Photos from archives dating back decades are proof that this area has been a destination for winter guests for a long time.

By the 1990s, thousands of snowbirds were visiting each winter.

These winter guests continue to be vital to the fabric of our coastal communities. They play golf, dine out, walk the beaches, play games and donate their time and money to local causes.

They have literally changed the way Northwest Florida does business.

"Before 1990, the McDonald's in Destin used to close after Labor Day," said Ted Corcoran, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. "Many businesses closed after Labor Day. Now, nobody closes. They have brought an entire three months' worth of business to the coast and have kept thousands of people in jobs.

"They are probably more important to us than the summer tourists. They fill a time that is normally not that strong due to weather fluctuation."