The current state of affairs in Walton County is simply a disgrace.
We've allowed political agendas to get in the way of smart business. I read the recent news that the Jail Director, Stan Sunday, was appointed interim director of the TDC. What? There are plenty of qualified directors within the TDC who can address the needs of the tourism industry and keep the ship on course until a replacement is found.
We can't forget that tourism is big business in Walton County, and we are entering our peak season. We are finally returning to 2007 numbers, and we have learned we cannot rest on our laurels or know when the next disaster or crisis may strike. (It's ironic that we had the same situation in April 2010 weeks before the Deepwater Horizon explosion).
Walton County would not be able to clean 26 miles of beaches, maintain more than 50 beach accesses, advocate for beach restoration, support Turtle Watch or pay for lifeguards without the tourism tax revenue. Walton County also receives millions of dollars in general tax revenue by visitors and tourism creates thousands of jobs.
In 2007, the TDC commissioned an economic impact study, which revealed:
· Total visitor spending in Walton County was $1 billion
· Income generated from tourism was $314 million
· More than 12,150 jobs were created by tourism
· Total tax revenue related to tourism was $130.9 million
We must demand that the BCC take the TDC executive director job seriously. We need a strong leader who will grow year-round tourism and value the importance of attracting affluent visitors who respect and care about our beaches.
We need a TDC executive director with solid destination marketing AND destination management experience. We need a leader who can build consensus and balance the needs of the tourism industry with those of the local community. A leader who understands the value of arts and cultural and eco-tourism in attracting an affluent guest. A leader who can address tourism issues and help improve the quality of life for residents and visitors of Walton County.
We need to end backroom politics. The nine candidates should be interviewed in the sunshine and the best person for the job should be hired as well as welcomed and respected once they arrive. I am hopeful that the community will rise up and not let history repeat itself.