South Walton Tourism Exploded in 2012

December 16, 2012 by Jason Koertge

South Walton tourism is booming. A record number of folks enjoyed our beaches this year as evidenced by the record-breaking bed tax numbers. The South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) just released the yearly report citing an average collection increase for fiscal year 2012 at an astounding 22%. If you've been to SoWal in the past 12 months, then you know the secret is out! Our towns have been busy, beaches full, and our vacation rental properties have been fully occupied.

Bed tax revenue has always been a good barometer for the vitality of the tourism market. While it certainly doesn't cover all aspects of the tourism industry in South Walton, it definitely offers an adequate representation of how we're doing as a whole. More people visiting our shores means more people shopping at our stores, dining at our restaurants and patronizing our services and attractions. 

Bed Tax, What is it?
Quoting the Walton County Clerk of the Courts website, "The Tourist Development Tax is a local sales tax, authorized and governed by Florida Statute 125.0104, on transient rentals. Because it applies exclusively to rental of living quarters or accommodations for a term of six months or less, it has been nicknamed the bed tax ."

In short, bed tax is a 4.5% tax that is collected on every dollar charged as a condition of occupying the rental property. Everything from the actual rent amount to the cleaning fee to even any reservation fees or nonrefundable deposits are subject to this tax. However, this tax isn't for naught. The purpose (outlined below) is essential to the life and sustainability of the tourism industry in SoWal.

What the Bed Tax is used for.
Local businesses spend a lot of time, money, and effort in promoting themselves, but the South Walton TDC serves a crucial role in promoting the area as a whole. Using a great variety of targeted, agency-led campaigns, part of what the tourist tax goes to is marketing our area.  However, here is a more specific snapshot of how the revenue is used.

  • 2% - Destination marketing, administrative, and beach maintenance (trash removal, capital improvements, etc.)
  • 1% - Fall promotion, beach safety and local event grant sponsorship
  • 1% - Beach nourishment and restoration
  • .5% - Towards low-cost air carrier support and marketing in those emerging areas

Let's take a look at the actual numbers. Tourism has been building in the area for years, but with the real estate boom and the resulting (and resounding) pop we experienced a few years back, to many, it felt like a "reset" of sorts.  Once the real estate boom ended, tourism seemed to be taking a climb again when the ultimate "reset" occurred - the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

While our actual beaches escaped with hardly a touch of sludge, the summer tourism season for 2010 was decimated. 

Many would call the 2010 tourism season the ultimate reset. Most refer to 2009 as the baseline on which all future tourism number comparisons should be based, naturally omitting the 2010 year, pretending it didn't exist. 

Here are all the numbers for the last year:
October 2011 - $678,760.77 - 42.70% up over previous year
November 2011- $395,333.60 - 42.64% up over previous year
December 2011 - $394,492.62 - 14.13% up over previous year
January 2012 - $331,879.99 - 12.60% up over previous year
February 2012 - $444,324.63 - 23.10% up over previous year
March 2012 - $1,485,572.03 - 33.53% up over previous year
April 2012 - $1,310,487.57 - 17.18% up over previous year
May 2012 - $1,554,346.56 - 20.72% up over previous year
June 2012 - $3,600,040.72 - 24.20% up over previous year
July 2012 - $3,197,154.72 - 6.92% up over previous year
August 2012 - $1,607,221.80 - 12.68% up over previous year
September 2012 - $1,492,009.29 - 14.29% up over previous year

Additionally October of 2012 was just released at a very impressive 22.56% increase over October of 2011. 

Some of these increases can be attributed to enforcement collections (i.e. finding the non-payers and making them pay), but the vast majority of these collection numbers are based on real bed tax revenue, and they offer a clear reflection of how our tourism industry is doing as a whole.

What is your take on these increases? Do you think we have enough tourism in SoWal and want to scale back marketing? How would you describe tourism in SoWal and how would you spend bed tax?


Jason Koertge's picture

Jason Koertge is the founder of and has been blogging about Northwest Florida since 2006. He's also the owner of, a boutique luxury rental company on 30A.

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