Will Rental Demand in 2012 Measure Up to 2011?

January 27, 2012 by Amy Wise-Coble

In my opening column, I wrote about the increases in Walton County’s bed-tax collections through August 2011. The gains were substantial by anyone’s standards. I am pleased to report that similar trends continued throug the remainder of the year. 

While some enjoy basking in the glory of what proved to be a banner year for Walton County tourism, Type A personalities like myself lie in bed at night trying to determine the exact cause of the outstanding results and how we might achieve similar or better results in 2012.

There are many theories floating around regarding the cause of the “big boom” rental phenomenon of 2011. Ultimately, we agree the success was due to a combination of many factors, some beyond our control.

Our repeat guests who chose to vacation elsewhere in 2010 due to the oil spill in the Gulf, were eager to return to the world’s most beautiful beaches in 2011.

Fortunately in 2011, the same national media attention which devastated us in 2010, provided positive exposure for our region to millions of Americans who never before considered South Walton a viable vacation destination.

BP injected millions of dollars into our marketing efforts in an attempt to make up for the damage caused the previous year. The South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC), in conjunction with key stakeholders, created and implemented a strategic plan. The plan was tweaked based on community feedback (sometimes critical) to achieve the goal of maximizing the return on those dollars. 

The economic noose around the neck of business travelers finally began to loosen, which helped improve group rental numbers. Efforts made in 2009, including notable media exposure from Frommer’s, Travel + Leisure and other highly-regarded travel publications, likely helped. 

The long-anticipated opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Bay County brought record numbers of visitors to the area by air.

These factors, mixed with a few other odds and ends, drove rental demand in South Walton to an all-time high.

The challenge with repeating the demand drivers of 2011 is that most lodging professionals acknowledge that no individual strategic efforts played as significant a role as the unexpected  factors noted above.

However, take heart from the fact that some of the brightest and best marketing minds in the industry are proud to call this area home. They are in our TDC, our large lodging companies, and independent offices located up and down our coastline, and they are working hard to keep South Walton rentals in high demand. 

Next time, we’ll talk about what we see them doing strategically, leading us into 2012. 

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