A calendar evolved from small talk at the county Welcome Center.

Why not, one winter visitor suggested, offer ways for loyal visitors who love them some Gulf County/Cape San Blas/St. Joseph Peninsula/Indian Pass to help soothe the devastation from Hurricane Michael.

From that, the staff at the Gulf County Tourist Development Council crafted a “winter fun” calendar that grafted in a healthy helping of “voluntourism.”

That calendar was shared by a network of Gulf County lovers in the Southeast and Midwest, loyalists who wouldn’t ponder going anywhere else to spend their winter months.

And judging by the first two events on that calendar, the concept of fun is strictly in the eye of the beholder.

More than 30 winter visitors recently turned out for an Adopt-A-Highway event between Salinas Park and Sunset Reflections.

The group collected more than 10 bags of trash while wading from road shoulders into the thicket along Salinas Park.

“They really owned the project,” said TDC Executive Director Kelli Godwin. “They were really serious. And they seemed to be having fun.”

The winter fun continued last week in collaboration with the Port St. Joe Garden Club, as a group of volunteers crafted, by repurposing storm debris, a “succulent garden” near the entrance to Cape Palms Park.

These volunteer ranks also established during the month of January a warehouse and a program to help provide appliances and furniture to those who had lost all in the storm.

That group, A Fresh Start at Home, served 120 families.

And they have assisted at the STAC House.

The calendar also includes a coastal cleanup March 9, two blood drives, and a park beautification day Feb. 28.

The next Adopt-A-Mile event is 9-11 a.m. ET Feb. 16.

Check GCFLWINTERFUN.com for more details.

 

Revenue

A month ago, Godwin, when noting that bed tax revenues in November were up, said she would likely never say those words again for a time.

Well, that turned out to be about 30 days.

Bed tax revenue for December was up a stunning 48 percent compared to the same month in 2017 and of the two completed months since Hurricane Michael bed taxes have actually been way up compared to 2017.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Godwin said. “Those are some surprising numbers.

“We may still have some late reports from September and October. There are a lot of people in town, with contractors and visitors.”

Of course, the year remains down overall, by about 20 percent, or $50,000 in revenue, but the fact is that any revenue this time of the fiscal year is almost gravy to the TDC.

Godwin said when the agency budgeted for the coming fiscal year, they did so conservatively, essentially budgeting revenue based on having 50 percent of pre-Michael bed tax collecting inventory intact for the final six months of the fiscal year.

“Anything we are getting this time of year is a good thing,” Godwin said. “It is hard to get an accurate picture of our inventory and it will be for a few more months.

“Right now we are at about 30-40 percent; we are hoping it will be 40-50 percent when the season starts.”

 

Visit Florida grant

This week the TDC received the announcement that it had secured a $250,000 marketing grant from Visit Florida’s hurricane recovery fund, one of just a handful of TDC’s so-awarded.

Marketing at been an area where the TDC had been cutting for a couple of years, initially as a result of a decision to bank some of the so-called fifth-penny of bed tax.

The marketing budget for the coming year was about $150,000, half levels of two years ago, and the Visit Florida grant will cover that budget item and then some.

Godwin said the TDC will expand into radio and television using 30-second spots the agency filmed with local merchants about the hurricane and the rebuild.

“This will give us some more breathing room,” Godwin said.