Some of Bay County's most influential members of the tourism industry were in South Walton County Monday, making plans for the future.
The Tourist Development Council and the Convention and Visitors Bureau met at the Watercolor Resort for the annual marketing retreat.
One issue seemed to dominate the conversation: money.
In order for Panama City Beach to take the next step as a world-class vacation destination, tourism leaders need to spread the word and that takes one thing: money.
TDC President Bob Warren said, "We've been dealing with the same marketing budget for the past five years."
Warren says there is a 34-percent growth in our market, but he also says advertising dollars are still lagging behind. He asked, "How do we expand our marketing dollars to achieve a 34% growth this year?"
One way to raise the money would be to increase the bed tax.
Right now, the TDC receives 3 cents on every dollar spent on hotel, motel and condo rentals.
The TDC may ask the Bay County Commission to increase that rate from 3% to 4%.
"The 4th cent bed tax will give additional resources for marketing," Warren said, which are resources that could allow Panama City Beach tourism to compete with other, larger cities in Florida.
"We're no longer going to be a little community called Panama City Beach somewhere in Northwest Florida,” Warren said. “We're going to be a major market."
However, tourism leaders admit they're not there yet.
TDC Chairman Jim Lawson says, “We're a destination in transition."
He points out that all the advertising in the world won't do any good unless you have something to advertise. "Until we get more family-oriented attractions, we're going to struggle in that area," he said.
TDC members say they want to see some more attractions here, like a small-scale amusement park and bigger shopping malls.
"You go to the beach one time, you go shopping, you go out to eat and then you gotta’ do that over again," Lawson explains.
The goal is to attract new visitors, then keep them coming back for many years.
You may be asking yourself why an organization that is trying to attract tourists and convention business would hold it's meeting in Walton County, which is a competing resort community.
Apparently, it's been a tradition of the CVB and the TDC to hold their annual retreat at a neutral site.