Tourist decline less than projected…

By Tim Croft / The Port St. Joe Star | 850-227-7827 / @PSJ_Star |

Maybe the summer will turn out to be more solemn, maybe the first five months of the Tourist Development Council’s fiscal year has just been a happy mirage.

And then again the modest drop in bed tax revenue in those first five months could turn into a prescient indicator that while the summer season might be different, a season it will still be.

The latest bed tax numbers from the Gulf County Tax Collector’s Office show revenue slid by just 7 percent in February.

That report came after January showed just an 11 percent fall in bed taxes.

The first five months of the fiscal year that began in Oct. 1, nine days before Hurricane Michael, are off just 16 percent compared to the same period during what turned out to be a record-setting year.

The percentages can be a tad misleading; revenue collections are off just $64,000 for the year compared to last year, but, it should be repeated, was a record-setting year for collections which topped $2.1 million.

“That is pretty good, to be down just 7 percent,” said TDC executive director Kelli Godwin. “I think we are bouncing back pretty well with 7 percent in February and 11 percent the month before that.

“We’ll find out what the new normal is this summer. We are just hopeful that summer will be strong.”

Godwin said indications from most lodging partners are that whatever they bring to market by summer is likely all the inventory that will be brought back; there will be losses.

Several drivers helped recent trends, Godwin said.

The most significant might have been the $250,000 the TDC received from Visit Florida.

That money had to spent on marketing, an area of the budget where the TDC had pulled back at the request of the Board of County Commissioners.

“That (Visit Florida money) has been awesome for us,” Godwin adding an emphasis to “awesome.”

“We’ve been able to go into markets where we hadn’t been able to do much the last year. We also got into some good regional magazines. I think one of the reasons we are doing so will is that grant.”

The TDC board will receive a presentation of the third phase of the campaign using Visit Florida dollars during the regular meeting May 7.

“People are asking for the book and that is exciting,” Godwin said.

Another positive sign is the slight uptick in forms being submitted to the Tax Collector from new lodging partners and bed tax collectors in the private sector.

“I feel like we are coming back,” Godwin said, noting the increase. “The beach is flatter, but you can see the new sea oats coming back, a lot of green is coming back.”

And, Godwin said, visitors have noticed.

“We have had a lot of great comments,” Godwin said, noting that recent Spring Breaks from Atlanta and Michigan should be reflected in positive numbers for April and March.