For generations, tourism has been a mainstay of Bay County's economy. And as it turns out, Panama City Beach is a billion dollar beach.
A year long study by Young Strategies translates hot fun in the sun into cold, hard facts. On Tuesday, the firm presented its research findings to a combined meeting of the boards of the Bay County Tourist Development Council and Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The results validate a long-held assumption: there's more to the World's Most Beautiful Beaches than sand and surf. "I think it's exciting and it's certainly something that we've needed for a long time," said Mayor Gayle Oberst. "It's great to know who's coming here, where they're coming from [and] how much money they spend."
The research firm used bed tax receipts, surveys and intercept interviews to develop a profile of 2012 visitors. Among the findings:
"When we've got them once, the likelihood is that we'll get them two, three, four, five, ten times coming back," said Dan Rowe, TDC Executive Director.
As might be expected, June and July are the strongest months with occupancy approaching 90%. Spring break provides a bump, but the so-called shoulder months and the dead of winter are tough on business owners.
"We may all be better off just closing during the winter and opening back up during the summer," said Mike Thomas, a Bay County Commissioner and beach business owner. "If you can't make money there's no point in staying there."
Mayor Oberst said the beach is slowly becoming a year ‘round destination. "We're seeing it happen," she said. "Pier Park is doing well and it's a combination of locals and visitors and I think our other businesses can do the same thing."
Rowe said developing growth strategies for the slow months is the TDC's biggest challenge and special events could be the solution. The research findings, he said, will play a key role in helping determine the best approach.
"We have some real actionable data that is very important… as we look forward into attracting more visitors and more businesses," said Rowe. "We haven't maxed our capacity… we're still seen as a value destination."
Click the link to view the 2012 PCB Visitor Profile.