Winter Resident Appreciation Days Continue

Welcoming the winter residents of PCB and thanking them for their visit, the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau will hold a Winter Resident Appreciation day this Friday.  Stop by the Panama City Beach Visitor Information Center from 9:00am-11:00am on January 6th for complimentary coffee and donuts.  Also, you’ll be able to register for giveaways and gain information on seasonal events and areas of interest.

Thank you for calling PCB your home this winter!  

Ideas for the New Panama City Beach Web Site

The new web site for Panama City Beach should be pretty sweet.  Ok, now that I’ve secured my insecurity regarding my terminal uncoolness, lets get right down to it.

Participants heralded from all walks of the hospitality and tourism industry in PCB.  The audience was spotted with community leaders such as Jack Bishop and Buddy Wilkes and the little guys such as individual condo owners, and was chaired by Jennifer Barbee from JBInc.

The idea behind the meeting was to brainstorm with the local tourism industry on what they liked and disliked about the current web site and what their expecations were with the new web site.

Some of the ideas were:

  • Come up with a categorization process or criteria for events posted on the events calendar.  CJ Ryan had mentioned that there is a distinct difference between events and specials and that should be discerned on the calender.  There was actually a lot of discussion about the calender.  I agree with CJ, and disagree at the same time.  I think there should be a discernment between events and specials (meaning 2 for 1 drinks and where ever), but I don’t see any reason why they should not be on the same calendar.  I think anything dated should be in the same place so the user doesn’t have to look in multiple places to see what is happening on what date.
  • One of the participants suggested having a Craig’s List of sorts for PCB where travelers could post their needs and resorts could respond.  I don’t see how this would work, logistically.
  • Using Niche content – users would arrive at the site and gently be asked a series of questions so the site could get a feel for who they are.  After a few questions, the user would be directed to a series of custom pages that would be populated based on the answers to their questions.  I’ve seen this before and it is a very powerful way of guiding the user to the parts of the web site that would best convert the user into money.  These processes usually include pretty detailed site flow traffic.  This would enable us to tweak all the varying elements of the site to make the presentation more effective.  We need to be moving in this direction.
  • Part of the previous section includes feeding the user accommodations options based on their input.  Other suggestions included a way for people to search by varying criteria such as “indoor pool”, or “pet friendly”, etc.
  • There was discussion about offering package deals
  • The audience talked about having an online booking engine.  There are good arguments for and against this as it effects the varying aspects of the local tourism industry in myriad ways.  Jennifer ultimately said that having a booking engine on the actual destination site historically hasn’t been real effective but was willing to explore that option further.
  • It was discussed to tailor the events calendar based on user input – again, going back to the Niche content.
  • Discussed was user-derived content such as photos, e cards and video.  This could possibly include a user generated content community.  Another local site has done this and the execution was done very well.  I think this is a necessity as we move forward.  We need to seriously consider having a user community where people can create profiles, chat in forums, IM each other, and post pictures and video.  It wouldn’t be very difficult to implement a verification, screening, or moderation process to ensure that less favorable or unsuitable material wouldn’t make it live.  People are dying to post their videos and picture of the beach in a place that others that share their same passion can view them.  The trick is marketing the whoopsidoodle out of it and consistency.
  • Of course, the whole site would need to be set up with RSS, with feeds specific to all the varying categories of  content, maybe even custom feeds generated on the fly based on user input (is that possible?  surely some genius can figure that out).
  • Online chat was suggested where visitors could chat with a live person about the area.
  • Video based promotion and a web cam.  The TDC/CVB currently has a web cam but is cannot be viewed from the web site, it goes through WeatherBug, or something like that.  Also talked about was “man-on-the-street” video covering happenings in Panama City Beach.  This is great, but one has to be careful to not make it TOO “man-on-the-street”.  The News Herald is guilty of often posting videos that are so terrible that you can’t hardly tell what they are saying.  Sorry NH, but you’ve got to buy a better video camera, a microphone, and some skills!  I still love you guys though.
  • Capability for the vendors to login and manipulate their information on the site, i.e. pictures, copy, specials, etc.
  • Continue meeting in workshops to keep up with industry needs.

All in all, there were some great ideas and a good platform has been made for a great web site.  Jenn Barbee is sharp and I’m excited to see what we get.

Download her presentation (3.9mb)

Resort Collection Educates the Tourism Industry

This has been discussed in the past, and the Resort Collection of Panama City Beach has taken the lead in paving the way to provide education to those involved in the tourism industry in our area.

