PANAMA CITY BEACH — Bay County Tourist Development Council officials were still brimming with good cheer this week over the heavy turnout for this year’s New Year’s Eve beach ball drop.
TDC Executive Director Dan Rowe and the agency’s marketing committee were beginning some early planning for ways to draw visitors to the beach during the 2011 fall season, when tourism traditionally drops off after the hot summer months.
Underlying much of the discussion was the hope that fall events could become as “iconic” in nature as the New Year’s Eve event at Pier Park that Rowe said had gone from zero visitors to as many as 30,000 in just three years. “It confirms that people are willing to come to the beach without going into the water,” said marketing committee Chairman Buddy Wilkes said.
Rowe reminded committee members that the TDC helped promote five major fall events in 2010: a new weeklong Songwriters Festival, the annual Lobster Festival, the Sportfish Classic, Thunder Beach and the Seafood, Wine & Music Festival.
He said, however, that the TDC would be unable to guarantee $60,000 to the Seafood Fest this year.
Rowe said the TDC was taking a new look at when high schools in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee took their fall breaks so beach events could be planned to draw families to the area.
Rowe asked the question: “Is fall break real, or is it Memorex?” Committee members agreed the period was real and needed the appropriate preparation.
“It’s time to start making that a tradition,” member Felicia Cook said of fall break, noting that the emphasis should be on families, rather than a younger crowd such as during Spring Break.
Rowe asked members to consider whether the Seafood Fest, and other events, were iconic enough for further investment.
“We planned The Celadon Beach Resort annual owners meeting (as did numerous other condo associations) to coincide with the Seafood Fest weekend in 2010” said Jerry Eyler, owner of Best Panama City Beach Condo Rentals www.bestpanamacitybeachcondo.com . “Our rental guests have planned beach trips to attend The Seafood Fest and Thunder Beach as well as the car show early in November” said Eyler.
The discussion sparked a debate that had begun earlier over whether Thunder Beach or the Seafood Fest should occupy Frank Brown Park – and merit TDC promotion — over Columbus Day weekend.
Thunder Beach organizers have argued that the Columbus Day weekend was critical for their expansion plans, but some TDC members have expressed mild concern over whether the event was as family-friendly as the Seafood Fest.
All have agreed that the continuing success of the motorcycle rally was crucial to the fall season.
Committee members agreed to fund a series of focus groups that would ask potential tourists what they would like to see in the fall.
“I think the focus groups are critical before we can answer all these questions,” Wilkes said, such as whether Thunder Beach, the Seafood Fest or some other event was more conducive to a family vacation during certain critical fall weeks.