CHIPLEY - As tourism numbers state wide continue to climb in the first half of 2019, Washington County may not see what a post-hurricane tourist economy looks like until the end of this month.
According to a story by News Service Florida, Florida's visitors count is continuing in record numbers - with 68.9 million tourists visiting in the first six months of the year. And, despite a 34 percent budget cut in May, Gov. Ron DeSantis believes the trend will continue.
"The revenue generated by out-of-state visitation has kept taxes low while allowing us to invest in priorities like environmental protection, transportation and education," DeSantis said in a news release Thursday announcing the January-through-June estimates for this year. "We will continue to work to make sure that Florida remains the world’s premier vacation destination."
For Washington County, tourism revenue, particularly bed taxes generated by recovery workers in the county due to Hurricane Michael clean up, has catapulted the budget by about $40,000 with three more months remaining to report.
"This year, we aren't going to be able to use for any statistical data to compare because it is so skewed because of all of the debris contractors," said TDC Director Heather Lopez. "We've been way over what we normally are since the hurricane happened."
The final collection report will be available on Oct. 25.
June's report will be the first month that will reflect actual numbers of what Washington County tourism looks like in a post-hurricane Michael economy, according to Lopez.
However, she pointed to consistent traffic at Falling Waters State Park, Seacrest Wolf Preserve, Sunny Hills Golf Course, and the liveries as a sign that the traffic is more than recovery related.
The storm "may have affected us somewhat, but I don't feel it will be a huge drop," she noted.
Using a $50,000 recovery grant, the TDC is now aggressively promoting weekend stays, along with its day-tripping marketing. Advertising for longer stays and getaway weekends is tapping markets from Pensacola to Tallahassee.
"In the research we've seen, we do get a lot of day-tripping traffic," Lopez said. "With the extra revenue, we would like to reach out more than we normally do because we will have a little more in our budget to attract people to stay overnight."