Bay County’s tourism chief sees good days ahead in spite of challenges

Published on : Friday, November 24, 2017

indexIn his 10 years tenure as Bay County’s tourism chief, Dan Rowe has seen a lot of sand and sun.


On the flip side, the executive director of the Tourist Development Council has also battled through the 2008 recession, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a steep decline in college Spring Break.


But in spite of all these he knew, “We were going to survive, and the sun would come out.”


The Los Alamos, N.M., native who calls Asheville, N.C., home, was chosen to lead the TDC after serving as deputy commissioner for tourism at the Georgia Department of Economic Development in 2005-07.


Rowe said, “My dad worked for the National Park Service, and I grew up in a number of parks across the county. Getting involved in tourism was a natural career choice for me.”


Days and months after the oil spill, images of flames coming out of oil derricks and birds drenched in oil haunted Panama City Beach. Rowe said it was the most devastating impact that he dealt with in his career.


“We adopted an aggressive approach of telling our story,” Rowe said. “We were aggressive in our outreach because we wanted to tell our story. Every weekend we talked to national media.”


It was a great challenge in his career. Rowe added, “The summer of 2010 during the oil spill was exceedingly challenging, but you could see the results. We hosted the First Family. It was awesome to realize the White House recognized the work we were doing.”


The disaster also gave rise to many tourism initiatives. Rowe said his staff increased from about 12 employees to 20, and realized they needed to create a different avenue to increase winter tourism numbers.


The tourism leader has spearheaded major events like Beach Home for the Holidays, the Panama City Beach Mardi Gras and Music Festival, UNwineD, Real. Fun. Fourth., the Pirates of the High Seas Festival and other initiatives over the past decade.


Since Rowe arrived, annual lodging revenues in Panama City Beach have doubled to about $4.2 million. In 2008, the city’s 1-cent tax, collected on all purchases, brought in about $2.1 million, and last year the figure was $4.1 million.


The tourism department even announced a 13.9 percent increase in tourist development tax collections for September.


In addition, tourists have been spending more in the city. In 2012, tourists spent just over $1 billion. This year, they’ve spent $1.63 billion, according to Visit Panama City Beach data.


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