By DOTTY NIST
Approved at the April 5 Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) meeting was a media plan for the 2022-23 fiscal year in keeping with the mission of promoting tourism for Walton County as a whole.
This was among the tourism council’s business items at its regular meeting on that date at the South Walton Annex.
The expansion of media promoting the area north of the bay is the result of the new district in that area in which collection of the Tourist Development Tax began in March 2021 for short-term rentals.
Kelli Carter, tourism department director of marketing, introduced the 2022-23 media plan, which she noted had previously been approved by the TDC Marketing Committee and the North Walton Advisory Committee.
Carter commented on the importance to the economy of promoting visitation to Walton County, observing that tourism supports 47,700 jobs and saves local residents $1,695 in local taxes per household per year—and that parties traveling to Walton County spend an average of $1,000 per day.
She noted that promotion of activities away from the beach and north of the bay has been something the tourism department had already been doing to some extent. Carter explained that there is now a focus, as part of the department’s mission, on researching and learning about the people who are traveling north of the bay and the activities they are participating in, to aid with marketing efforts.
“We’re just laying the groundwork now to make sure that we know who we’re talking to, and what we’re talking to them about,” Carter said.
She reported that, in order to let visitors know about what there is to explore away from the beach as part of the new media plan, a “Beyond the Beach” portion of the tourism department website now lists businesses and activities north of the bay in addition to the accommodations in that area.
Katherine Andry of tourism department consulting company Zehnder Communications, also spoke on the media plan, noting that the new plan will start in October and detailing the elements of the plan, among those interactive placements, print, and television.
She indicated that a seven-percent increase in the media plan budget was envisioned in order to match industry rate increases.
The budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year media plan budget had been $500,000.
Andry noted some success with the increase in the media plan budget in 2021 for promotion of beach safety. That portion of the media plan budget had been increased by 140 percent, up to $240,000 for the year. While there was no proposal for further increase, Andry said research had shown that 93 percent of the visitors know about the flag system and the meaning of the beach warning flag colors. “We’re going to make sure to keep that momentum going,” she pledged.
Andry also discussed the marketing goal of reaching, for the beach visitors, the “target audience” of affluent travelers between 35 and 70 years of age—the result being greater economic impact with less crowding. This is accompanied by the goal of encouraging visitation during the “shoulder season” months of November through February.
The media plan was approved with little council discussion. Information on the plan is available at the link: https://tinyurl.com/333wzu8m
Also approved by the council was the Events Grant Program for the 2022-23 fiscal year for events countywide, with $568,000 to be provided for 47 events.
The meeting featured remarks and an update by Bill Giest, facilitator for the tourism department’s strategic plan. Giest, who had also facilitated the 2018 strategic plan, was complimentary about progress made and goals reached over the past four years.
Giest reported on a north Walton County assessment that he and his associates had done in February which had included a survey of residents and community stakeholders and leaders. He added that as part of that effort they would be meeting with focus groups throughout the county during the coming week and weekend.
Giest shared some survey responses on what would make Walton County a more successful destination, reporting that the responses had been closely aligned and had called for addressing parking, pedestrian, biking and traffic congestion concerns. Giest said the number one need identified was more beachfront property for public use and more beach parking. He said some responding had also called for more health care options, more affordable housing, and management of growth and crowds.
Giest said that when asked what should be built next to help the destination, respondents overwhelmingly called for tournament grade sports complexes, also floating ideas for a possible aquatic center, more hotels north of the bay, an event venue, fishing piers, shuttle service, and a water park or amusement park.
When asked where they take visiting friends or relatives, Giest said about 50 percent of residents responding said their guests just wanted to “sit on the beach”—but that, when asked about places north of the bay where they take the guests, others had mentioned golf courses, DeFuniak Springs, independent restaurants, dolphin watching, and farmers’ markets.
Giest said he would be analyzing collected data and would have a draft strategic plan to present to the council in May.
Along with the presentation of reports, approved after much discussion was a request on behalf of the Friends of 30A for up to $50,000 in funding for the first phase of a landscaping and beautification project at the intersection of CR-30A and Eastern Lake Drive.
The final design for the project is yet to be completed, and council members were assured that there would be the opportunity for their input and that of the community as the plans are developed, along with coordination with Walton County Public Works. The plans will then require approval by the TDC and the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC). Design is envisioned by one of the engineering firms under continuing contract with the county.
TDC action items require final approval by the BCC.
Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations and interim tourism department director since the March 11 departure of Jason Cutshaw, reported that an invitation to quote (ITQ) had been sent out on April 1 for executive search firms who could furnish applications for candidates for the vacant tourism department director position. With the ITQ deadline set for April 21, he anticipated that quotes would be available to be presented to the BCC at its April 26 regular meeting.