The numbers are in: tourists have returned to the Emerald Coast
Anyone who has driven on U.S. Highway 98 knows this, but official numbers now confirm it: The tourists have returned.
Tourist development agencies in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties recently released their bed tax collection data for April, and all three counties posted big increases. Bed tax collections were up 8.79 percent in Okaloosa County, 21 percent in Santa Rosa County and 18.85 percent in Walton County.
“We had a significant increase and are very excited about those positive numbers coming in and continue to hear good things about the season, the reservations and bookings being very solid,” said Dawn Moliterno, executive director of the South Walton Tourist Development Council.
In addition to outpacing last April’s numbers, Mark Bellinger, executive director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, said April 2011 also outperformed April 2009 and 2008.
“The Okaloosa County TDC and the majority of our hospitality businesses were extremely pleased with the increase in overall lodging occupancy,” Bellinger wrote in an email. “The average daily lodging rate and the revenue per available room increased in April of 2011.
“Numerous stakeholders had their best Memorial Day weekend in years,” Bellinger added.
Kate Wilkes, executive director of the Santa Rosa County TDC, agreed and said many lodging properties on Navarre Beach were completely booked on Memorial Day.
“I was pleased. I really kind of expected it because March was up as well and I have heard nothing but people saying how good business was,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes said she believed the marketing and promotions the Santa Rosa County TDC conducted with the grant money they received from BP following last year’s oil spill contributed to the large increases in bed tax revenues. She said events like last year’s sand sculpture contest, which will return this fall, helped show people the beaches were in good shape.
Local tourism officials believe the strong tourism season will continue throughout the summer.
“The TDC is optimistic about the summer peak season,” Bellinger wrote. “From what we have been learning, June and July seem to be ahead of pace, but the month of August needs help.”