The answer to the title question is a categorical YES, demonstrated in almost “Duh!” fashion by a Y Partnership study. The study, presented at Tuesday’s TDC meeting by Y Partnership representative Peter Yesawich, showed that 3 times as many respondents, in a study that included 1,025 adults, believed Spring Break makes Panama City Beach a less attractive destination. While this conclusion, and other conclusions in the study, did not come as a surprise to me or those in the meeting attendance, what became apparent was that the debates were more than just Spring Break banter, but a commentary on Panama City Beach’s identity.
Dan Rowe during the meeting made a poignant statement, “We’re at a critical juncture approaching Spring Break 2010. Exactly 60 days from the opening of the new airport.” The question no doubt on everyone’s mind was how we present ourselves to this new markets. Do we condemn our relationship with College Spring Break and bid for a new clientele or do we hit the new markets hard with Spring Break advertising to maximize the season? Obviously, the question does not inspire a simple answer, but at the core of it we have to really ask ourselves who we are and what is the identity we are trying to assume? Are we the party town of old, are we Destin 2.0 or are we something different entirely?
In some way, and maybe I’m the only one, I’ve always likened Destin and Panama City Beach to siblings; Destin being the older, more civilized sister and Panama City Beach the crazy, fun-loving little brother. For years, this analogy fit quite well. But with recent developments Panama City Beach has changed; it grew up, as little brothers must eventually do, and is turning out to be quite a winner.
The reality is although Panama City Beach has indeed “grown up” enough to even make its older sister jealous, PCB differs from every other destination because at its heart it’s still the fun-loving life of the party. This is a sentiment even acknowledged by Andy Phillips, who said “We have a party reputation, folks, that’s just who we are. People come here because we are fun. They can come here and put lawn chairs in the back of Cadillac Escalades and cruise the strip.”
Any conversation about Spring Break, concurrently, is a conversation about Panama City Beach’s identity. To ask, “do we market to the College Students or the Family Spring Breakers during Spring Season” is merely the small scope of a much broader issue: who and what are we?
Take Orlando for example. They are an amusement destination and have completely embraced it: even guest service agents are trained to smile big, laugh and be able to tell you at least one Mickey Mouse story. Now, if Orlando suddenly wanted to become a stodgier business-traveler destination, they’d be in trouble. Which may be the very reason why destinations like Panama City Beach have such a hard time shaking the party-town stigma. Maybe, on some level, that’s just what they are.
All that being said, the solution to Panama City Beach’s Spring Break/Identity conundrum does not have an easy answer. Panama City Beach, frankly, is somewhere in between party and civility; like a frat boy, turned charming businessman. At some point a balance can be found and I believe Mr. Marty McDaniel, TDC chairman, hit on the key idea. “We are going to have to learn to evolve.”
Evolution is the key word. How do we evolve and what are we evolving into? The evolution of Panama City Beach may not yet be visible, but by defining and accepting our current identity, I think, we have the opportunity to gingerly guide it in the direction we want.
The truth is, after all the talk, what will probably happen is no more funds will be allocated to Spring Break and instead moved into beach conservation efforts and perhaps a little into Family Spring Break marketing. And, frankly, that’s where the money should go. We need to keep our best asset as clean as possible and Family Spring Break may be the next big thing. Spring Breakers of the college type will always come to Panama City Beach whether you market to them or not. You may hate them or love them, but at least at the moment, they seem to know us a little better than we know ourselves.
The mixture of Family and College Spring Break will work. I’ve seen it and you’ve seen it. Every year in February and early March there is a mixture of Spring Breakers and Snowbirds. The Snowbirds take just enough rooms to keep the beach from being overrun by students, which in turn lessens the amount of incidents and overall beach filth. Somehow, both groups are able to seamlessly coexist. The college breakers are at the clubs with no worries, the Snowbirds are entertained by the crazy antics and perhaps even a little nostalgia and everyone’s happy; a little bit of responsibility and a little bit of fun. I suppose that is the inevitable destination of our evolution, question is how to get there unscathed.
On Aug. 19 the TDC will gather again to hold a community forum for PCB residents to express their opinion on the matter before any final decisions are made.Print Story