Florida relies on tourism dollars and many of the executives who help keep the money flowing can count on six-figure salaries.
Last week, News 13 examined local government salaries. This week we found that, just like the leadership teams that govern local cities and counties, nearly all the individuals overseeing tourism in the Panhandle have six-figure salaries.
At $206,674 a year and total compensation of $241,602, the Bay County TDC president and CEO Dan Rowe is one of the highest-paid government employees in the area. He makes more than Bay County’s County Manager and Panama City Beach’s City Manager who both have a base salary of $170,000. He’s also making more than other TDC Directors in the area. The closest comparable job would be Jay Tusa, the Executive Director of Walton County’s TDC. Tusa makes $147,727.
Rowe’s compensation puts him in line with some of the biggest markets in the state. Visit Tampa Bay, the agency that oversees tourism dollars in that area declined to provide News 13s with salary information following our records request. But according to our sister station WFLA, in 2015 the Visit Tampa Bay director was making $277,175 a year. A 2016 opening for the Broward County TDC CEO listed the salary as anywhere from $129,000 to $206,000 each year. Miami’s CEO is said to make $350,000 a year.
Rowe says his longevity in the job has contributed to the rise in his salary. He has served for 12 years. During the same time period, Walton County has had five TDC directors, Rowe said.
Rowe has also overseen a large amount of success as Panama City Beach weathered the 2010 BP Oil Spill, the Panama City Beach City Council ordinance changes that ended college Spring Break in 2016 and now Hurricane Michael.
The TDC only saw declining annual revenue twice in that time. Once in 2010 and less than a percentage point in 2016. In 2016, revenues for March dropped a whopping 41 percent but the work the TDC had done to bring visitors to town other months out of the year resulted in what amounted to a zero growth instead of a precipitous drop.
Bay County Tourism results in about $25 million in bed tax collections each year and the annual total economic impact is about $2.7 billion, Rowe said.
Rowe is joined by five other individuals on his leadership team. One of them makes 88,400 a year, two others make in the 90s. Jayne Leach, the vice president of marketing makes $115,752 and Richard Sanders, the vice president of sports marketing and special events makes $142,523.
Rowe said Sanders longevity with the agency (12 years), along with the importance of his duties is responsible for his increased compensation.
The TDC has gone all-in on sports marketing following the construction of the Panama City Beach Sports Complex. A large soccer tournament in December may have contributed to a better than average month for the area, Rowe said, but he cautioned that officials were still examining the numbers.
Tournaments, along with concerts and other special events give people a reason to visit the area outside of the busy summer season.
These are things that do “not require sunshine and 85 degree temperatures to come down,” Rowe said.
Local tourism officials are also working to lessen the impact of Hurricane Michael. In the aftermath of the storm, Panama City Beach saw a spike in hotel and condo rentals for evacuees and hurricane workers. Most, if not all of that business is now gone, and officials on the beach are working to combat the incorrect idea that the beach was badly damaged by the storm.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Vigil, the president, and CEO of Destination Panama City, is working to build a tourism industry while the city around her rebuilds.
“We have to essentially start from scratch in rebuilding the assets that represent our city,” Vigil said. “The Marina is gone. The Civic Center is gone.”
It is difficult work.
“When we have a community that in large part has some depression and PTSD to continue to focus on opportunities and the fact we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” Vigil said. “It’s hard to focus on the opportunities instead of dwelling on the devastation.”