Gulf County lies at the heart of what has become known as "The Forgotten Coast," but tourism officials are taking steps to make sure that's only a marketing slogan.
The area doesn't have the buzz of other Florida hot spots, and that could be one of the county's biggest selling points. "It's a beautiful, perfect place to live, work and play," said Warren Yeager, a county commissioner who serves as the board's liaison to the tourist council.
Wednesday was the first day on the job for Jennifer Jenkins, the TDC's new Executive Director. "I have always loved the Gulf Coast and so when I saw this opportunity come up, I thought [it was] a great chance for my family and I to get back to the place we really do call home," she said.
Jenkins previously served as marketing director of the Walton County TDC and most recently managed the North Carolina Division of Tourism account for a Charlotte agency. She replaces Tim Kerigan, who was fired in February after an audit found a lack of controls in place to manage TDC expenditures.
Yeager said the TDC has implemented a number of internal procedures recommended by the auditor. "It was a learning experience," he said. "What we're going to try to do is take what was a negative and a stressful time for all of us and turn it into a positive to fix the things that we needed to fix."
The TDC wants to promote Gulf County as a destination for eco-tourists, with beautiful beaches, pristine water and a laid back lifestyle.
Jenkins said the county has "multi-generational" visitors who come back year after year as their families grow. She sees opportunities to expand beyond the core markets of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee through traditional media as well as online and social networking sites.
But Jenkins doesn't think a move away from tradition is in Gulf County's future. "There's some real honesty to that phrase 'The Forgotten Coast'," she said. "I think that we can capitalize on that and continue to tweak that brand a little bit."
Yeager agrees. "We do need to expand on some of the things that are available in our community, and I think as people continue to come we will do that," he said. "We want to make sure that we grow in a very planned and very structured environment."
An environment that makes "The Forgotten Coast" worth remembering.