By Ed Offley
Despite inflation fears, near-record gasoline prices and lingering Covid-19 concerns, Panama City Beach is entering the summer tourism season with near-record attendance, officials say.
While detailed statistics for the Memorial Day weekend were not yet in as of June 3, preliminary figures compiled by consultants monitoring visitation confirmed that Panama City Beach is continuing to attract near-record attendance thus far this year, said Dan Rowe, President of the Bay County Tourist Development Council.
“Even with gas prices and inflation at their current levels, Panama City Beach remains a destination of choice,” Rowe said. “Based on the data we received from our research partners, Panama City Beach was on par with last year in terms of occupancy and revenues.”
The positive tourism trend has been obvious to city residents and visitors alike. During the four-day Memorial Day weekend, the crowded beachfront, packed resort parking lots and bumper-to-bumper traffic on city roadways gave visual affirmation that people are opting for a vacation experience here despite the troublesome economic trends. The scene was duplicated on June 2 as the first of tens of thousands of visitors began gathering at Frank Brown Park for the four-day 2022 Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam country music festival.
Furthermore, the latest tourism bed tax collection figures presented to the TDC at its May 24 meeting show that attendance has been strong since the beginning of the 2022 season. The county collects 5 cents on each dollar of tourism lodging receipts, giving a numerical indicator of attendance trends.
In the six-month period ending March 31, bed tax collections on Panama City Beach totaled $9.19 million, a 33-percent increase from $7.4 million during the same period in 2020-21, and just slightly below the $9.8 million collected during 2018-19, the last reporting period prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, another figure from the March 2020 report gives evidence that even with the ongoing spike in inflation, the current tourism season will at minimum tie last year’s performance. Gross receipt figures for the month of March alone in the fiscal years 2021 and 2022 show that this year the city collected $53.98 million, a 6.3-percent hike over $50.7 million gathered during last year’s breakout tourism season.
“Our foundation is strong,” Rowe said. “Barring a storm, there are no threats to prevent Panama City Beach’s continued success.”
Tourism officials around the state described a similar situation where Americans are opting for a Florida vacation experience – gas pump prices and inflation be damned.
Visit Florida, the state tourism marketing agency, reported last month that that 35.9 million people traveled to the state between the start of January and the end of March, a 39.6-percent hike over the first quarter of 2021 when Covid-19 vaccines were becoming more widely available and spiking the first sign of economic recovery. More important for tourism officials, the new total was up 1.35 percent from the first quarter of 2019, before the pandemic started.
Florida has now recorded four consecutive quarters attracting more than 30 million visitors, the agency said. Tourism statewide has also posted three consecutive quarters with numbers topping the same periods in 2019, when the state handled a record 131 million tourists.