With August posting that month’s best revenues in the eight years since the two-cent bed tax was first implemented, Franklin Count y is headed towards a record-breaking tourist season,

With just one month left in fiscal year 2011-12, Tourist Development Council collections through August 31 have far raised $853,021, nearly $50,000 ahead of last year’s entire total and the best so far for any entire year in the bed tax’s history.

The numbers show that August 2012 collections of nearly $94,000 were about 55 percent better than one year ago, a full $33,000 increase.

The year-to-date total is more than $105,000 better than where it stood at this point last year, running about 14 percent of last year. And if September proves to be even an average month, the 2011-12 fiscal year total should, for the first time, eclipse the $900,000 mark.

“Up 14 percent, that’s a pretty significant number,” said Curt Blair, TDC administrator. “I think we’re encouraged by the numbers and I think we think it’s indicative of the success of the BP ‘We’re salty’ campaign, Clearly, a lot of money went in to developing a new brand and promoting it overt the 12 months. We’re encouraged we used the right methods and used the right vehicles in promoting that right. It’s a positive message and one that seems to be working.”

Blair said that while the overall numbers are strong, the fact that August was so strong after two consecutive months of declines was less significant as an indicator of specific programming success.

“The only thing we can interpret from it is the collectors of the tax have different schedules. August is a not a big month normally compared to June and July,” he said. “The different reporting periods throw it off. If it’s low one month, it tends to get picked up the next.

“We were concerned we would see a drop in the summer,” Blair said. “This tells us our tourism community has some staying power. It remains to be seen what happens when the effect of the BP money begins wearing off.”

As good as the August numbers were, the TDC received disappointing news earlier this month, when the county failed to be among more than 100 nonprofit groups and government entities, including several in the Florida Panhandle, picked to get shares of $43.7 million in BP funds to promote the Gulf Coast’s tourism and seafood industries following the company’s 2010 oil spill.

The first round of grants announced Nov. 7 by court-supervised claims administrator Patrick Juneau is part of a proposed class-action settlement between BP and a team of private plaintiffs’ attorneys. The deal calls for BP to fund a total of $57 million in tourism and seafood promotion grants.

The 110 grant recipients were picked from a pool of more than 350 applicants. In Florida, 33 organizations will receive $13.4 million, while in Alabama, 21 groups will get $8.3 million. Mississippi 13 organizations will share $6 million; and in Louisiana, 43 recipients will get $15.9 million. The amount each organization received has not yet been announced.

“The grants should go a long way toward bolstering the Gulf’s tourism and seafood industries and help revitalize the region’s economy,” lead plaintiffs’ attorneys Steve Herman and Jim Roy said in a statement.

Blair said Franklin County applied for a grant to cover the cost of a moveable kiosk and informational campaign. “The whole emphasis was seafood and promotions, so we combined some of the stuff from the original grant and expanded on it,” he said. “This is money that came out of a class action lawsuit and portions set aside to four states to do something they envision for seafood and marketing.

“That was about all they told us, to put together your own proposal, no guidelines on it,” Blair said. “We don’t really know what they used for criteria. About $15 million was not funded, and I don’t know whether they’re planning another round or what. They haven’t responded to anybody; it’s a little like shooting in the dark.”

Blair said the TDC has been pleased to learn that, after completing a screening process, it has been approved by the Florida Humanities Council to be eligible to submit grants, and is now putting an application together for these humanities funds.


Grant recipients in Florida

Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce

“Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Collier County Department of Natural Resources

Naval Aviation Museum Foundation

Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce

PASCO Office of Tourism Development

City of Naples

City of Marco Island

Pensacola Math, Engineering, Science & Stuff

Pensacola State College

Sacred Heart Health System

Mexico Beach

Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau

Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park

Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency

Santa Rosa Island Authority

St. John’s Cemetery

National Flight Academy

West Florida Preservation Inc.

Latino Media Gulf Coast

Baytowne Wharf Neighborhood Association

Horizons of Okaloosa County

City and Port of St. Joe

Visit Pensacola

Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners

Gulf Coast Marine Life Center

Santa Rosa County Tourism Development Council

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel

Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce

Wakulla County Tourist Development Council

Navarre Beach Chamber of Commerce

Downtown Improvement Board-Panama City

Source: AP