|By Pat Kelly, The News Herald, Panama
City, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 05, 2011--PANAMA CITY BEACH -- Hold onto your shades and grab your flip-flops.
The Bay County Tourist Development Council experienced a surge in bed tax receipts this summer, not only besting 2010 by a large amount, already expected because of last year's BP oil spill, but outpacing the 2009 combined numbers for June, July and August by more than $1 million.
"We were really firing on all cylinders," said Mike Bennett of The Seahaven Companies.
July collections this year officially became the highest monthly total in the history of the beach, surpassing the previous record of $2,302,863.86 for July 2009. June collections this year were the third highest in history. In fact, TDC executive director Dan Rowe said each month this year from April through August set a record for that month.
"We've had a string of record-breaking months, and that's just incredible," Rowe said.
Not only did bed taxes jump 21.20 percent, 50.83 percent and 33.63 percent over 2010 during June, July and August 2011, respectively, but they were up $337,671.80, $664,051.10 and $138,945.72 over the same months in 2009.
Bed taxes totaled $6,337,162.27 during this year's three-month summer season, or $2,283,706.72, $2,966,913.96 and $1,086,541.59 for June, July and August, according to figures supplied by Charlene Honnen, Bay County tourist development tax specialist.
Following the beginning of 2011, which opened fairly slowly, "we've had days that doubled last year," said Bennett, who sits on the TDC board. "We've had a record year."
Rowe said this year's numbers were where the TDC had hoped to be in 2010 following the successful opening of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. But then came the BP oil spill scare that frightened off many probable visitors jittery over the potential for smudged beaches.
"We are glad we are getting the momentum back," he said. Although bed tax receipts are only a rough indicator of the overall strength of the local economy, "getting visitors here does help drive the rest," Rowe said.
Bennett said September events such as the country music festival should extend the year's success, as well as this weekend's pirate festival and Christmas events in December, all funded with the help of BP dollars.
The trick next year will be to follow-up on the accomplishments of 2011, he said. The TDC is attempting to target and reach an audience of potential tourists each season, even every month, Rowe said, although June, July and August remain the core period.
"Every season has its time. Every month has its own color. There is still a lot of capacity here," Bennett said, referring to the number of hotel rooms and available condos for rent. "We can still do better."
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