Disappearing shoulder season

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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The summer tourism season is coming to an end, but not for Walton County.

The past few years, it seems more visitors are sticking around and enjoying fall in the Florida Panhandle.

"Year over year we're steadily increasing more local traffic, plus more weekend visitors from the local surrounding area," said one local restaurant Director of Operations, Steven Sapp.

From the roadways to the beaches, during our area's peak months everywhere you try to go is packed full of visitors.

Now, many are saying the summer season is blending more into the fall season.

"We're thinking of it as the beginning of fall season, which has always been locals' favorite season and visitors are now discovering [that] as well," said Walton County TDC's Director of Communications, David Demarest.

"Walton County has been growing over the years. We've definitely seen a large increase in traffic in the past 10 to 15 years," said Sapp.

Many of local businesses are reaping the benefits.

"There are so many jobs that are here in Walton County that are dependent on tourism, so we want to keep things going so that our economy stays steady and people can stay employed year-round. Whereas before they might have lost their job at the end of the summer," said Demarest.

"Our second year in, we actually had growth from our opening season, but going into this year, you never know. Our hope is to continue the growth and be sustained," said Cuvee's Executive Chef and General Manager, Shannon White.

With weekends packed full of festivals and concerts, visitors have more of a reason to come and stick around for the later months of the year.

"Not everybody knows this but about 97+ percent of our marketing budget goes toward shoulder season. So we're not really marketing summer very much but we're trying to boost shoulder season so we can keep our economy steady year round," Demarest pointed out.

"The TDC has done a great job promoting wine festivals, music festivals. We see increased traffic from all of those events," Sapp said.

"We try to participate in as many festivals to drive our off-season business as we can," said White.

"There are a lot of great events [that] come here in the fall and part of the reason is it's not so hot. Now you can do the art festivals, you can do the 5Ks and running events, you can spend more time hiking and biking in the woods and there are events that have grown up all around that," Demarest explained.

One telling sign of a busy off season is the steady amount of traffic on the road.

"Overall more and more people are moving to the area. You can tell just by driving down the road. All the new developments going up, it's just more people are moving here full time," Sapp added.

"I can't complain because driving sometimes as an employee, you know, I have to fight the traffic but you know that's what pays your bills so you can't complain too much" White added.

"I can say that fall is my favorite season of the year. I love the events, I love the weather, and I think more and more visitors are finding that out," Demarest said.

It's not just Walton County noticing a disappearing shoulder season. Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas said his city is seeing the same trend.

Here are some of the events coming up:

Alys Beach 5k

South Walton Fashion Week
Nashville Songwriters Florida Sunshine Tour
30A Half Marathon & 5k
South Walton Celebrity Golf Classic
Blue Crab Festival
Bloody Mary Festival
Baytowne Wharf Beer Fest
Rosemary Beach Uncorked

30A 10k & Fun Run
Mountain Film Festival
Harvest Wine & Food Festival
Seeing Red Wine Festival
Sparkling Wine and Holiday Lights Festival