The idea is that, instead of slowing recovery work by getting in the way, tourists will pump more dollars into the area, thereby helping businesses recoup losses and rebuild faster, while keeping more people employed.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — To help the beach recover faster from Hurricane Michael, tourism advocates want more visitors, not fewer.

Red McClain, an area resident, recently asked the News Herald through its Bay Asked, We Answered series, “Why is the Panama City Beach government spending thousands on advertising to get folks to visit for spring break when we’re still in recovery?”

In the months since the hurricane devastated Bay County, Visit Panama City Beach, the city’s tourism marketing arm for the beach, has upped its advertising to attract more visitors than ever this spring.

“Tourism, pre and post-storm, serves as the main economic driver for Bay County, bringing in $2.7 billion in total economic impact,” Catie Feeney, spokeswoman for Visit Panama City Beach, wrote in an email to The News Herald.“Filling hotels, restaurants, events and activities throughout the beach is providing jobs for Bay County residents.”

Feeney wrote that while there are still parts of the beach recovering, it’s important to keep the economy strong and let potential tourists know that the area is open for business.

“We had a lot of visitors confused about what was going on at the beach,” Feeney wrote. “Our overall mission is to bring those people back. “We host a wide variety of events, including Mardi Gras, UNwineD, Emerald Coast Cruzin, SandJam, etc. to entice visitors to the area and this year is no different.”

At a public forum hosted by the News Herald, Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas said that with 45 percent of the county's sales tax revenue coming from the Beach and little damage, they have to focus on making money to help the county as a whole.

"I hear that people talk about the Beach is unsympathetic because we are trying to get back open," he said at the forum. "But 45 percent of (Bay County’s) sales tax comes from west of the Bridge, and 60 percent of the bed tax comes from west of that bridge. We have got to make money in order for this county to come back."

Feeney wrote that soon after the hurricane, Visit Panama City Beach launched the #RealPCB and #MyPCB campaigns to give instant updates to potential visitors about the area. The organization has since shifted to another campaign, which tells visitors how they can customize their trips under different categories like romance, family travel or eco-adventures.

Still, Visit Panama City Beach plans to keep its advertising in budget this year, Feeney wrote.

“Being a destination marketing organization, our budget consists of paid advertising to our key markets,” Feeney wrote. “Visit Panama City Beach plans to maintain the $5 million budget for paid media, and carry the fourth quarter budget into quarters 1 – 3 in 2019. We will continue to evaluate strategies with all partners, match media support to messaging phases and optimize post-storm opportunities.”

In more hard hit Panama City, Destination Panama City has taken a different approach — sending postcards of updates to the city’s visitors as a reminder of the community, saying the area isn't reay yet but will alert them when the city is ready to welcome them back.

“Tourism is a critical part of our city’s economy,” says Jennifer Vigil, Destination Panama City president and CEO. “We launched the Postcards from Panama City campaign to keep our special city in the minds and hearts of those who miss us, and to help us boost tourism as soon as we are ready for visitors.”