Exaggerated College Spring Break Numbers in the Media

by May 7, 2008 • 9 comments

There is a problem with the College Spring Break economic impact figures that have been reported in the media this past season. I first noticed it when ABC affiliate, WMBB, aired a report on March 3rd. Reporter Mark Jenkins stated that “Tourist Development Council Commissioners are expecting an overall income of $100 million this month.” Based on my prior public records requests, I was already aware that the TDC/CVB had very little research to support their official 2007 estimate of $62 million in spending. Therefore, I was surprised to hear that they were now boosting their estimate by over 50%.

Then MSNBC on March 17th referenced the same $100 million in spending. In addition, MSNBC reported that PCB was expecting “about 350,000 students”. I already knew the TDC/CVB had no research to support their 2007 estimate of 250,000 students. And now they apparently were boosting this unsubstantiated estimate by 40%. Although MSNBC did not report who provided either of these estimates, I wrongly assumed that they had been provided by Andy Phillips, chairman of the TDC/CVB. My assumption was based on Phillips being the only PCB representative quoted in the article.

After seeing these reports, I made a public records request for all records relating to these projections. Instead of receiving data supporting the estimates, I received a prompt response from TDC/CVB President Dan Rowe explaining that they “did not estimate an increase in visitation or spending this year”. Rowe also stated “I have no knowledge of the source of the figures reported in the MSNBC article or on WMBB-TV”. Now I was really confused. Chairman Phillips has explained to me that the numbers he provided to the media were those provided by TDC/CVB staff. I have no reason to doubt him since neither WMBB or MSNBC attributed these overly optimistic estimates to Phillips. So who provided these unofficial, increased estimates? Is someone trying to make College Spring Break appear to have more importance to our local economy that it might actually have? And why is the media reporting these figures without completing reasonable fact checking? I have attempted to contact WMBB’s Mark Jenkins and the author of the MSNBC story, Bill Briggs. Why would they try to keep the source of these figures secret? Are they trying to protect someone?

Until better economic analysis is conducted, the only official estimate we have is that the average College Spring Break visitor spends an average of $35.00 per day on food, activities, and shopping while they are here. This is in addition to their expenditures for lodging and transportation to and from our destination. Anyone reasonably looking at the situation knows that many of the students spend considerably more, while some spend less. But the real problem with estimating the total spending of this tourist group is that we have no idea how many actually visit.

While admitting that I do not have a reasonable estimate, I am quite sure that it is nowhere near 250,000, let alone the 350,000 reported in the media. We just do not have the available college student friendly accommodations that we had back in PCB’s spring break heyday in the 90s. The TDC/CVB has reported that there are approximately 5000 available accommodations that accept college spring breakers. This number was actually up for 2008 as some upscale condos, such as Origin at Seahaven, decided they would allow the students. But we also know that there are families occupying some of these college student friendly accommodations, especially during weeks #3 and #4 that surrounded Easter. And we know that there were very few college students here after week #4. The majority of the corporate sponsors only stayed for the first three weeks. Even mtvU and its sponsors only decided to host their village for the 2 prime weeks (#2 and #3). Even if we make the unrealistic assumptions that there were 12,500 college students here each of weeks #5 and #6 and that 100% of the units were occupied by students for the first four weeks, there would have to be 11 students per unit, per night for the first four weeks in order to reach 250,000 total students.

In addition to available accommodations, other information seems to show that 250,000 students is not realistic. To begin with, I heard that an estimated 3500 people attended the mtvU concerts. MtvU’s presence didn’t really have much relevance if they only attracted a total of 14,000 students to the four performance dates that were the centerpiece of the TDC/CVB’s marketing plan. Even 14,000 is too high when you consider that some students likely attended both of the concerts taking place in each of week #2 and #3. And it can be assumed that there were many locals making up a portion of the 3500 in attendance.

And how do we supposedly accommodate the evening activities for these 250,000 students? I would estimate that we would have to have had at least 75,000 students per night during the prime week if we were to have reached 250,000 total visitors for the entire season. Club La Vela is clearly the largest venue advertising an occupancy of 6000. I realize that we have many smaller clubs/bars and that not every student goes out every night, but can anyone provide a breakdown of where 75,000 students might be on any given night? And just as with the concerts, you also have to assume that there are a significant number of locals joining the party, but not generating any bed tax.

We know that we have a significant number of College Spring Break visitors and that they spend a significant amount of money while here. But why do we need to exaggerate how many students visit and how much they spend? It seems that some people or businesses are going out of their way to make this tourist group appear to have a greater economic impact that they actually have. Hopefully the TDC/CVB will request occupancy, attendance, and revenue figures from the primary college spring break oriented businesses and conduct a complete analysis of this data before allocating any funds for 2009. The TDC/CVB also needs to determine how many students would continue to visit regardless of whether they spend any governmental funds on College Spring Break. We cannot continue to just make unsubstantiated assumptions about the importance of spending limited marketing funds on College Spring Break.

