Maybe there was no place to go but up, but a 243 percent increase is a record-breaker.
That was the percentage increase in bed taxes in October 2019 compared to the prior year, and the October of Hurricane Michael during which the Gulf County Tourist Development Council collected all of $29,000.
“That was the highest increase we have ever had year-over-year for any month,” said Kelli Godwin, Executive Director of the TDC.
And October’s record-shattering increase was followed by a strong November, which was off just 10.6 percent compared to the prior year.
“We kind of expected to hold fairly steady with all the volunteers and workers in the county,” Godwin added.
For the new fiscal year which began Oct. 1, 2019 the TDC is running 50 percent ahead of the prior fiscal year, which translates into an increase of about $60,000.
And that was a fiscal year, one of rebuilding and restoration, during which the TDC still collected more than $1.6 million in bed taxes.
“So far, so good,” Godwin said. “And now we have our snowbirds coming.”
Bed tax numbers for December have not yet been tallied by the Gulf County Tax Collector, which has introduced a new online filing system this year, but all indications were for a strong month.
“We were busy and a lot of our lodging partners said they were way up,” Godwin said. “And the restaurants were all very busy.”
The snowbirds that flock to the area each year will return to a bit more of the fun enjoyed prior to Hurricane Michael.
Last year, Godwin noted, the county was the majority of tourism came from the “hard-core” visitors, regulars who were as interested in being involved in the recovery as they were vacation.
But this winter, Godwin said, the TDC’s “Winter Fun Calendar” returns with familiar favorites such as the Tour of Homes and sunset boat cruises.
A welcome reception for snowbirds on Jan. 16 drew a strong turnout at the St. Joseph Bay Golf Club.
“We had about 150 people which was about our norm for the event,” Godwin said. “It is absolutely another sign of rebuild.
“We’ve heard a lot of great things from people as far as how far we have come and how great things look.”
A snowbird welcome golf tournament was held last Friday and had nearly a dozen teams.
The new Visitors Guide, which offers a bold-colored cover photo of a person scuba diving, has already proven to be a hit, with the TDC having already distributed roughly one-third of the original 60,000 order.
“The cover just pops everywhere we’ve seen,” Godwin said.
The spring campaign is underway, with Gulf County serving as the sole destination sponsor for event shows in Nashville and Chicago, the Chicago event involving a tasting at a “secret” restaurant.
“That is a big deal to be the sole destination at those events and we will remind everybody we talk to that those markets both have direct air service to Panama City from Southwest,” Godwin said.
The spring campaign will culminate somewhat in early May with the arrival of some internet influencers and the arrival of Taco Week.
Nine restaurants have signed up to participate in creating a signature taco, priced at an affordable $5.
The special will coincide with Cinque de Mayo, May 2-8, and the TDC will provide “passports” that allow the holder to win prizes for visiting all the restaurants involved in the promotion.