As far as Bay County's tourism economy goes, Panama City Beach makes all the noise. But there's a quiet little spot in the eastern part of the county that's holding its own in the competition for visitors.
Mexico Beach, separated from the rest of the county by Tyndall Air Force Base, often takes a backseat to the more popular tourist traps a few miles to the west. Branded as the "Unforgettable Coast," the city's five miles of white sand beaches are well-known to a growing number of tourists looking for quaint and quiet.
"It's so peaceful," Kimberly Shoaf, President of the Community Development Council, said. "There's nothing to do here and you get to get away."
The CDC spends a lot of time telling prospective visitors that there's not much to do. The agency utilizes a website, social media, print advertising, television commercials and special events to market Mexico Beach. Its 2014 budget of $413,199 and is based on projected bed tax revenues.
Popular activities include fishing, diving and relaxing on the beach. Shoaf said the destination's laid back lifestyle and old Florida charm appeal to the CDC's target markets: families with small children, empty nesters with grown children and, in the winter, snowbirds.
Not exactly party animals.
"Their early morning ritual consists of coffee at seven o'clock on their balcony... that's as hard core as they get," Shoaf said.
Seagulls call Mexico Beach home and so do the "Flamingos" – a group of friends that trade the blue grass of Kentucky for the white sand of Florida twice a year. Elaine Alicna, Janet Thompson and Beth Nichol have one week left in their fall trip and spent Monday enjoying the sand and surf.
"We like it because we don't have to fight the traffic and we don't have to fight people on the beach," Alicna said. "All we want to do is just rest and relax."
The CDC is counting on birds of a feather flocking together. "We want them to tell their friends and we want them to tell their family because if they had such a good time, chances are the people who they socialize with are going to have just as much of a good time," Shoaf said. "It's just a domino effect."
Local resident Bud Holcomb likes the tourists but doesn't want Mexico Beach to lose the qualities that attracted him to the area more than 20 years ago. "I don't want it to get big... it's quaint and we're not crowded," Holcomb said.
Holcomb isn't alone in wanting to preserve the small town charm. "Businesses and the community love what Mexico Beach has continued to be for the past 60 plus years," Shoaf said. "It's not what every other beach has turned into."
According to Shoaf, visitors return to Mexico Beach year after year in a cycle that eventually includes their children and grandchildren. "We want someone to say 'I remember when…' and we still are their remember when."