-Bryan Durta

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1 Jason Koertge May 7, 2008 at 5:49 am

Bryan, great article. Reading the WMBB website this morning, it would appear that they have exaggerated their numbers again. “Every year millions of students pour onto Panama City Beach”, as quoted by Mark Jenkins, “From March 1st to April 15th, the Panama City Beach Police Department charged 170 students for drinking under the legal age of 21.”

They went from millions of students to only 170 charged with drinking under age? I would thank that if millions of students were here each year, there would be a much higher percentage of underage drinkers arrested than this.



2 Charles May 9, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Hi Guys,

Yes, I would agree that the number seem off from the truth. But what matters most is that spring break is a major economic boost to the Bay County community as a whole.

As for the counting the numbers, I would completely agree! But this applies to Marketing in general. Look at this “White Sale” that over $300,000 is being spent on… how much will it generate in revenue versus the investment. As Bill Spann always says, show me the ROI.



3 Jason Koertge May 12, 2008 at 7:27 am

I emailed Mark Jenkins asking him to support the numbers he quoted in the above mentioned article. His response was this:

The line in the story reads “TDC COMMISSIONERS EXPECT AN OVERALL INCOME OF 100 MILLION DOLLARS THIS MONTH.” I’ve done so many stories since that one aired two months ago. If you asked around the time the story aired I could give you a better idea as to who gave me the info. But in retrospect, I would say it was either Andy Phillips or Joe Kennedy (TDC Marketing Committee member). Can’t help, but feel you’re accusing the MEDIA of trying to make spring break a bigger deal to Panama City Beach than it truly is. We get the numbers, we report them and have no agenda. -Mark


4 Bryan Durta May 12, 2008 at 11:20 am

Glad to hear that Mark Jenkins responded to Jason. I sent emails to Mr. Jenkins on April 5th and 28th, but received no response to either.

Mr. Jenkins seems to be missing the point the estimates he was given were not official and did not come from the TDC/CVB. The TDC member who provided them was obviously giving their own opinion, not that of the TDC/CVB.

Also, Mr. Jenkins’ claim that my quote from his story is incorrect is not true. The quote I used is exactly what appeared on the WMBB web site on March 8th(MTV Setting up for Spring Break, Mar 03, 2008 6:58PM Updated 1:00 PM). I would be happy to forward a copy of my printout from the WMBB web site if anyone would like to review it.


5 Joe May 12, 2008 at 12:00 pm

I doubt that the Thunder Beach numbers were what were claimed either. Also I would have moved to Daytona Beach 13 years ago if I wanted Spring Break and bikers. You people should go see what has happened to their town.


6 Lori May 12, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Great work Bryan! This is the kind of reporting and research that we need! It seems there is a possibility that pro college spring breaker agenda supporters will do anything to continue this market. Keep up the fact-finding! On a scale of 1-10 kudos, you get 100!


7 John May 12, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Ok, let’s do some math:
1. From the above posts:
5000 rooms available for 4 Weeks = 28 days
each visitor spends $35/day
2. Other:
Avg Stay 5 days (I am guessing)
28 days provides about 5 five day periods
Avg nr per room = 5 or 6 (still guessing)
100% occupancy of the rooms
Avg cost of rooms $100 – 150/night
3. Leave out those who stay with Parents – aasumption is they are not getting arrested, trashing rooms, etc. so they are in a different category.

Hotel revenues:
5000 rooms x 28 days x 100/night = $14M

Student Spending:
5000 rooms x 5 per room 28 days x $35 spend/day = $24.5M

$14M+$24.5M = $38.5M

5000 rooms x 5 per room = 25000 students per 5 day period, x 5 perisds = 125,000 visitors.

to generate $100M:
use 8,000 rooms, *8 per room, $150/night = $33.6M
(*OOPS ! everyone is violating the occupancy law !)

use 10,000 rooms, 6 per room, $150/night, 28 nights = $42.6M

use 10,000 rooms, 6 per room, $35/day, 28 days = $58.8M

total revenue: $42.6M + $58.8M = $101/4M

Total Visitors;
= 60,000 students per five day period x 5 periods = 300,000 total

Here is what I get from this:
1. The TDC is going on guesses snce there is no hard data other than the $35/day. A survey is in order and should be confirmed versus revenue figures.
2. Based on 5000 rooms, 300,000 visitors is not realistic.
3. Based on 5000 rooms, $100M is not realistic

Seems we should have better info for the TDC to base thier decisions on, and should hold off spending money until we have it.


8 John Shook May 12, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Spring break is good for the economy….true.

Numbers are hard to nail down since we don’t have a check gate or turnstyle for “spring breakers” only.

Don’t be surprised that the news reporters don’t check facts or actually do the job that you imagine they should do. Your image of their profession is not the image they have for themselves.

There’s no way there were “millions” on our tiny beach. We would see water & sewage useage be overwhelmed. Too bad the reporters don’t truly dig & verify.


9 Hal Alexander May 13, 2008 at 10:18 am

In order to get the TRUE FACTS & FIGURES, go to the FL
State Sales Tax Information and interpolate the Spring Break Increases from the months before and after, and you should do it for the privious 4 years..Remember Figures Lie and Liars Figure…
Just do the Research and Evaluation and then you have the TRUE FIGURES,,,