Pensacola Beach bouncing back with record tourism year

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 24, 2012 at 10:28 PM

Updated Thursday, May 24 at 10:42 PM

Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
Email: bcapo@wwltv.com | Twitter: @billcapo

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Just step onto the beach, and you can feel your cares slipping away. The white sands are impossibly bright, the Gulf of Mexico shines in cool shades of blue, the surf crashes onto the beach.

It is the perfect recipe for relaxation.

"It's a great time to be here, you know, the water's beautiful, and we're just having a ball," said Tanner Shultz, who brought his family to Pensacola from Macon, Georgia. "It's very relaxing, and the temperature couldn't be any better. I mean, what a beautiful day."

"This is my first time here, but we're on our anniversary, so we came down here with some friends of ours," said Stephen McConico of Kansas. "You've got salt water on your glasses. How much fun are you having? I'm having a lot of fun."

So are a lot of people. In the first four months of this year, over 1.3 million vehicles paid the toll on arrival at Pensacola Beach, nearly 37,000 vehicles more than last year, and 180,000 more than 2010.

"Normally we think of our summer, our tourist season starting on Memorial Day weekend," said Buck Lee, head of the Santa Rosa Island Authority. "But last year and this year, it has started in March. It has just been unbelievable."

In all of last year there were 4 million vehicles that visited the island, each carrying two to three passengers, so island leaders are thrilled with what the large numbers of spring visitors this year might mean.

Last year they say a record number of people visited Pensacola Beach, but this year things are already looking so good they think they might set a new record.

"Last year was a record-setting year," said Lee. "I have extreme confidence that we're going to do better than last year."

There are a dozen hotels on Pensacola Beach, and there are not many rooms left for Memorial Day weekend.

"We are almost sold out," said Charlie Allen, general manager of the Holiday Inn Resort. "We are about 90 percent full."

And they say Memorial Day is just an indicator for how busy the entire summer season is looking.

"Oh we're going to be full," said Allen. "No doubt. Last year we were full in June and July, the pace, again we're ahead of pace this year."

These beaches were affected by the BP oil spill two years ago. Are there still trouble spots?

"They won't see any oil, and a very, very little chance to see a tar ball," said Lee. "If you do, put it in a jar, take it home as a souvenir."

"It's tough to go home, isn't it? My son actually asked me if we could stay a couple of extra days, but unluckily we're going to have to go back, because I've got to go to work at some point, to pay for this," smiled Tanner Shultz ruefully as he gazed at the sparkling beach he didn't want to leave.

One new attraction arrives in June. Called 360 Pensacola Beach, it will be a fifteen stories tall ferris wheel that will give riders spectacular views of the beach. Buck Lee said passengers will be able to see all the way to Alabama.

 

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