Panama City Beach Marketing Efforts

PANAMA CITY BEACH — If you build it, will they come?

Take a look at this article from the news Herald.  How can the TDC improve their efforts to sell PCB?  I think they wait too long to start.  For instance they should start the summer campaign on April not June.  I think people plan ahead.  Other ideas or comments?  Have you seen the new ads?  I have see some on TV in Nashville.

That’s the unspoken 800-pound question hanging in the air as the Bay County Tourist Development Council contemplates the construction of its aggressive new summer marketing campaign and peers – squinting – toward the fall.

To put it another way: Are they erecting their faith on rock, or sand?

Lee Ann Leonard of By the Sea Resorts appreciates the TDC’s new television commercial promoting vacation opportunities along Panama City Beach, but she wishes the marketing could be more targeted.

After a 6 percent drop in room rentals during the first quarter of this year, she’s a little nervous as the Beach moves into its summer tourist season and then fast-pedals into the fall.

“We are definitely pacing behind last year,” she said. “One thing that has been a premier generator for us has been the special events. The special events really draw people here.”

She mentioned the New Year’s Eve celebration at Pier Park, the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in mid-April and the promotion of Valentine’s Day along the beach. Individual events help set Panama City Beach apart from other destinations, she said.

“Special events really give people that extra reason to come here,” said Leonard, general manager of By the Sea Resorts and a member of the TDC’s marketing committee.

These and other concerns will be on the table at a marketing committee meeting Tuesday called to discuss the TDC’s marketing approach for the fall and winter seasons.

Committee Chairman Buddy Wilkes, of Shipwreck Island Waterpark, said he is eager to hear from various business owners about the state of current and future marketing efforts.

“I would like to get some feedback from both the audience and the committee,” Wilkes said.

Of particular concern to Wilkes, he said, are potential target audiences for any future marketing campaigns, particularly in the fall and winter. In the past, he had an 80 percent return rate for his customers. Now, about 50 percent of his patrons are new customers.

“These are the people we need to know about,” he said. “I think that’s happening all along the beach. We are in that type of a transition.”

TDC executive director Dan Rowe said that with the new influx of funds generated by the recent passage of an additional 2-cent bed tax, the Beach is primed to deploy some new marketing muscle, especially for the fall and winter.

The June and July period make up about 40 percent of the Beach’s yearly revenue, and this area will continue to draw visitors over the summer, he said. “People almost consider that a constitutional right.”

“Clearly we do well with the summer vacationers,” Rowe said, noting that Tuesday’s marketing committee meeting will be the first step in tweaking the summer program into a larger fall campaign. “Now we have a great opportunity to get people here the rest of the year.”

The launch of the TDC’s summer marketing effort has included a re-design of its Web site, visitpanamacitybeach.com, and a rebranding effort highlighted by the production of a new television commercial, now appearing in selected Southeastern markets.

The campaign, tagged with the slogan Real.Fun.Beach., has attempted to promote Panama City Beach as a year-round designation, Rowe said.

“Fall is a perfect time to come down,” he said. “We want to create a whole experience of events. We want potential visitors to know that you can always find something fun to do.”

Leonard said she hopes the TDC’s marketing efforts do not fall prey to a blandness that fails to distinguish Panama City Beach from other destinations. The competition between vacation spots is becoming fierce, she said, with room rates dropping in a climate dominated by crafty shoppers.

“I think we need to be more specific, to differentiate our beaches from other beaches,” she said. “It is critical to get more people here. When people are forced to drop their rates, everyone is losing.”

One suggestion Leonard had was a micro-targeted campaign of banner advertising on popular Internet sites such as Facebook.

Wilkes said the TDC also needed to cast its marketing eyes – and dollars – toward the opening of the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

“We need to be looking at new markets that will be meaningful to the new airport,” he said. “Wisconsin and Michigan used to be real strong in the winter. But Michigan could be really impacted with the auto situation. There could be a market in Minnesota, as well.”

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