A Review of the 2008 TDC/CVB Spring Break Marketing Plan

by March 3, 2008 • 12 comments

As I am writing this, our first group of college spring breakers are on the road heading to liven up our beach. No one knows whether the TDC/CVB’s College Spring Break Marketing Plan will end up being a success, a failure, or somewhere in between. Hopefully President Dan Rowe has a plan for calculating a reliable estimate of how many college students visit our destination during the four-week period this year and what the actual economic impact is to Bay County. Lately, I have heard the estimate being mentioned that 250,000 college students came here for Spring Break last year and that we are expecting the same or better this year. However, it is my understanding that the TDC/CVB has no data to actually support this 250,000 figure. I am pleased that the new TDC/CVB board has been very diligent in questioning the attendance and economic impact of other special events; however, I do not believe that they have had the same diligence in questioning College Spring Break. But regardless of how successful the MTV plan ends up being, it is clear that the plan has some major problems.


Last fall, the new TDC/CVB board entered into a contract with MTV at a cost of $200,000. The contract provides that MTV would provide what can be broken down into two services. First, MTV agreed to host a MTV Spring Break Village that will include 8 live concerts, stage activities, contests, and product sampling. MTV is only operating the village for total of 16 days, rather than the entire 4-week college spring break period. In addition, MTV agreed to provide advertising via televised promotional units, coverage on the MTV web site, and banner advertising on various websites owned by MTV’s parent company. The contract does not provide any breakdown of the total cost between these two services that MTV is providing.

It was originally the plan of the TDC/CVB board that they wanted to have as much of the $200,000 paid for via a co-op of college spring break oriented businesses as possible. When considering that the 2007 co-op raised $94,500 and the fact that the spring break oriented business community was so vocal about importance of continuing the government supported marketing plan, I was hopeful that at least 50% of the cost would be raised by the co-op. My prediction ended up being way off. To begin with, the board later voted to spend $150,000 regardless of how much the business community would contribute. The board agreed that any additional co-op funds in excess of $150,000 could be used for additional promotion of College Spring Break 2008. And then the co-op ended up only raising $67,000. This number may end up being even less considering that President Rowe has reported that withdrawal requests have been received from unspecified participants. The only non-accommodation co-op participants for 2008 are Club LaVela, Sharkey’s, and the Panamaniac Discount Card at $5,000 each. While I do not miss the participation of some of PCB’s other spring break oriented bars that promote the free beer and wet t-shirt type of message, I would like to know why there are no restaurants or stores participating in the co-op. Is the college spring break market really that important to the entire tourist community, or are the benefits mainly shared by just a small portion of our tourist-oriented businesses?

According to the TDC/CVB, less that 5,000 of the more than 24,000 available tourist accommodations on the beach even allow college spring break visitors. Of this, the MTV advertising plan is only promoting the 1835 rooms that are participating in the co-op. Although there have been three new properties that didn’t participate in the 2007 co-op, this number is down from 2062 participating rooms due to the departure of both Paradise Found Resort’s (Hilton Inc.) 801 rooms and the Sandpiper Beacon’s 199 rooms. I find these departures surprising since representatives from both properties expressed their concern to the TDC/CVB about the importance of having a governmental college spring break marketing plan. I was also surprised that Regency Towers is not providing any financial support to the co-op considering that one of their representatives was also vocal about the importance of continuing the program. New participants for 2008 are Bikini Beach, Sugar Sands, and Origin at Seahaven. In hindsight, was it prudent for the TDC/CVB to spend limited governmental funds on a marketing plan only designed to direct potential visitors to 1835 of our more than 24,000 rooms? Even worse is the fact that the MTV Spring Break Web Site advertises only one accommodation partner, the Boardwalk Beach Resort. The other co-op accommodation participants are only advertised on the TDC/CVB’s college spring break hub page that is reached by clicking on the TDC/CVB’s logo on the MTV site. The MTV marketing component has clearly ended up providing disproportionate benefits to certain properties inconsistent with the brand marketing the TDC/CVB should be concentrating on.

It is my opinion that there are also serious problems concerning the MTV Spring Break Village. Rather than the board deciding on a neutral site for the village, the contract provided that MTV could choose their own location for the Village that was paid for with governmental funds. MTV ended up reaching an agreement to be located at Boardwalk Beach Resort. The terms of this agreement have not been made public. Although I assume it was unintentional, the TDC/CVB did not include any terms in the contract dealing with the competitive unfairness of being located at a specific hotel. Although Boardwalk Beach Resort has contributed no more to the co-op than the other three primary hotel partners(Chateau, By the Sea Resorts, and the Sharkey’s/Seahaven properties), the Boardwalk Beach Resort has been able to market special benefits to their guests for activities paid for by the TDC/CVB. These special benefits have been advertised to include up front audience tickets for the concerts and exclusive access to the MTV village. As mentioned above, there is also the problem with the Boardwalk Beach Resort being the only accommodation actually listed on the MTV web site. The TDC/CVB missed an opportunity to require a significant additional co-op contribution from the business hosting the MTV Village to offset the competitive advantages received.

Based on comments from TDC/CVB board members, it is unclear whether the TDC/CVB will continue to provide financial support for this market segment next year. At a minimum, the TDC/CVB should treat it as a special event and require the same rigorous procedures and approval process that is now required for any special event requesting our limited governmental funds. President Rowe has suggested that the board consider whether it will provide 2009 funding next month to provide additional planning time for either the TDC/CVB or a private co-op. In the event the TDC/CVB decides to continue funding this event, hopefully they will correct the problems of this year’s program.

