I have to think more of the quality than the quantity,” she said.
The spring promotion is aimed at getting folks to snap their photos for upload to Instagram, the fastest-growing social media platform in the country, and tagging to #GulfCountynofilter.
The promotion, which closes at the end of the month, includes collaboration with several entities, a blogging network, the online presence of Field and Stream magazine, among others that include the non-profit Outdoor Nation whose mission is to connect the so-called Millennial generations to the outdoors.
“The spring promotion is going real well,” Jenkins said. “I am pleased with the results so far.
“The branding is good. People are liking it. We are getting pretty good exposure with it.”
The underlying hope for the promotion was to increase awareness about Gulf County in the non-traditional tourist months of shoulder season. That exposure grows exponentially when linking to social media and online platforms.
And using that increased awareness of Gulf County as a springboard for additional promotions throughout the year.
The increase in Google impressions during the pre-spring and spring promotions total nearly 7 million. The goal across all platforms is 13 million, Jenkins said, a reachable goal.
The local partners benefit, Jenkins said.
For example, recent traffic indicates that during the early spring and spring period 46 percent of visitors were clicking through to visit the website of lodging, restaurant and outdoors partners.
“Handing off 50 percent of traffic is pretty good,” Jenkins said.
With the deadline passed for applications to receive event sponsorship funding from the TDC, Jenkins said the process would begin of winnowing down the applications for presentation to the board.
After advisory council approval the final list of sponsorship funding must be approved by the Board of County Commissioners.
Jenkins said she hoped to have that task completed by the middle of May in time for the crafting of county budgets.
The application pool was broadened this year, but the link to collaboration with a lodging partner and “heads in beds” was tightened.
The TDC received 18 applications compared to 21 last year, but the total funding being sought was $110,000 compared to $71,000 last year.