Last year ended strongly for the tourism industry, as all three local counties posted double-digit increases in their bed tax collections compared to December 2010.
Bed tax collection data for December recently was released for Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. Okaloosa and Walton counties posted their biggest Decembers in their history.
“We’re very pleased, and that is six months in a row that we have had big positives,” said Jon Ervin, director of marketing and communications for the Walton County Tourist Development Council. “Being 14 percent over last December is worth being very proud of for all the lodging providers and service industry. It’s a great sign. And December is not the biggest month of the year. So if you can still see those positive increases, there’s a lot to be excited about.”
Okaloosa County collected $289,594 in December, a 32.89 percent increase from December 2010. Walton County brought in $394,492, a 14.13 percent increase from December 2010. Santa Rosa County collected $42,511, an increase of 14.56 percent.
Bed taxes are collected on short-term rentals and are indicators of how many tourists are visiting the Emerald Coast. The funds are used primarily to promote the area to potential visitors.
Mark Bellinger, executive director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, said the TDC focused its promotions for the winter season in the upper Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions and Canada.
“Businesses want to keep the momentum alive in order to exceed 2011 tourism statistics in 2012,” Bellinger wrote in an email. “We cannot ever get complacent or become comfortable about the success in 2011. Everyone should remain progressive and aggressive in our destination’s marketing and public relation endeavors.
“In addition to our ongoing advertising efforts, the TDC will soon be launching very innovative national marketing campaigns and sweepstakes to help increase our visitors’ attendance during the spring season,” Bellinger added.
Kate Wilkes, executive director of the Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council, said the agency has beefed up its print and online advertising to prepare for the upcoming spring and summer season.
“I’m hearing nothing but good reports on reservations for spring and summer,” Wilkes said. “Hopefully, it will keep up. I think it will. We got enough people down here to Navarre Beach to discover us during all of this and the extra money from BP, and I think we’ll be able to build on it.”
Ervin also believes the region can match and potentially exceed last year’s record-breaking tourism figures.
“All signs point to a continuation at this stage,” Ervin said. “I think everybody in the region knows how lucky we are that the visitors are loyal. They come and enjoy it and make it a tradition. After a big year last year and so many people going home with fond memories, there’s no reason to believe they’re not coming back. That’s been our history.”