Last October following the unfriendly arrival of Hurricane Michael, the Gulf County Tourist Development Council slashed in half the budget already approved for the fiscal year which ended Oct. 1.

By late spring and early summer, bed tax collections were off about 25 percent and reflected what would be a new normal, said Kelli Godwin, TDC Executive Director.

And as the season ended Oct. 1, despite a September skewed by collections last year after Michael, TDC officials see optimism for the coming year.

For the fiscal year, bed tax collections finished off 22.4 percent compared to the prior fiscal year.

That, after August was down just 8.8 percent compared to August 2018, the second-best monthly showing, percentage-wise, for the fiscal year.

“I think a lot of that had to do with the high scallop surveys,” Godwin said. “We had a great scallop season.”

Godwin told the TDC advisory board Tuesday that while indications had been the board of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was leaning toward opening scallop season in Gulf County July 1, they are also aware of local sentiment to keep the season’s start in mid-August.

The FWC is to hold a public forum to discuss the season in the coming weeks, Godwin added.

But, back to the dollars, and a September which was off 100 percent to complete the fiscal year.

“I think this number is skewed by what happened last year after Michael and a lot of collections did not land until November and December,” Godwin said, noting the county had allowed bed-tax collectors additional time for submittals after Michael.

In terms of dollars, the TDC collected over $1.62 million in bed taxes for the year which might be off in numbers but not in overall direction when considered in context.

That revenue is nearly identical to bed tax collections four years ago, the first year the TDC began collecting a fifth-penny in bed tax for parks and recreation.

Collections were off by $557,000 this year, but off from a record-breaking year when collections topped $2.1 million.

And, as it turned out, collections for the year came in $600,000 above budget.

“We finished about 80 percent of last year which is pretty amazing given all the circumstances,” Godwin said.

“We actually finished above where we budgeted immediately after the hurricane.”

And nearly any measurement showed growth other than traffic to the visitgulf website which was down a smidge.

Across social media sites, visitors/friends/fans increased on Facebook (12 percent), Instragram (46 percent), Pinterest (19 percent) and YouTube (75 percent).

As the 2020 Visitor’s Guide heads to the press in early December, the TDC has also distributed the vast majority of the 2019 guide already, with increased exposure in distant lands such as Texas and Green Bay, WI.

Finally, the TDC grew its membership over the past year, with 10 new partners to bring the total to 72.

The TDC is well into its “Holidays on the Half Shell” holiday/winter marketing campaign, which featured eight weeks of events including a scavenger hunt for Christmas ornaments next week, dance lessons and dances at St. Joseph Bay Golf Club.

“They are all family-friendly, fun events,” said TDC marketing director Kristy Grove.

Beach restoration

As of last week, the $10.2 million beach restoration project on St. Joseph Peninsula was completed and crews were moving to Eagle Harbor in the state park to fill “Michael’s Cut,” a breach in the beach caused by Hurricane Michael.

The majority of the new sand was placed around the Stump Hole rock revetment and Sunrise/Sunset, but new sand went all the way to the southern boundary of Billy Joe Rish State Park.

The theory behind the restoration is the natural currents will carry sand south to north along the peninsula and in time reinforce beaches north of Billy Joe Rish Park.