OUR POSITION: The Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau did an excellent job keeping the revenue coming in during Red Tide summer.

It wasn’t the best of times.

So, the only thing to do was make the best of it.

The Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau certainly did that during the dark days of Red Tide summer by shifting its focus of promotion from fouled Gulf beaches to brown-water activities and landlocked attractions.

Through its efforts, what could have been an economic disaster was turned into a salvage project that actually resulted in an uptick in annual tourist development tax (TDT) revenue. According to numbers released by the bureau, TDT taxes generated $4.1 million during the past fiscal year, which is Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018.

That’s an increase of 4.8 percent over the previous fiscal year’s revenue of $3.9 million. Bureau officials said that since the bureau’s inception in 1997, it was the most TDT revenue Charlotte County had collected in one fiscal year.

The year “wasn’t great but it could have been much worse,” said Sean Doherty, the bureau’s interim director. “We didn’t really get the effect of the reality of the red tide or the perception of it until late July, early August.”

Revenue was actually up 7.5 percent in August from August 2017, a welcome quirk that Doherty attributed to the opening of two new hotels: the Marriot Springhill Suites in downtown Punta Gorda and Holiday Inn Express & Suites off Jones Loop in Punta Gorda.

“That helped cover the losses that were happening on the west side of the county in terms of collecting taxes,” Doherty said.

In addition to the 7 percent sales tax, Charlotte County levies a 5 percent TDT on accommodation stays six months or shorter. The first 3 percent is spent for tourism promotion and marketing support. Two percent goes to fund debt service on the bond for the recent renovations at the Charlotte Sports Park.

One of the first steps the bureau took to medicate the red tide infection of Charlotte County’s tourist economy was to change the marketing message. Englewood Beach was hit hard. So, the plan was to give tourists another reason to visit.

“We promoted things to do in Punta Gorda, up harbor, and on the east side of the county – places that weren’t affected by red tide,” Doherty said. “A lot of the stuff we do is digital, so it was simple enough to change all that had anything to do with beaches to anything that was not beach-related.”

Doherty said one of the toughest battles was fought on social media by Jennifer Huber, the bureau’s public relations manager.

“She would post something that was based in fact, and people would call her a liar,” Doherty said. “There was a lot of misinformation online about red tide.”

The save was made. Revenue from the summer months was down from the previous summer, but the bigger picture remained positive.

The hope now is the red tide will dissipate and leave us alone for a while. The bureau can get back to promoting sun, sand and turquoise water, and the only numbers to watch will be the ones on the spray can of sun block.

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