Franklin County is continuing its hot streak when it comes to tourism numbers, with May revenues the highest ever recorded for that pre-summer month, up by more than 18 percent.
Tourist Development Council Director John Solomon released the recently released May numbers for the two-cent bed tax at the Aug. 20 county commission meeting. His report showed county revenues totaled a little more than $166,000, a $26,000 increase, or 18.6 percent, over May 2018 totals of a little more than $140,000.
The May hike followed a 20.5 percent drop in April, from about $103,000 in 2018 to about $82,000 this year, but was in keeping with the previous five straight months of record-setting monthly totals in the aftermath of a devastating start to the fiscal year, when October totals plummeted due to Hurricane Michael.
“In the wake of all the Hurricane Michael destruction to our region, I am so pleased that our lodging and tourism businesses seem to be rebounding,” said Solomon.
The county totals are a little more than halfway towards reaching last year’s total of $1.3 million for the year, with the three traditional busiest months, June July and August, all remaining to be tallied. So far the county is running about $30,000 ahead of where it was at this point last year.
Paralleling the positive revenue numbers, visitor traffic to each of the county’s four visitor centers has also increased during 2019. According to July tracking numbers, the county welcomed 4,288 visitors to the centers in Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Eastpoint and St. George Island.
So far this year, nearly 26,000 visitors have visited the centers, compared to a 2018 total of 31,398. “We are on track to far exceed last year in terms of revenue, visitor center traffic and website metrics,” said Solomon.
He attributed a significant portion of the increase to post-hurricane marketing efforts funded by Visit Florida. The TDC received $174,000 in Visit Florida marketing assistance earlier this year to help get the word out that the county was open for business following the Oct. 10 hurricane. Through its contract vendors, Solomon and the TDC board launched a multi-media campaign that included digital, print, web, television and direct mail to reach a targeted demographic of potential visitors.
“We have seen a noticeable increase from the areas we targeted,” he said. “We are getting calls and visits from people that would probably not otherwise have known about us this year.”
Solomon said Visit Florida and state tourism officials have been very supportive of all the storm-affected communities this year.
“We depend on Visit Florida,” he said. “We don’t have the sales tax revenues that a lot of Florida coastal communities enjoy. Our two-cent bed tax revenues just don’t compare to other counties that levy larger three- or four-cent tourism taxes.”
Solomon said increasing the bed tax revenues would enable to county to make larger tourism infrastructure expenditures such as repairs and construction for boat ramps, public bathroom and other tourism amenities.