‘A catalyst for the economy’: Destin sees record-breaking tourism numbers

Savannah Chastain
The Destin beaches saw near-record highs this summer, and may top the record for the year by the end of October.

The summer is officially over, with Tuesday ushering in the autumn season, lower temperatures and all. And now that the busiest tourist season of the year has come to a close, businesses up and down the Emerald Coast are counting the numbers and finding record-breaking figures.

“Having a great summer is good; it means your industry, be it lodging, restaurant, or attractions, all of those are healthy and working well,” said Ed Schroeder, director of the Okaloosa County tourist development department.

Schroeder said that although final summer numbers will not be in for a few more weeks, the May-July numbers are substantially higher than past years

“July was up 14 percent over last year for lodging revenues, and June was up six to eight percent,” he said. “We’ve just had tremendous momentum coming into the summer and really have had a very successful summer.”

Schroeder said that the spring and summer tourism influx is good news and lends towards the shorter fall and winter tourism seasons that are often overlooked.

“It was record setting this year,” he said. “We’ve had no summer that measures near what we did this summer, but our goal is to translate the success of our area well beyond the summer months.”

With numbers this high, Schroeder said the future looks good for the entire Northwest Florida economy.

“It demonstrates the good health of the industry and also draws attention to investors,” Schroeder said. “They will certainly be looking at us. The huge success we had this summer will lead to sky cranes on the horizon for years to come. A successful tourism is a catalyst for the economy.”

On the retail side of the spectrum, the Destin Commons saw a high customer influx due to their recent 22 store, 100,000 square-foot expansion.

“We had a very exciting summer with the opening of our expansion and new stores,” said Director of Marketing, Annette Alvarez. “The expansion stores exceeded their expectations and sales plans and brought new customers to the center.”

Alvarez said that although the Commons did not see a record breaking season in the customer count overall, the new additions to the outdoor mall are leading the way towards a great future.

“Certainly, the expansion created great excitement in the area,” she said. “At our Smoke on the Coast event that kicked off the expansion’s opening, we had a phenomenal turnout with over 10,000 people in attendance, which is greater numbers than in the past.”

On the beaches numbers also soared as Destin Beach Safety Chief Joe D’Agostino confirmed near record matching numbers.

“As of right now, we are at 2, 290,683 visitors which comes close to the record season in 2011 with 2, 454,820 and the way we’re going we should come close to that,” he said.

D’Agostino said that part of the reason the numbers are so high this year is the mild and favorable weather.

“It’s all weather pending,” he said. “We have flown the least amount of red flags since I’ve been here the past 10 years.”

The 2011 number counted visitors from May through October, and D’Agostino said with the upcoming attractions of the fishing rodeo and seafood festival he expects the record numbers to continue into the fall months as well.

“We always have a busy October, and we will set a record for people on the beach,” he said. “We are on pace for a near record, and maybe exceeding it.”