Before reading any further:
First, these are not my solutions, but solutions brought forth by attendees at the Spring Break community forum held by the Tourist Development Council this past Wednesday. Second, no single one of these is a final solution rather together, or in any combination, can help handle the raucous season order to benefit businesses and residents alike.
The idea is quite simple; Spring Break’s biggest problem isn’t the college breakers but the city’s and local businesses’ inability to manage them. If Panama City Beach is willing to accept its identity as a Spring Break destination, businesses can provide a clean, safe and respectful atmosphere for Spring Break guests. Without a doubt the college kids will act up, but if they are in a situation where they understand clearly the consequences of what they do and those consequences are enforced in a respectful way, that 10% or so of the rowdy ones will be weeded out. But, in order for this to work, Businesses have to take the initiative to be responsible for how things are managed and expect more from the city on their part.
Handle Public Relations
When you think of Spring Break on Panama City Beach, what do you see? Kids, rowdy and drunk, cruising the strip? Now, imagine what is being reported in other cities. In fact, go on youtube.com and type in Panama City Beach Spring Break and see what comes up. More drunken half-naked students going bonkers. For a city trying to change it’s image it is a PR nightmare. Now, while some of the outgoing public relations cannot be contained, some can. The idea is to corral what you can and then flood the markets with positive video and information about Spring Break on Panama City beach. It’s not difficult. One suggestion was that Panama City beach sponsor a scholarship program and go out and encourage eco-spring break. Panama City Beach shows the side of Spring Break it wants to show rather than allow youtube.com, MTV and the Travel Channel do it for us.
Enhance/Increase Law Enforcement
This one is big. Law enforcement must be not only visible during Spring Break but assertively enforcing the law with regularity. I am one to tell you I think our current Law Enforcement does a GREAT job during Spring Break but the fact of the matter is, they are woefully undermanned. It is physically impossible for them to cover the entire beach, while still taking the time to enforce laws even on a small scale. We need more officers during this time.
Year-round Marketing/Targeted Messaging
To handle the PR and flood news outlets is one thing, but truly focusing your marketing efforts is another, infinitely more successful, way of changing Spring Break. An example of this was talked about in the community forum. A gentleman said that we used MTV as a sort of gunshot trying to hit everyone with our message. But if we know that the problems mainly come from kids who, if evicted from hotels for bad behavior, can very easily go the two hours back home, we should be targeting kids in Ohio, Michigan and Chicago. With the new airport coming online this will be easier in the future, but the reality is, Spring Break fills the beaches but there are only so many rooms. If you fill the rooms with the kids that got your message rather than just anyone it will decrease the chance of problems occurring.
This is a two-fold ordinance. On one hand you would have an ordinance requiring the posting of specific laws visibly in specific places, say, in hotel lobbies. Perhaps even having a large blinking sign at the entrances over Hathaway Bridge and 79 showing the frequently broken laws and establishing, before even the partying begins, that certain things will not be tolerated. The other is an ordinance restricting certain messages on signs throughout the beach. This is not something that will come easy, but signs that read “XXX or Xcstacy Sold Here” will only underscore the belief that Panama City Beach is a place that has no inhibitions.
Security Ratio Ordinances
This was an interesting idea brought up by Mr. Julian Bennet. He suggested we have a capacity/unit to security guard ratio. The idea is that for every, say, 100 people based on capacity or for every 25 units the establishment has at least 1 officer. This could do a number of things like provide jobs during the season and help out the limited law enforcement maintaining the beach. But most of all, it should keep the properties of businesses safer. The key is to hire quality security guards.
For those 3-6 weeks of Spring Break, the turtle lighting ordinance adopted by Bay County could be rescinded allowing businesses to fully light their properties. Businesses can have their beach and parking lots fully lit during Spring Break, dropping the risk of incidents and liability.
Drinking Ordinances/Kangaroo Court
Currently, Spring Breaker’s are allowed to drink outside of establishments. What does this mean? Higher chances of drinking and driving incidents and mindless behavior. There should be in ordinance in place that does not allow drinking outside of an establishment. If these laws are broken kids should be subject to the old “Kangaroo Court.” Make them pick up trash and bottles down Front Beach Road. Not only would you have cleaner streets but fewer drunken kids walking them.
Hospitality Training in its simplest form is really just knowing how to manage and host a group. As of right now, Panama City Beach severely lacks in standardized hospitality training and is in need of the service. Too often Spring Breakers are met with authority that is too laxed or too eager to punish. As Mr. Hilton, extensively experienced in hospitality, said; “we have to learn to hold the reins just enough to let them know they can have fun but there is someone else in control.” Panama City Beach is essentially trying to handle Spring Break based on past experience. It is time that we have training to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Provide More Activities
When Spring Breaker’s come to Panama City Beach, they come with a semester’s worth of bridled energy ready to explode. Frankly, there aren’t many things for them to explode onto except hotels and the few attractions Panama City Beach offers. In PCB’s golden years there was Miracle Strip and various small attractions that provided breakers something to do other than hit the clubs, hit the strip and hit each other.