Okaloosa County TDD director shares findings from several tourism research studies

OKALOOSA ISLAND — “Beautiful beach” and “crowds” are terms many visiting millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers have used to describe the local area, says county Tourist Development Department Director Jennifer Adams.

She and other TDD officials recently began delving deeper into those descriptions, as well as a slew of data and other information from four tourism research studies the department led during the past 1.5 years.

Adams, who began directing the TDD in September 2017, didn’t shy away from sharing some of the most disheartening findings Tuesday.

For example, in a consumer study conducted last May, 67% of 900 millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers from 10 markets said they were unaware of the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area, and 43% of the overall total said they did not plan to visit this area in the near future.

Other research findings show a large number of local residents and recent visitors giving the Destin-FWB area low overall marks because of its traffic congestion, lack of access to various beaches in Destin, and unfriendly hospitality industry workers.

Those concerns represent some of the TDD’s biggest challenges, Adams said.

In what equaled a very rare occurrence, the TDD’s bed-tax revenue collected this past July was down 17% from July 2018.

“It’s almost insurmountable to be down in July, our biggest month,” said Adams, who along with other TDD staff is trying to pinpoint what caused the decline.

Overall, the department expects to collect about $23 million in bed-tax revenue for fiscal year 2019, which ended Sept. 30. State officials have not yet submitted September’s revenue to the TDD, Adams said.

Bed-tax collections for the 11-month period total $21.5 million, which is up $1.9 million or 9.6% over the same time last year, she said.

Findings from the various research studies helped convince TDD officials to recently change the department’s destination logo and focus on Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Florida versus a combination that emphasized the two cities with Okaloosa Island and “the heart of the Emerald Coast.”

The TDD is going to strengthen its advertising presence in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis and other top markets and will continue to market the Destin-FWB area as a year-round destination, Adams said.

The latest research findings and improvement strategies will be shared at the county Tourist Development Council’s annual meeting Dec. 4 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.