SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – A new report from Walton County shows tourism bed tax collection numbers took a downward turn in 2023.  

The report shows a 6.6 percent decrease in bed tax collections in Aug. 2023 from Aug. 2022.  

But tourism numbers suggest it is only a decrease from an inflated COVID-19-driven market. 

“Cruise ships were closed. There were a lot of countries that closed their borders so people could not travel as freely as they typically would. Now, take that back to Walton County, you know, being Walton County, being in Florida, we were very fortunate that the governor did not shut the state down. So we were open for travel,” said Tourism Director Matt Algarin.

If you look back to 2019, 2023 was an approximate 48 percent increase compared to August to Aug. 

“The tourism economy is strong and the tourism economy is resilient. You know, we may see, you know, occupancy down for certain time periods, you know, individual properties or property management companies, you know, they may see their occupancy fluctuate but you know, our collections are strong,” said Algarin. 

The county recently settled a lawsuit with private property owners limiting public access to beaches. In the wake of those decisions and new rules being put in place for residents and visitors, the county has purchased more beach property at Bramble Grove and Dune Lakes outfall.  

“The county owns the property now we have basically the public has an unfettered right to use that property. And that’s a key win for our citizens,” said District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell. 

The county will look to demolish the current structures on the lots and begin a design process to increase parking and bathrooms for public use. 

Walton County Tourism will publish new beach rules on its website when the customary use settlements are complete.

View a breakdown of tourism tax collections per year below.