Let us put it this way; so far the fiscal year has been all over the map for the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.
Hurricane Michael can do that.
In the first four months of the year, two months have come in with bed tax numbers up by double-digits year-over-year.
However, the other two months have seen bed tax revenue drop by double-digits compared to the prior year.
Those latter two months include January, the most recent month reported by the Gulf County Tax Collector.
January was down 11.01 percent.
For the year, bed taxes are down 19 percent, or roughly $58,000.
“I think it is starting to show us truer numbers,” said TDC executive director Kelli Godwin, who noted that numbers were likely a bit skewed since the storm due to difficulties reporting for lodging partners.
“I am still happy with the numbers. We are not down that much. I feel we’re pretty full between workers and visitors,” Godwin said.
Rental inventory is also steadily returning, Godwin said, noting that currently about 40 percent of rental inventory is back online with the hope the number reaches 50 percent by May and the onset of the summer season.
“We are just prepping everybody, we are still a work in progress,” Godwin said. “People are happy to see the work going on. We have had a lot of positive comments.”
The winter snowbird season was also a positive, with plenty of volunteers for a month’s schedule of clean-up and recovery work, cleaning shorelines and roadways.
The annual winter reception drew about 75 percent of the normal crowd, Godwin said.
The TDC is busy spending Visit Florida grant funds on marketing, beginning to shine a spotlight away from the rebuilding onto the usual haunts and activities that lure visitors to the county.
The county was awarded $250,000 for marketing by Visit Florida.
“We are letting people know how we are and how we are doing,” Godwin said a campaign that has centered on a series of videos and commercials featuring locals.
“That Visit Florida money was fantastic. It was a lifeline for us. They have treated us very well.”
The marketing campaign also includes some in-market touches, such as updating signs and erecting banners similar to the one hanging over U.S. 98 in downtown Port St. Joe which thanks visitors for joining in the county’s journey.
“We want to remind everyone we are happy they are here,” Godwin said. “We are also emphasizing rediscovering your senses, highlighting normal activities that bring the adventure tourist.”
Another priority is getting Dead Lakes Park in Wewahitchka up and running again.
The park, which has become financially self-sustaining in the past few years, suffered significant damage from Hurricane Michael.
In addition, the Board of County Commissioners voted last week to have the TDC take over operations at the park.
Godwin said she is working to establish an online cash-less system for reservations and payments, per the wishes of county officials.
In addition, the park, as part of its rebuild, will also see upgrades, such as full hook-ups at camp sites and, potentially, WiFi.
“It will look different,” Godwin said of the park. “It will need some TLC.”
The hope is to open the park and campsites in phases, with the first 10 sites opening within a month, Godwin said.