Okaloosa County Bed Tax collections down
Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 02:34 PM CDT
OKALOOSA COUNTY -- It's the height of the tourist season, but in Okaloosa County, bed tax collections are down for the second month in a row. Some business leaders blame an advertising shutdown after last year's scandal at the Tourist Development Council. After it was discovered that former TDC director Mark Bellinger had misused millions, buying a yacht and a golf course home, the county shut down virtually all advertising.
Fudpuckers has restaurants in Destin and on Okaloosa Island.
Co-owner Tim Edwards says this summer is much slower than expected, and they're not alone.
Edwards said, “Everybody I've talked to is saying the same thing, there's less traffic. Now I know if you're driving on the road, traffic is traffic. But the fact is there's less."
Bed tax collections were down slightly in April, and off 2.5 percent in May.
Edwards said the trickle-down is significant enough to make them re-think their business model. "Whether I keep my job or not is not important. But I've got 500 employees, that's important to me."
Tourism Director Dan O'Byrne says what he calls the "dark period,” ten months without advertising, was the only choice at a tough time.
O'Byrne said, "Get your arms around it, and stop the bleeding. First thing you have to do is stop the bleeding."
The effects may be more dramatic because BP has ended its national campaign promoting the region. But O'Byrne said those ads taught a lesson about how the county can benefit from advertising.
"When you inject real dollars, and you invest in advertising and marketing, there is a return. And Okaloosa County saw those returns,” he said.
Santa Rosa and Walton counties did not have the bed tax drop-off that Okaloosa did. Edwards said when there's a downturn in the tourist industry, everybody should be worried.
"That's just the repercussions of this, this is not just about business owners, it's about the entire industry."
The TDC just voted to increase the fall advertising budget from 100 thousand to 300 thousand.