PANAMA CITY BEACH — Thanks to the News Herald for this scoop…The first family will vacation in the Bay County area a month after first lady Michelle Obama tiptoed out to the oil free waters of Panama City Beach.
President Barack Obama and his family will travel to the area Aug. 14-15, according to the White House.
“Both the President and Mrs. Obama have traveled to Florida’s Gulf Coast in recent weeks and they look for-ward to returning for the weekend,” according to an e-mail released by a White House official. The e-mail added that the first family’s visit is a “personal trip” and “no public events are planned.”
White House officials declined to comment further or to say exactly where the first family will be staying. “Sad to say they are not staying in one of our condos http://www.bestpanamacitybeachcondo.com but I am glad to see the First Family visiting the Gulf Coast and especially Bay County,” said Jerry Eyler of Best Panama City Beach Condos at Celadon Beach Resort.
The visit could be another boon to local tourism officials, who have spent the summer combating the idea that oil has fouled local waters. Although oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill has hit Pensacola, Mississippi and Louisiana, Bay County has seen only scattered tar balls.
“I think it’s wonderful because we could not buy that kind of marketing,” Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst said of the first family’s upcoming visit. “We just don’t have that kind of money.”
Oberst presented Michelle Obama with a key to the city during her visit. “She was very nice,” Oberst said.
Other tourists planning to visit that weekend might wonder if parts of the beach, the airport or major roads will be shut down.
“I’m not aware of any plans for extended disruptions in traffic flow,” said Maj. Tommy Ford of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. “There will obviously be heightened security measures at any place he stays or travels to. I do expect that as he moves there will be temporary disruptions to traffic and locations.”
The Bay County Sheriff’s Office is among the local agencies that will be assisting the Secret Service during the visit, Ford said.
Although no public events are planned at this time, Oberst said she is hoping she and other community leaders will get a chance to sit down with the president.
“I would love to meet with them and say hello and express our concerns about what’s going on with the oil,” Oberst said.
Photographs of the first lady walking barefoot on the white sand of Panama City Beach probably convinced other tourists to come to town, Oberst added.
Dan Rowe, the executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council, said the visit “will help reinforce the fact that this is a great beach destination.”
He and Oberst said the national media often lumps Panama City Beach in with the rest of the gulf and that many tourists still don’t realize local beaches are oil-free.
“The images (of Michelle Obama) walking along the surf was a very important image,” Rowe said. “Having the first family in Northwest Florida will also send a very strong message to the world that our beaches are beautiful. It’s a national treasure and people need to get down here and visit.”
And while those images are important, they are not the only important aspect of the trip, Rowe said.
“What I hope, more than anything else, is that they come here and have a good time,” he said.