Panama City Beach Reviews Creative After New Spring Break Laws Hurt Sales

Tourist Organization Plans $5 Million Advertising Budget for Next Fiscal Year

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Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach Credit: Panama City Beach

The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau is looking for an agency to support its marketing, advertising and media buying efforts as the destination looks to strengthen year-round tourism so it's less dependent on specific times of the year, like spring break.

Incumbent Fahlgren Mortine, which has worked with the bureau since fall 2009, intends to compete for the business, said Visit Panama City Beach President and CEO Dan Rowe.

RFQ responses are due July 25, with the expectation of bringing on an agency as of October 1, the start of the tourism group's new fiscal year. The new agency will be expected to create and execute an advertising campaign, support strategy, handle media planning and buying and manage other marketing related-activities as needed, according to the RFQ document.

Last summer, the city council approved new laws to curb criminal activity during March's spring break period, such as no drinking on the beach and no alcohol sold after 2 a.m., two hours earlier than in the past. Panama City Beach leaders reportedly called for stricter laws after a number of crimes were committed during last year's spring break festivities, including an alleged gang rape of an unconscious woman, shootings and drug-related events.

While the new laws were put into place with good intentions, they negatively affected bars, restaurants and other shops in the beach town this past March, with businesses seeing a sales drop of 50% to 85%, according to a report by The Associated Press.

"Our organization has been focused really on increasing visitation 12 months out of the year and to really strengthen tourism on a year-round basis so we're not as dependent on particular times," said Mr. Rowe. He added that the goal is to have hotels, restaurants and other Panama City Beach organizations rely less on spring break business than they have in the past.

Mr. Rowe said March has been the third largest month for business in Panama City Beach for a long time because of spring break, followed by June and July in the No. 2 and No. 1 spots, respectively. However, he said if Panama City Beach continues to grow its economy and promote tourism in innovative ways, "business can still be successful."

One of the tourism organization's goals is for its new agency partner to help micro-target audiences with compelling content on digital and mobile platforms, said Mr. Rowe. He said there's "so much content out there," so Panama City Beach has to tell unique stories and ones that "people wouldn't necessarily expect from a Florida beach destinations." For example, he said potential visitors may not realize that Panama City Beach is one of the top dive destinations in Florida or that it has a very strong live music scene, specifically for up-and-coming country music artists.

When it comes to Zika, which has caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to activate its Emergency Operation Center to the highest level, Mr. Rowe said the tourism board is monitoring the issue and will respond with messaging as appropriate. "Everyone is aware of it, but nobody is panicked by it," he said, adding that there have been no locally acquired cases in the state of Florida. However, Florida has seen 182 travel-associated cases as of June 29, according to the CDC. Mr. Rowe said Panama City Beach has a local mosquito control program, which educates people on how to reduce mosquitos and spray for mosquitos.

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