A day at the office turned into a day at the beach Wednesday for the staff of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
It was National Tourism Day, a chance to recognize the vital role tourism plays in the economy and to thank the people who make it all possible.
"It's just our small way of saying thank you to everyone for coming to Panama City Beach and those who work in the industry," said Susan Estler, the CVB's Vice President of Marketing.
The CVB marked the occasion at the M. B. Miller Pier by hosting a cookout featuring music, giveaways and free admission to the pier.
It didn't take long for word of the party to get out. "We've already gone through four hundred hamburgers, three hundred hot dogs and five hundred tee shirts," Barrie Ainsley, CVB Visitor Services Manager, said just an hour into the celebration.
"We're a real, fun beach," Mayor Gayle Oberst said. "We appreciate [people] coming to visit us."
Panama City Beach is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state with 11 million yearly visitors pumping $1 billion into the local economy. "Panama City Beach and Bay County are in the top ten destinations within the state of Florida," Estler said. "We're right up there with Orlando, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale… all of the larger areas."
Time and time again, visitors say it's the sugar white sand and emerald green water that keep them coming back year after year. "I do think it's the prettiest," said Linda Goode of Huntsville, Alabama. "The white sand and just days like today when it's all right with the world."
"It's always just sort of like a vacation to come to Panama City," said David Mitchell of Albany, Georgia. "We've been coming all of our life."
Everywhere you turned at the National Tourist Day event, you could find parents and their children – a new generation of tourists – enjoying a little fun in the sun. Tourism officials credit the family atmosphere for helping to ensure those little tourists grow up and return to the beach with their families.
"We are home to the world's most beautiful beach, so that's number one," Estler said. "But I think it's also all the different activities that we have here, the southern hospitality, all the warm people that we have here."
This was the third year the CVB has celebrated National Tourism Day. Tomorrow, it's back to the office to gear up for the busy summer season.