NW Florida is indeed open for business post-Hurricane Michael. Yes, Mexico Beach and surrounding areas were hit extremely hard by the hurricane, but other destinations along the NW Florida coast were spared the storm’s brutal force, including Pensacola, the Emerald Coast and South Walton. We reached out to tourism officials in these destinations, as well as Panama City Beach, to get the 4-1-1 on what’s officially open for tourism business and what you should be relaying to your clients.
Encompassing Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, Florida’s Emerald Coast, which offers 24 miles of sandy shore and hundreds of waterfront rooms, “is open for business and welcoming guests,” says a representative from the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re fortunate to say, our local businesses are open and all operations have resumed as normal. It will be business as usual in the next couple months, as we focus on winter travel and welcome tourists visiting to embrace all that the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast has to offer. From fishing to boating, to golfing, to shopping, to exploring local history and art exhibits, it’s a great time to get outside and explore.”
Travel advisors can visit the Emerald Coast’s social media channels—@FloridasEmeraldCoast, on Instagram @emeraldcoastfla, and on Twitter @EmeraldCoastFLA—to see firsthand how pristine the beautiful emerald-green waters and white-sand beaches are, says the representative.
And for top accommodations, point clients to the Hilton Garden Inn Fort Walton Beach, Holiday Inn Resort, The Henderson and The Island. For more information, visit emeraldcoastfl.com.
Pensacola, surrounded by 50-plus miles of coastline, including the emerald-green Gulf of Mexico waters and crystal-clear bay areas, is, says Nicole Stacey, Visit Pensacola’s director of marketing & communications, “open for business. It is a thin line as we keep our neighbors in Gulf and Bay county in mind and show our respect, however, we must share that Pensacola is open and was not impacted by the storm.
“Our beaches are open, roads are open and the airport is running flights daily. Our slice of NWFL was unscathed with little to no impact at all from Michael. We must highlight our area to maintain the economic impact tourism plays in Pensacola and continue sharing we are open, business as usual.”
Stacey adds that the area’s fall festivals and events are underway and “we encourage travelers to come and enjoy the Pensacola Bay Area.” For more information, go to visitpensacola.com.
In South Walton, clients will find 26 miles of sugar-white sand beaches, turquoise water and 16 beach neighborhoods, and, says David Demarest, director of communications for Walton County TDC, “South Walton missed serious impacts from Hurricane Michael, and even the day after the storm passed through visitors were already on the beach, and those driving along the coast or strolling on the sand would be hard pressed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Businesses and accommodations in South Walton are open, and visitors will not see a sign of storm damage or recovery work in South Walton. I cannot express how fortunate we feel, and because recovery for ourselves hasn’t been necessary, we have focused our energies on helping our neighbors to the east recover.”
He adds that because the destination was fortunate to not receive any significant damage from Hurricane Michael, South Walton guests are able to book and stay exactly as they would have before the storm. And Walton County TDC has been frequently posting post-storm videos and images to its Facebook page to reassure visitors of current conditions. For more information, go to visitsouthwalton.com.
Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach, which has 27 miles of beaches to choose from, received, says a representative of Visit Panama City Beach, “minimal damage from Hurricane Michael, many restaurants, businesses and properties have re-opened with a focus on serving first-responders and displaced residents for surrounded communities impacted from the storm. Our community has had the ability to provide shelter and resources for the surrounding communities that have been impacted.”
The tourism bureau recommends that if you have clients who already have reservations that you should reach out to the accommodations to determine eligibility.
The destination we will be hosting Beach Home for the Holidays over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and this year in particular, says the representative, “Panama City Beach and surrounding areas have much to be thankful for, and this event allows for the community and visitors to kick off the holiday season. There will be live music, s’mores, vendors and holiday cheer for all to enjoy. This event is free to the public.”
Additionally, the tourism bureau is gathering information on the status of different attractions and events for its visitors. A majority of the restaurants have opened to the public, and attractions for visitors and locals alike are also opening. “Each day,” says the representative, “our community is returning to the tourism community that we know and love.” It must be noted that both the county and city of Panama City Beach are under a curfew from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. For more information, go to visitpanamacitybeach.com.