Panama City Beach appears to have recovered from the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and it's vital for the tourist board to have the data to show it.
Thanks to a year’s worth of data, the Bay County Tourist Development Council (TDC) now has a better picture of Panama City Beach’s tourism industry.
The TDC analyzed data from an extensive visitor study Tuesday, which outlined an in-depth visitor profile based on information from surveys of visitors, bed tax revenue, occupancy, and economic impact and visitation estimates.
“We have managed to take a year’s worth of data and condense it down for you into, I think, a very interesting story,” said Berkeley Young, president of Young Strategies Inc., the firm hired to conduct the study. “These numbers tell a story, and I love it when you can tell a story from data.”
Overall, Young and Associates estimated the total tourism impact in Panama City Beach in 2012 consisted of 10.8 million visitor nights spent by 2.6 million travel parties, which yielded more than $1 billion in total visitor spending for the year.
The figures do not include spending information from non-overnight visitors or those staying with year-round residents.
TDC Director Dan Rowe said the data will help the agency quantify the impact of tourism on the local economy, while also helping draw in new businesses geared at the tourism industry.
“The tourism industry is a very large industry for us, and it’s very important to Bay County’s economy,” Rowe said. “It’s important to show that the industry is continuing to grow and remain strong.”
While hotel occupancy stood at 51 percent for the year, total vacation unit occupancy was estimated at 38 percent. Rowe said the number is driven down by use from condominium unit owners in the beach’s peak months, which could add anywhere from 5 to 10 percent if included.
Young said occupancy data indicated that from 2006 through 2012 the destination’s revenue collections, number of room nights sold and the average daily room rate all increased.
TDC Chair Andy Phillips commended Young Strategies for giving the board information they’ve never had before.
“We need an accurate number so people know,” Phillips said. “We have consistently shown increases in bed tax, but we didn’t know … that was driven from increases in occupancy and increases in” the average daily rate. “It’s a combination of both.”
Visitor surveys also rated the destination high on overall experience, with an overwhelming majority of visitors reporting they plan on returning to Panama City Beach.
Young said the destination’s success stems from going after the right visitor group at the right time.
“They love you. Now, if you went after the wrong audience, they would not love you,” Young said. “We’ve seen great destinations that have low ratings, and that’s because they were going after the wrong customer who didn’t appreciate what they had.
“The good thing we see here is they love you and they’re coming back.”
The TDC also reported Tuesday that bed tax collections for January remained flat in Panama City Beach, with collections in Mexico Beach rising 12 percent over the previous year.
Despite flat collections for January, Panama City Beach collections remain up almost 10 percent for the 2013 fiscal year. ___
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