– Bryan

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1 Robert Easterling March 3, 2008 at 6:47 pm

As a condo owner and someone interested in attracting families during the spring break period, the value of promoting a college kids spring break must also be weighted against the damage to business interests and property. I do not seen this being discussed and considered. I have seen a notable increas in questions from potential guests concerned about what their young children might be exposed to during this period. They are seeking assurances that we do not rent to college kids and they will not be causing problems in PCB. As long as we are inviting MTV we cannot honestly tell families that PCB has or is changing to a family destination. I am very disappointed to see tax dollars going to programs that will damage our porperty and business. What happened to the balanced TDC leadership we were suposed to get!

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2 Jennifer March 4, 2008 at 8:02 am

Jason,

Thank you for this well written editorial.

Many of your points are valid concerns and should be addressed rationally by the TDC with a full marketing and contingency plan for all future events.

I would also add that these plans be published for the communities best interest and knowledge.

IMO, Mr. Easterling’s concerns are not only valid of condo and other property owners through out that area but also a continued concern for new investors.

As a real estate agent, I continue to be concerned not only with property values in that area, but also the reputation of our community and our continued economic tourism direction for these event types.

I am not opposed to the spring break event or any other event that positively affects our communities well being (economically and socially) as well as our reputation as family oriented tourist destination.

I agree with you the TDC should provide a disclosed proven method of obtaining, calculating and publishing results of these findings.

I firmly believe that we can find a balance of providing a family oriented tourist destination as well as offering various types of seasonal and off-season events for our visitors that are: safe, protective of owners properties and that attract a wide audience from all demographic types and visitors from around the world.

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3 John March 4, 2008 at 11:56 am

When this settles, a good analysis of this should include what we did different from last year and what we got for all of it.

I suspect you will find little difference from last year as to what we did, and little or no added participation from the private industry that demands and benefits from this.

Now, where is the marketing plan and funding for the “off season”, “post spring break”, and “post peak season”??
…or do the property investor/owners just carry the load for this while an already established “spring break season” gets the bulk of the funding while contributineg little or nothing to the development…?

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4 Dennis March 4, 2008 at 6:38 pm

I agree with Mr. Easterling. The TDC board replacement last year appeared to begin a new “family spring break” attitude at Panama City Beach. This was to provide a marketing opportunity help shift tourism to a family destination. The tax dollars spent to promote a college spring break ’08 is very disappointing. TDC, let’s strive to see that next year “college spring break” is truly changed to “family spring break”.

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5 Suzanne March 4, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Great editorial! I am a new property owner in PCB and am greatly concerned with the image of the area and the way funds are spent towards marketing the area to tourists. I was honestly shocked to read some of the facts; i.e. the small amount of money raised by the co-op (the same people most vocal about keeping Spring Break); the small percentage of accomodations that even allow Spring Breaker (this is a very telling fact to me that property owners, read…tax base, do NOT want Spring Break); and so on. It is our responsibility to demand accountability from the TDC.

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6 John March 5, 2008 at 7:41 am

I have purchased multiple properties over the last couple of years at PCB. I was under the impression that PCB was undergoing a change to attract a more family and higher economic-level crowd that will come to PCB and spend money. The long-term economic growth of PCB must be tied to those that have the funds to support the developing retail infrastucture. We already have Shores of Panama filing bankruptcy and we do not need to jeopardize the future of our other retailers. It is time to move away from the redneck riviera mentality and move towards a family-oriented atmosphere. PCB property values are still below any other beach front property. This is partly caused by the over-developing but much can also be attributed to the PCB image that we have and continue to embrace to others. Parents will not bring their children to MTV-Spring Break atmosphere towns.

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7 Diana Lunsford March 9, 2008 at 4:23 pm

As a property owner in PCB, I concur with Mr. Easterling’s comments. The retail infastructure, the new resorts, and the soon to be built international airport lay the groundwork for a booming family vacation spot. Continuing to emphasize the spring break mentality is damaging to the goal. The TDC board promised a family oriented marketing approach and they need to ensure that their actions match their words.

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8 jc March 12, 2008 at 12:54 pm

It looks like the TDC got screwed and in the process they are killing PCB as a family vacation spot. How sad is this for all the investors. Read the email below from a renter canceling next year’s reservation:

WE ARE SORRY TO DO THIS TO YOU. WE HAVE DECIDED THAT PANAMA CITY BEACH IS NOT A PLACE WE WANT TO
SPEND OUR VACATION. AFTER SURVIVING 4 DAYS OF THE SPRING BREAKERS AND ALL THE DRINKING, DRUG DEALING AND WILD PARTIE
IT IS NOT TO BE TOLERATED. THE YOUNG PEOPLE DO AS THEY PLEASE NO POLICE PRESENCE OR BEACH PATROL.
THE CONDO AREAS ARE AMESS. WE ARE CLOSE TO THE OCEAN VILLA AND HAVE HEARD ABOUT ALL THE GOINGS ON.
SORRY WE WANT TO SPEND OUR HOLIDAY WHERE PEOPLE OBEY THE LAW AND HAVE RESPECT FOR OTHER PEOPLE AND
PROPERTY. IN DESTIN LAST YEAR THIS DID NOT HAPPE N. THERE WAS NO DRINKING IN PUBLIC AREAS. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. WE WOULD LOVE TO HAVE BEEN AT OCEAN VILLA IT IS A PERFECT SET UP. BUT THE CITY HAS GONE WILD

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9 Michelle March 14, 2008 at 9:00 am

I think that Spring Break for kids is horrid….
PCB keeps screwing itself by building nice things and then having the kids come to ruin them….
I can bet that all the nice new hotels that have been recently built are a mess….WHY does the TDC NOT SEE THIS!!!! They are doing so much more harm by keeping this going on….NO families will come here…
ONE time is all they need to see PCB is NOT the place to be…

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10 ronald March 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm

make it a family location and get rid of spring break as it is today.

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