June 2021

We are now past Memorial Day and for the Northern Gulf Coast, we’re into the Peak Summer tourist season.  It’s the time when the visitors flock to the Gulf to have their traditional summer vacation. It means the highest prices, the most crowded beaches, the busiest roads, restaurants bulging with diners – well, you know how it goes.  We love the visitors, but for us locals it’s not the Prime season. Prime Season is from September to May with cooler weather and fewer crowds. As things are developing, we are getting more visitors in the Prime season and as I’ve said before, those tourists tend to spend more and do things other than sit on the beach.  In fact one of the CVBs in our area reports that credit card holding visitors tend to spend $225 each during October to May, but only $218 during April to September.  Multiply that difference between the number of visitors and it has a significant impact on our local economy. Not that sitting on the beach is all you can do during the summer months of course.  All the ‘adventures’ are available throughout the year.  If you get talking to visitors this summer you might want to mention that after they’ve had their first few days on the beach, they may like to try a dolphin cruise, or a fishing trip.  How about the kids trying snorkeling or paddle boarding? Those of us who live here are the experts so we really should help our visitors to experience what makes the Gulf Coast paradise.

I recently had some information provided by the Destin Fort Walton Beach CVB. For Okaloosa County alone 30% of jobs in the county are supported by visitor spending. As tourists visits begin to spread into the Prime season, that figure will increase.  Another statistic I got from Okaloosa County is that more than $305 million in state and local taxes are generated by visitor spending. That’s a staggering figure and one that’s reflected in the neighboring counties along the coast. Spending by tourists in Florida as a whole is the single reason we don’t have a state income tax, so it’s vital that our tourism across Florida recovers to pre pandemic levels. 

Talking of which, the numbers of domestic tourists (travel from within the USA alone) is growing rapidly again. That’s excellent news for our area but Florida as whole is very dependent on international tourism and that is still suffering badly.  Europeans in particular are unable to travel easily to our theme parks and attractions. Until the COVID pandemic is greatly reduced, they will be not able to travel. Vaccination levels in many parts of Europe are not matching those of the USA or the United Kingdom yet. Where as we, and to a certain extent the British, are relaxing restrictions on movement and interaction, other countries are a bit behind.  

It appears that those who are fully vaccinated are more likely to be able to move about, but those without vaccinations will not be as welcome in other countries.  The US won’t be letting tourists visit from countries with higher infection rates for some time and that’s bad news for our theme parks.

As for US residents wanting to travel overseas, we will have to prove we are vaccinated and virus free. That’s not an easy thing as we don’t have plans for an internationally recognized US vaccination certificate yet.  Such a thing is not necessary or desirable for domestic travel of course. As Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, pointed out – it would be totally unworkable.  However for international travel it’s very important.  

I remember as a young travel agent having to possess not just my passport, but a ‘yellow card’ or record of vaccinations, against a whole raft of diseases (yellow fever, cholera, typhus and smallpox) before I could travel to many countries.  It was just an accepted thing throughout my career. Regrettably, I think that’s going to have to come back if we are going to be able to get back to traveling worldwide, and indeed if we are to welcome all those foreign tourists back to our theme parks and attractions.

In the meantime, for us on the Northern Gulf Coast, out domestic visitors are returning strongly.  That’s very good news for all of us.