BAY COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) –  About three billion dollars is generated yearly in visitor spending within Bay County and Panama City Beach.

Since tourists make it all possible, May is designated as ‘Tourism Appreciation Month’ and tourism leaders are celebrating across the area.

“One of the great things about Bay County and Panama City Beach is that we have a very vibrant tourism community,” Bay County Tourist Development Executive Director Dan Rowe said.

Many are celebrating what makes our area of the panhandle unique. Not only are there sugar-white sandy beaches, but Destination Panama City President Jennifer Vigil said there is also St. Andrews and Panama City. Both areas offer tasty seafood restaurants.

“Tourism on this side of the bridge has grown exponentially since the hurricane,” Vigil said.

Vigil said more is coming, like Harrisons Kitchen and Bar and Hotel Indigo near the city marina.

“It really shows what a resilient community Panama City is and how much we have to look forward to,” Vigil said. “This is just the beginning of the greatest recovery story ever told.”

Vigil said many visitors came to Panama City and the beach during the height of the pandemic.

“We saw record numbers through the pandemic and the subsequent year following,” Vigil.

Visit Panama City Beach Executive Director Dan Rowe said this past year brought in roughly $36.7 million from Tourist Development collections. That money allows them to start on new projects.

“An indoor sports center which will take on a lot of other activities when we get it built,” Rowe said. “It’s going to be located at the Panama City Beach Sports Complex. Right next to Publix Sports Park. It will be about a 100,000 square foot facility with eight basketball courts.”

Bay District Schools will also use the facility.

Rowe hopes it will be open within the next two years.

He said construction of the $41 million facility will be paid entirely with Tourist Development Tax dollars and state and federal funding.