In a meeting that ended in great applause, the Bay County Tourist Development Council unanimously voted to approve the increase in bed tax collections from 3% to 5%. With public comment from pillars of the Panama City Beach community, such as Charlie Hilton, Julian Bennett, Julie Hilton and Joe Tannehill, good arguments were made for and against the increase with a unified concern for our area.
The motion to approve suggested that one penny go towards marketing, including helping attract a low-cost carrier. Half of the second new cent would go to beach cleaning, safety awareness and signage throughout the beach. The second half of the second new cent will go to capital projects such as new ball fields at Frank Brown Park or the proposed improvements to Aaron Bessant Park in Pier Park.
“I think we should delay, not defeat the 5th cent increase,” Bennett Sr. said discussing that we need to put together a comprehensive plan as to how the 5th sent will be spent.
“We need to work on collecting what we have,” said Julie Hilton, “before we try and get more.”
Joe Tannehill, chairman of the Airport Authority board was the first to comment during the public comment portion of the meeting. He voiced his support of the bed tax increase and assured the board and confirmed to the board and the audience that the airport was ahead of schedule and under budget. He stressed that essential to the area’s success was the success of the airport and essential to the airport’s success was getting the word out to the rest of the country that we are open for business.
He emphasized that a growing number of travelers to our area will be from out of the country, but we need marketing dollars to underscore that effort. He also confirmed discussions with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Peter Yesawich from YPartnership presented on why we need to increase our bed tax stressing that any increase had no direct impact on his firm or his firm’s relationship with the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
His presentation explained that we had advertising budgets that were 1/2 and 1/3 of that of our direct competitors. He also stressed that we needed to have a vehicle in place to support the new airport and any low-cost airline that may come into our area. He mentioned that these are perilous times for the airline industry and that any airline would find great comfort knowing they had some financial support here in Panama City Beach. His presentation explicated the importance of having a harmonious allocation of marketing dollars and capital improvement dollars.
Yesawich said that our future visitors are not “legacy visitors” or those returning to our area, but new visitors. He explained that we need to expand our marketing reach to outside our traditional market and that we need a broader visitor base.
Buddy Wilkes, owner of Shipwreck Island Waterpark underscored this point in saying that we’ve lost our legacy visitors already and that we must focus on new customers.
There has been much discussion elsewhere and here on pcbdaily that we need to work harder to collect the rent collectors that aren’t paying instead of trying to raise the tax. I agree and disagree with this.
We need to change our collection process and the way it is enforced. Actually, that is a false statement. We need to enforce the bed tax collection as right now, it is not being enforced at all. What happens to those that do not collect? Nothing. Period. So, how do they figure out who is collecting rent, but not paying the bed tax? I don’t know, but there are smart people than me that can figure this all out, and it needs to happen, NOW.
Bill Kinsall, Bay County Clerk-elect reassured the board and audience during the public comment section that he would do everything in his power to make their collection process and research to who isn’t paying more efficient. He said the whole process will be under scrutiny and they will figure out how to fix the system.
Julie Hilton mentioned that she thought that we may be seeing 50% of the total possible bed tax revenue due to people not paying and that an increase may push more to not pay. I cannot speculate on the number, but I totally agree with her in that the number is probably larger than we think. We need to figure out a way to determine this. I also think we need to enable some sort of enforced consequence to be imposed on those that do not pay.
Yes, we need a very comprehensive plan to exactly how we’ll spend each penny of the increase, yes we need to figure out how to collect from who isn’t paying right now, but we also need more money to be sure we are ready to spread the word about Panama City Beach to the world when the new airport comes online. We also need to be sure we continue to improve our area at the same rate our competition is improving their areas, or we will become a has-been.
The argument that if we increase our rates that we’ll lose tourists just isn’t valid. An increase of 2% will yeild an increase in room rates of $20 for a week’s stay at $1000. Is someone going to be deterred by this? No. Will they even know about the change? No. Tourists don’t ask what tax rate they are paying and they aren’t going to change their mind for a measly 2%.
Good job TDC, Bay County Commissioners, please take heed, we need this for our area.
Related: Bed Tax Increase Set in Motion