“This is an opportunity to raise the bar among our employees and give them the tools to reach and exceed the expectations of our visitors.” Said Tom Sparks, general manager of The Resort Collection, “We are proud to be the leading hospitality organization in this program, it is our commitment to make Panama City Beach the premier destination of Northwest Florida Gulf Coast.”

By instilling some form of formal training for employees of the local tourism industry, a standard can be easily set for what is expected in order create a great customer experience for tourist of Panama City Beach.

The Resort Collection of Panama City Beach has partnered with Gulf Coast Community College (GCCC) to create the first of its kind hospitality education program for Bay County.

During a planning session last week, members of The Resort Collection and GCCC laid the foundation of what will become the Hospitality Corporate Culture training and education program.

This twenty hour course which is part of the college’s Lifelong Learning department, will provide the hospitality and tourism businesses in our community with a consistent industry wide training program to increase customer service standards and the customer’s experience while visiting our destination.

This Hospitality Corporate Culture program will officially launch before the end of the year. Sparks said, “The program will be open to employees at all levels of the hospitality industry and will prepare us to better serve our domestic and international travelers as our destination grows.”

The program is being facilitated and managed by John Hamati, president of Vie Hospitality LLC. Hamati has a successful history in the hospitality business and has helped create this initiative to fill the gaps in local training.

“The Hospitality Training Program has been a hot topic for the Greater Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce and for Gulf Coast Community College for over two years now.  Finally, with the assistance of the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, The Resort Collection along with Gulf Coast Community College, we are now able to launch this new training in Panama City Beach.” Said Hamati, “we thank Tom Sparks, general manager of the Resort Collection, and the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort team as well as Gulf Coast Community College in stepping forward and making this training a reality.”

TDC Needs New Formula for Special Events

Special events at the beach are wonderful for Bay County.  The biggest events, Spring Break and Thunder Beach,  drive huge amounts of tourists to Panama City Beach.

Smaller events bring in good revenue for the bed tax collectors (and beneficiaries), such as the Ironman and Gulf Coast Triathlons, Emerald Coast Cruizin’ car show, and hopefully, the new Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine, & Music Festival.

There are a few other small events, but we need many more small and large in order for the tourism economy to thrive year-round.  It is  — and should be —  a top priority  for the TDC/CVB to enable and promote special events.

But with special events come special interests, and special interests have no place in our government spending decisions.

Therefore, in order for the TDC to be fair to all event planners, promoters, the bed tax collectors (and beneficiaries), and the citizens of Bay County, they must avoid any conflict of special interests.

Here are a few ways to make this happen:

1. Put bed tax dollars into infrastructure that holds special events, such as stages, fairgrounds, parking lots, ball fields and other outdoor venues. Make it a great place for a promoter to put on an event and succeed.

2. Provide additional support for safety and trash-control during events.

3. Maintain infrastructure.

4. Instead of paying to promote events to tourists, promote Panama City Beach to potential event promoters.

5. Provide marketing research staff to survey event attendees. This tells the individual businesses which events bring what tourists, and helps them do their own marketing/advertising/event sponsorships accordingly.

6. Provide Public Relations support and website exposure for all events.

There! Good! No complaints from anyone.

Hopefully bed tax collectors will agree there needs to be a new policy.  But whether you do or not, here are some clear examples of what has happened recently to prove why it is unwise for the TDC to put funding into promoters’ pockets.

1. There is a process in place that a promoter must go through to be considered for TDC event funding.  As pointed out in recent articles, that policy has not been followed.  Therefore, it’s unfair to some, very fair to others and no fair to the rest of us.

2.  The promoters are sometimes more shifty than thrifty.  Some claim they don’t need TDC money, then get it anyway.  Some disappear.  Some make promises they have no intention of keeping.  It’s no fun watching – or participating in – a government body that must make spending decisions on people / events that really do not have to be accountable.

3. Events can fail.  The Circus by the Sea proposal was unique in that they approached the TDC for a $100K “loan” that would be paid back upon success.  Most everyone on the TDC and in the business community, including myself, was certain the circus would be a success.  Unfortunately it was not.  That money is gone, unless the Circus by the Sea miraculously figures out how to market its event and fill its tent.  We would have been better off buying 100,000 Lotto tickets.

Hey… Lotto Tickets with Bed Tax Dollars!  Not a bad idea compared to the way Special Event money has been handed out lately.