Spring Break In or Out?

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Panama City Beach may have the distinction of being the spring break capital of the world, but it's a label many beach business owners say they could do without.

Friday, the Tourism Development Council met to discuss ways to broaden the beach's appeal. It's a bitter battle between those still profiting from spring breakers and those looking more for a family destination. The battle played out Thursday at the TDC meeting.

In the last three years half of the middle class families desired by beach businesses have stopped coming. The beach's new marketing company says families are getting the wrong image.

"People do consider us a spring break destination and that has some negative effect on the balance of our year. We've got to make certain people understand spring break is March," says Bob Warren, TDC Director.

To do that the TDC has hired one marketing firm to attract families, and another just for spring break. Not everyone agrees with the strategy.

"The people that we hire to advertise and promote this beach need to be responsible for the advertising and promotion of this beach 12 months out of the year, not 11 months," says Mayor Lee Sullivan.

However, Warren says there isn't a market to replace spring break just yet, and it will be hard to ignore the big business that makes March the third most profitable month of the year.

He says the trick is to separate spring break from everything else.

"We're calling it Panama City Beach's five seasons, and the fifth season is spring break but it only lasts 30 days."

But as more and more hotel rooms are replaced with expensive condos the transition away from a party town is inevitable.

"There's 3000 rooms that aren't here that were here last year, so the people that benefit from that are a shrinking pool."

That shrinking pool actually held steady this spring break. Bed tax numbers were up slightly from last year. Panama City Beach's new image is to draw back many of those middle class families who've taken their leave Destin and Gulf shores in the last few years.