Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. In a few short weeks, Panama City Beach will be packed with bikini-clad college students barefooting the strip from end to end, hooting, hollering and partying the week away. We (we, meaning Panama City Beach residents and business owners), know what exactly what to expect from the two-month-long spectacle. We know the students will drink. We know the students will break things. And we know the entire city will be completely polarized. What we don’t know, at least not yet, is how different this year will be from the years past. If the numbers and projections prove to be true, this spring break could be the heralding of a new kind of break. Here are 5 reasons why.
Lull in Competition
If you read that title and you think, “A lull in competition means we only get more riff-raff”, you may not be seeing the full picture. Because Panama City Beach’s biggest competition for Spring Break dollars, places like Cancun, South Padre Island and Daytona have yet to take the social media and search engine optimization, an area where Panama City Beach excels, we are beating them to the punch. The result means Panama City Beach can set rates that reflect that increased number of potential clients. Higher rates, in any season, make for a higher clientele. Now, it goes without saying that high Spring Break clientele is not particularly high, higher hotel rates should aid in reducing amount bad apples.
You can go to any hotel on the beach and ask how last years Spring Break numbers compared to the year before. Most were down, some way down. Much of the decrease can be attributed to the oil spill, which wasn’t officially sealed until September 19th and dominated the news with images of white shoreline covered in crud. This, along with stronger efforts from competitors, drove the market elsewhere. The tide has turned. If you look at pace numbers across the beach for 2012, they are up, and in lots of cases way up. That means more Spring Breakers, but what it also means is that Panama City Beach lost a year of the bad PR that comes along with Spring Break and stands at the edge of resetting the Spring Break trend, which the TDC and Co-op are primed to do. That year has also given Panama City Beach the time and (BP) money, to open a range of new attractions and restaurants that give these students more to do, rather than just cruising the strip and looking for trouble.
You’ve heard this story before: the new airport will bring in a whole new market for Spring Break. You’ve also heard the argument that Spring Breakers do not fly, they all get in a car and drive. Well, in 2012, both may be true. Waves of marketing Panama City Beach’s new airport has put the destination of Panama City Beach in places that may have not considered it before. Students in our fly market cities can get cheap flights, but, even more important, they’ve heard about Panama City Beach, the ads have hit their mark. This can be evidenced by website analytics across the board. While last years highest state by state guests that stayed during Spring Break put Alabama, Georgia and Florida as the three highest, this year’s website traffic analytics show Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Texas ranking highest in inquiries. What this means is, whether they grab a flight or pack everyone up in a car a take a long road trip, the advertising seems to be working. Which could mean a saturation of a different Spring Break clientele.
Last year, the TDC was reluctant to spend any money on Spring Break due to the issues with previous years. This year what the TDC lacked in hard cash, they made up in very targeted efforts. Take for example, the Guinness Book of World Records Bikini Parade. While some have scoff at the event, the reality is it will be a clean, fun Spring Break event that will result in monumental PR for our city and potentially pay off for years. The beach-wide Scavenger Hunt is designed to get students out of their rooms, off the strip and expose them to all that Panama City Beach has to offer in a fun and exciting way. The TDC has also done a bang-up job of coordinating with local business and the Spring Break co-op to really get the ball rolling. The TDC has worked hard to increase the police force, security and help local hoteliers manage events and not cause the pileups we’ve seen in the past.
The Spring Break Co-op is now in its fourth year and it is proving to be a strong force for Spring Break in Panama City Beach. Seeing massive numbers in site traffic and boasting a facebook fan page of over 60,000 fans, is only a part of the job. Beyond the numbers, the Co-op site and it’s social presence has and continues to be an invaluable tool for information for Spring Breakers, essentially guiding them on entire vacation planning all in one place. An informed vacationer, is a good vacationer. The Co-op is setting the tone for the city before the students even get here, letting them know the rules of the beach, the policies of hotels and giving local businesess a better gauge on what to expect from the crowds.
While these may be optimistic, we’d love to hear your thoughts on your expectations for Spring Break 2012.