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TDC sets record, gets new app

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

Things are looking good for Franklin County tourism.

Just look around you, and look down on your phone.

How the new app looks

In addition to setting records for tourism in August, the Franklin County Tourist Development Council on Tuesday went live with a new mobile app to help visitors access information about area amenities, events, beach conditions, lodging, restaurants, shopping and outdoor recreation opportunities with just a click on their phone.

The app will also include news articles and an itinerary builder for visitors.

The Virtual Passport function lists popular sites in Franklin County as well as all area restaurants. Users can gain points for each location they visit; users who gain the top level of the Passport will be entered into giveaways for vacations in Franklin County.

The Visit Florida’s Forgotten Coast Mobile App was created by FCTDC administrative staff and has been in the works since September when the TDC board approved the creation of a mobile app for the county. Tourism officials say it represents an important advancement in tourism marketing for Franklin County.

“This mobile app is a major step forward in the promotion of Franklin County as a tourism destination,” said John Solomon, TDC director. “It’s going to be great for our visitors but also everybody will find it helpful because you’ll be able to immediately access all area restaurant and shopping information, beach conditions and other important information.”

Newly installed County Chairman Ricky Jones praised Solomon for his dedication to the project.

Solomon said the push notification feature of the app could be important as any time there is a double red flag on our beaches, or emergencies within the county the TDC will be able to push that information to all app users.

The app is called Visit Florida’s Forgotten Coast and can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store and Google Play Store.

Franklin County tourism has flourished during the 2020 pandemic, a phenomenon Solomon attributes to the county’s abundant and socially-distant outdoor activities such as beaches, hiking and boating.

Tourism collection numbers in August for the two-cent lodging tax were a whopping 42 percent higher than in 2019, which itself was a record year for that month.

Solomon told county commissioners Tuesday that August’s total of just over $190,000, was the highest amount ever collected by the TDC in that late summer month, and topped last year’s $134,000 record total by about $56,000. “The highest before then was in 2015,” he said.

Solomon said he is all but certain that this year’s annual total will eclipse last year’s record of $1.41 million, especially since a survey of occupancy rates for September show a hefty increase.

He said the TDC’s software, which tracks paid occupancy, showed that an occupancy rate of 41.4 percent in September 2019 is showing a 63.7 percent occupancy for this past September, a jump of 22 percentage points, roughly a doubling in occupancy over the previous year.

Solomon said this will translate to robust lodging tax numbers for September, as well as an increase in the county’s sales tax revenues.

Commissioner Smokey Parrish, who along with his colleagues had high praise for the new app, asked that the TDC dedicate its roughly $67,000 in reserves in the current budget towards getting the museum at Buddy Ward Seafood Park up and running.

“We got to put displays in there,” he said. “I got people who want to put artifacts in that museum. I’d like to see that move forward and be operational in the spring.

“Not only for the visitors,” Parrish said. “You have a lot of people born and raised here who ain’t never been on a shrimp boat. I think it’s time to move forward. We got a brand new building out there and it’s time to utilize that.”