99¢ for the first month
99¢ for the first month

Labor Day caps busy summer for TDC

By Tim Croft
The Star

Rental units were shut down from March until Memorial Day. 

A global pandemic was raging for much of the calendar year. 

Nonetheless, the Gulf County Tourist Development Council is pacing ahead of last year in bed-tax collections and just recorded the best July ever. 

After finishing June short by about $400 compared to the prior year, bed tax collections exploded in July. 

Receipts were just under 49 percent above last July and the $533,215 collected was a record for the month, the peak of the summer season. 

“We had our full demand for July,” Godwin said. 

And the month pushed the TDC into the black for the year, 10 percent above last year’s pace. 

“I was really happy to see that,” said TDC executive director Kelli Godwin. “That is the best July we have ever had. 

“To be closed up that long and still be ahead for the year, that is pretty amazing.” 

Godwin added she was glad to be promoting a destination such as Gulf County, which lacks the density during peak months found to the east and west. 

Visitors have more room to spread out and remain socially-distanced and the nature of rental units encourages family-type gatherings, Godwin added. 

“I am so glad to have this kind of destination to market,” Godwin said. 

For the year, the TDC has bed tax collections of nearly $1.6 million. 

With two months remaining in the fiscal year, bed tax collections are well within striking distance of last year’s $1.75 million. 

And consider August, though the numbers are not yet in, was strong, Godwin said, with scallop season and Labor Day.  

“August looks like it will be a little ahead of last year,” Godwin said. “We’ve had a strong scallop season. We’ve heard nothing but good things.” 

Scallop season, it should be noted, does not close until the last week of September so there is still more economic engine remaining in the season. 

“I am hopeful we are going to end the year up (compared to last year),” Godwin said. 

In addition to fall and holiday marketing campaigns, much of which is online and virtual, the TDC is also charged by the Board of County Commissioners with the process of licensing lodging partners. 

The BOCC recently approved an ordinance requiring a business license for all businesses. 

The trick for the TDC is to ensure that before issuing any license, lodging operators are adhering to the cleanliness standards established upon the re-opening of vacation rentals. 

In the case of lodging partners, a component of the campaign is to bring everybody onto the same page, with the county doing the inspecting. 

Godwin noted the rental management companies have few issues. 

“They were always doing it the right way,” Godwin said. “This will level the playing field a little bit.” 

The TDC just celebrated its first year operating the St. Joseph Bay Golf Club, which this fall will have a new food vendor. 

There will be a grand re-opening Friday followed by a series of golf tournaments the remainder of the month into October. 

A fall marketing campaign, called “Wade In” and emphasized re-opening, or wading in, safely, will end soon. 

“It actually was a good response campaign,” Godwin said. “It was all about wading in safely.” 

The TDC in partnership with the Florida Department of Health in Gulf and Franklin County launched a “Pledge to Protect” campaign. 

The campaign, with a separate page on the TDC website, provides incentives and recognition to those businesses practicing social distancing, face masks, etc. 

“We want to show people we are taking the extra steps,” Godwin said, noting that much of the call volume at the TDC Welcome Center is focused on visitors wishing to know what businesses are safe to patronize. 

“We want to keep our businesses open and safe.” 

The focus of the coming marketing campaign will be the TDC’s new website and the tools available at the site, which will launch in the coming weeks. 

Included will be a significant number of “virtual” tours for those who want to visit, but from a distance. 

The TDC has even created a Spotify list of songs by Gulf County-based or inspired artists. 

The seasonal campaign will be similar, with the winter schedule taking on a different look, with activities such as biking day, and virtual components being central, such as a local chef showing a favored recipe.