Everything is up up up.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Tourist Development Council, executive director Jennifer Jenkins said that bed tax numbers were up for March, showing a 2.5 percent increase from the same time in 2013.
“Summer is pacing really well,” said Jenkins. “Last year I was focusing on the third cent, but I’m focused on that fourth penny, too.”
This marks an overall 6 percent increase with a goal of 20 percent set for the year.
Last week, writers, editors and publishers from publications across the U.S. including Cabela’s, Buttermilk Lipstick, Trekker Times and numerous blogs stopped by Gulf County to spend a week experiencing the many adventures that the area has to offer.
Despite constant rains over the first three days, Jenkins said that it was a positive experience with many friendships blooming among writers.
A packed itinerary took the writers boating on the Dead Lakes, visiting Tupelo apiaries, exploring the state parks, enjoying a low country boil, and of course, quality time on the beach.
“The weather put quite a bit of a challenge in front of us,” said Jenkins. “My staff did a fantastic job and even though it was hectic, it worked out quite well.”
Three of the writers were from Birmingham, an area Jenkins expressed a desire to gain more exposure in. Jenkins said that articles about the experiences would begin to appear online within the next week and many of the guests were already planning return trips.
Jenkins also hinted at a possible “strategic alliance” with Cabela’s, a website dedicated to enjoying the outdoors.
The TDC will perform a soft launch of its new website this week though content, including heavy social media integration, will be continuously added as any bugs are worked out.
The new site features an easy navigation system and will spotlight area businesses and events that will rotate depending on the time of the year. Jenkins said that every month’s content for the remainder of 2014 was already pre-written to ensure the site always contains up to date information.
Jenkins sought approval from the council to hire a second seasonal Beach Ambassador to go along with the Brand Ambassador and Beach Technician roles.
The two ambassadors would work from Memorial Day through September, assisting locals and visitors with questions and keeping them in the loop of area ordinances while still ensuring that they’re representing Gulf County’s brand.
The interview process for the positions has begun with just under 30 total applications received for the three jobs.
“We’re looking for responsible people,” said Jenkins. “Someone who epitomizes our brand.”
To help train the ambassadors, Jenkins unveiled a training plan in conjunction with Loretta Costin of Gulf Coast State College’s Gulf/Franklin campus that will be held later in the month.
The free three-hour workshop will give attendees a better understanding of Gulf County’s visitors and their interests, a brief history of the area to help answer questions, as well as basic customer service skills.
“We’ll use the visitor’s guide as our textbook,” said Costin. “It’s for employees of businesses in Gulf County to make sure they really are brand ambassadors to the area.”
The class will give locals additional skills, specific to the area and Jenkins will encourage the WorkForce Board, county and city staff, police officers and even high school graduates to attend.
“It’s been tremendous to work with the college and it may even grow into a course,” said Jenkins. “This will be a case study for how the community is working together to be a luxury branded destination.”
Registration details will be announced soon.
Also on the minds of the council was a proposed sports complex that could help draw families to the area during the shoulder season.
The city currently has 70 acres in Port St. Joe, gifted by the St. Joe Company to use for the facility, but the council also discussed the possibility of updating the Honeyville complex in Wewahitchka.
Council member and County Commissioner Warren Yeager said he felt that the TDC could be a leader in spearheading the project. He said that by offering a complex where sporting tournaments could be held, it would put “heads in beds” and also help support local businesses.
“It’s a legal and encouraged project for our bed tax dollars,” said council chairman David Warriner. “It feels like the right time.”
Yeager motion to conceptually discuss the project on the municipal and county level was passed by the council. Yeager said that the project would be a good joint venture between the TDC, the city of Port St. Joe and the Board of County Commissioners.