What was just a few short years ago a rag-tag conglomeration of mom-and-pop motels, souvenir shops and street vendors is expanding vertically with multi-story condos.
The former "Redneck Riviera" now is evolving into an upscale condominium and resort-focused tourist destination and wants to be known as something more than the top domestic destination for Spring Break.
Dan Rowe, the Bay County Tourism Development Council (TDC) director, said no comprehensive survey has been done to determine the overall economic impact, but they estimate that between 150,000 and 250,000 students spend Spring Break in Panama City Beach each spring. The local businesses don't like to share how much revenue they generate during Spring Break, but it is safe to say though that Spring Breakers spend millions of dollars each year in the area and provide a jump-start t0 the areas peak summer season.
Spring Break is the third biggest tourism month for Panama City Beach, after June and July. According to the Wall Street Journal. the city typically brings in $101 million during March. In recent years, about 300,000 students travel to PCB for its beaches, clubs and bars during Spring Break.
The biggest change for spring Break in Panama City Beach in the last year was the availability new multi-million dollar Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP).
The two carriers providing jet service to ECP are Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines through regional connections, although Southwest has direct flighs from Baltimore, Houston-Hobby, Nashville and Orlando.
Delta Air Lines offers daily non-stop service under the Delta Connection brand from Atlanta and Memphis.
Although the intent of the new airport is to make PCB acceable by air is to make the market more attractive to upscale condominium owners and resort-focused tourists, if you book well in advance with southwest, you can find fares from BWI are less than $200 RT and Chicago Midway is less than $300 RT. (11/24/2011)
If you are flying in from Canada a good alternative with better fares is the North West Florida Regional Airport (VPS) a little over an hour and a half away from PCB.
Today there are three major areas along PCB where Spring Break events are clustered. When Spring Break migrated to Panama City Beach from Daytona Beach in the 1980's the event was concentrated just across Hathaway Bridge on Front Beach Road starting with the Value Lodge on the causeway. Beachside most of the activity was at hotels like the Holiday Inn Resort(Formerly SunSpree), Days the Days Inn and (Formerly Best Western) over to Casa Loma and nearby chain outlets like Taco Bell, Hooters, Wendy's and Buger King.
Over the years, the event has expanded to the eastern side of the beach along St. Thomas Drive. Today, you will find several of the popular night clubs like Hammerhead Fred's, Spinnaker's and Club La Vela. Lodging in this area once only available at the Boardwalk Beach Resort is now available several of the Condos that rent to Sping Breakers like the the Summit.
In recent years, may of the smaller "Mon & Pop" along the west end of the beach have sold out to condo developers resulting in more commercial development at that end of the beach like Pier Park with its many shops and restraunts. With the growing trend of self contained resort properties, the Sand Piper Inn and Resort with it's Tiki Bar is now the anchor for Spring Break activites on the west end of the beach.
Marketing companies like the Collegiate Marketing Group help to bring corporate sponsored events to PCB from companies like Sports Illustrated, Jansen, National Lampoon, etc.