Bed taxes are up and the Gulf County Tourist Development Council advisory council was feeling good.
During last Friday’s regular meeting the council celebrated a bed tax revenue increase of 26.8 percent in August over the same month last year.
The current 4 percent tax collected $747,254 year –to-date over the 2011-12 total of $661,372.
Beach nourishment plans for the new fiscal year include signage for Indian Pass, Cape San Blas and St. Joe Beach to warn visitors and residents to not walk on the dunes, though council chairman David Warriner worried that too many signs may be unattractive to Gulf County visitors.
“I have a problem with ‘don’t’ signs,” said Warriner. “I don’t want to say no to everyone.”
The council agreed to monitor the public’s response to the signs and revisit the verbiage in the future if needed.
TDC director Jennifer Jenkins mentioned that the budget had undergone a final adjustment from $600,000 to $650,000 for the new fiscal year. Jenkins said that this number was still conservative.
Jenkins reported on the TDC’s recently wrapped month-long Pinterest campaign that had visitors and residents identifying places around Gulf County through photographs posted online. The campaign raised awareness of the Forgotten Coast by spotlighting the beaches and other out-of-the-way gems.
“It was a fabulous promotion,” said Jenkins. “It’s all about getting the word out.”
Jenkins reported that the campaign led to a 40 percent increase in website traffic and a 273 percent increase in fans for the TDC’s Facebook page.
So far this year, 54,557 visitor guides had been shipped or distributed and visitation to the Welcome Center was up 14 percent from last year.
Jenkins said that she attributes the success of the campaign to showing potential visitors and residents the natural beauty that the area has to offer.
“We really captured the essence of Gulf County,” she said.
The marketing campaign led to other media exposure from Panama City news stations and travel bloggers.
A new TDC website is currently being developed and is scheduled to be live in mid-February of next year that will allow traffic to be directed to specific areas of the webpage that visitors may find appealing or helpful.
Another marketing endeavor saw eight wooden kiosks built around Gulf County to list upcoming TDC-sponsored events, important information and to invite guests to the Welcome Center.
They were constructed by the county’s maintenance team and have been erected at area parks that include Frank Pate, Indian Pass, Salinas, White City, Gaskin, Beacon Hill, Highland View and the Dead Lakes (see related article).
Scheduled appearances at the council meeting included Brenda Garth of the Semper Fi Sisters.
Garth asked the council for a special adjustment that would allow her to have $2,500 up-front for the shipping of the “Boxes of Love” that will be put together during the group’s annual packing party at the Centennial Building, for which the city of Port St. Joe has waived its rental fee.
The funds, allocated annually, would allow the Sisters to ship 200 packages.
Pat Hardman, coordinator of the Shells and Tales storytelling event, sought $1,600 to pay professionals to come in for the 2014 installment in February.
At last year’s event, yarn spinners included Panama City humorist Pat Nease and Tallahassee’s Robyn A. Rennick. The council awarded the funds in hopes that the event could ultimately rival the 10,000 person events held in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Patrick Jones appeared on behalf of the Port of Port St. Joe. He explained that until the Port is operational, funds are not available for operating costs. In order to raise money, the Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. decided to host a golf tournament in December and sought $1,500-$2,000 to purchase signage, banners and flyers to market the event.
“Less than two months to pull off a golf tournament is a recipe for disaster,” said Warriner.
The council agreed that they would help promote the event through their online presence, but no money was awarded and the request was tabled while Jones explored other avenues for funding.
Prior to adjournment, Warriner revealed that County Commissioner Warren Yeager, also a member of the TDC council, would serve for the 2014 year.