CHIPLEY — The Washington County Tourist Development Council approved the new method of providing advertising, not cash, to local events during their workshop and meeting Monday at the Chamber Building in Chipley.
The decision was not unanimous, with Mary Richmond voting against the change. “I don’t have enough information,” she said.
Three council members, Richmond, Elizabeth Henderson and Mark Hess, joined the meeting via conference call so the TDC would have a quorum.
From now on, when events such as the Panhandle Watermelon Festival apply for TDC assistance with promotion, they will be awarded that assistance in pre-purchased bulk advertising, Administrative Assistant Heather Lopez said.
“This will save the council money,” Member Ted Everett said. The switch from cash to advertising will also make the process simpler and more transparent, Everett said. “The event representatives will have radio and print advertising to choose from, and the TDC will be there to give them advice as to which station or media is more appropriate for their event.”
Richmond questioned the amount of money the TDC planned on spending for advertising. “I don’t think we should spend $80,000 on advertising,” she said.
Everett said $80,000 would represent the entire annual budget of the TDC. “We’re talking about spending $10,000 a year on bulk advertising,” Everett said.
This doesn’t mean the TDC will stop funding events, Everett said. The grant program only provided funds to be used for advertising and promotion, and that is still the mission of the TDC.
“This will also allow us to promote the county in general when there isn’t a specific event taking place,” Lopez said. “Which is one of the things the TDC has been wanting to do more of.”
Tim Lanham visited the TDC during its workshop and informed the council that there will be a state Bee Keeping Conference held in Chipley from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.
“We expect there will be 200 to 250 people coming to Chipley for the event,” Lanham said. He added that Lopez has been working with him in arranging hotel accommodations for visitors.
The event is sponsored in part by the Chipola, the Tupelo and the Central Panhandle Bee Keepers Associations, Lanham said.
“The county extension office is also heavily involved, and we hope to get our FFA, 4-H and JROTC kids involved in the events as well,” Lanham said.
In other business, the council approved a $100 grant request from the city of Vernon for the Firecracker Day event, which had to be rescheduled until Aug. 31 due to flooding on the Fourth of July.
The TDC members also heard a report from Lopez on attendance at the Panhandle Watermelon Festival, which was held June 28-29.
“The attendance at Friday’s concert event was estimated at 3,500,” Lopez said, “which is tremendous considering the weather.” Numerous people booked hotel rooms and stayed for Saturday’s events, and the Washington County Agricultural Center auditorium was packed for the Watermelon Auction and the concert by the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass group Dailey & Vincent. “People were standing along the walls because there were no more seats,” Lopez said.
The Watermelon Festival’s Facebook page also received a record number of visits, getting up to 20,000 hits a day during the week leading up to the event.
The Festival’s web page received 439,000 hits in the three months prior to the event, and the county web site’s visits also increased in June due to the Festival, posting 1,518 visits with 1,300 of those clicking through to the Watermelon Festival page.
“The rebranding, and the shift in focus they have done with the Watermelon Festival has done wonders for the event,” Lopez said.