Now that the Bay County Commission has passed a "leave no trace behind" ordinance, it's up to the Tourist Development Council (TDC) to figure out how to enforce it.
The Panama City Beach City Council will play a key role in how the new ordinance is implemented. Part of the beach is located in unincorporated Bay County and other parts are within the city limits. Everyone wants consistency, so the beach council will consider adopting the county's ordinance at its Thursday meeting.
"We don't want visitors on one strip of land having their tents taken down and the visitors on the next strip of land having their tents left up," said Mayor Gayle Oberst.
The TDC is charged with making sure tents are moved to the "toe" of the dune line between the hours of 9pm and 5am. Tents left on the beach will be removed and thrown away by the TDC's maintenance company.
At Tuesday's TDC board meeting, members stressed the need for educating locals and tourists prior to implementation. "The last thing we want to do is upset our visitors that are spending millions and millions of dollars here," said Vice Chairman Andy Phillips.
The TDC is finalizing plans for a public awareness campaign. According to Executive Director Dan Rowe, the campaign will include signs at beach access points, digital billboards, information posted in hotel rooms, cards in brochure racks and public service announcements. "We just have to make sure that we're enforcing it in a way that has the intended purpose, which is getting the tents off the beach, but it's also done in a way that [tent owners] don't lose their personal property without knowing about it," said Rowe.
If the beach's ordinance passes its first reading at the council's meeting on June 14, Rowe would immediately launch the TDC campaign. Final approval of the beach ordinance wouldn't come until the council's June 28 meeting.
Mayor Oberst said passage is likely. "I can't speak for the council, but I think we will either mirror the county's [ordinance] or we will pass something very close and then we might need to tweak them to get them together," she said.
Rowe said enforcement will probably begin in early July, after the Independence Day holiday. Mike Thomas, a Bay County commissioner and TDC board member, said enforcement will probably be "…somewhat lenient at first, but not for long."
In other business, the TDC board reviewed preliminary results of a visitor experience survey. According to the firm conducting the survey, Berkeley Strategies, about 1,900 surveys have been completed since March. Most respondents completed online surveys; however, 200 were random one-on-one "intercept" interviews.
On a scale of 1 to 5 – with 5 being "excellent" – visitors rated their experience 4.5, according to the research firm. Ninety-six percent of the respondents said they would make a return trip to Panama City Beach.
Beach activities and shopping topped the list of things to do and respondents said they want more music events, an outlet mall and more family attractions.
"Our tourists really seem more focused on entertainment, concerts, different venues," said Thomas. "The beach experience seems to be a little more [important] to them and it may be because our beach is better than most destinations... it may be just that simple."
Final, audited results of the first quarter survey will be presented at the TDC board's meeting in July.