EDITOR’S NOTE: Log Reporter Matt Algarin is a member of this year’s Destin Forward class. He will be filing stories monthly chronicling his experiences in the Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program.
Tourism is the proverbial hand that turns the economic wheel in Okaloosa County, and despite hurricanes and an oil spill, the sugar white beaches and emerald green waters are more popular than ever, based on bed tax revenues.
Dan O’Byrne, the county’s recently hired Tourist Development Council executive director, says the county has collected $12 million in bed tax revenue this year, which is up 14 percent from last year.
“We’ve made up all the shortfall from 2010 and the oil spill,” he said. “This is the best year Okaloosa County has ever had.”
O’Byrne was one of the many speakers the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Destin Forward class listened to as part of Tourism Day, which included stops at Northwest Florida Regional Airport, Fudpucker’s, Henderson Beach State Park, the Destin History and Fishing Museum and AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar for rodeo weigh-ins.
Whether it was local businessman and restaurateur Tim Edwards from Fudpucker’s, Lino Maldanodo from ResortQuest, or Helen Donaldson from the Destin Fishing Rodeo, speaker after speaker stressed the importance of visitors for all seasons.
As they talked, it wasn’t the typical tourism speak I expected. It wasn’t about how to make more money or how to beat out their vacation destination competitors, but how they could work as community partners to boost the local economy.
Park Ranger Linda Smith, from Henderson Beach State Park, shared one of the day’s most mind blowing statistics when she said the park accounts for an $11 million impact on the local economy between weddings, baptisms and other events. The park has held 229 events this year.
If you’ve ever been to Henderson Beach, it’s easy to see why locals and visitors make the park one of their destinations. You are tucked away behind enormous sand dunes — easily escaping the sights and sounds of U.S. Hwy. 98 and the rest of Destin.
Known as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin is a city that is filled with people who desire to preserve its history.
Whether you are a local or visitor, do yourself a favor and stop by the Destin History and Fishing Museum and take a tour with Kathy Marler Blue. She brought history alive during our class tour.
Looking back at tourism day, when O’Byrne told us that Okaloosa County and Northwest Florida didn’t have a tourism problem, I understand what he meant.
Despite the BP disaster, the TDC scandal and hurricanes robbing us of our sugary sands, as O’Byrne said, “you can’t take away the Destination.”
And at the end of the day, the destination is what powers the local industry that in many ways keeps us all employed.