NAVARRE BEACH — For a fifth consecutive year, Navarre Beach likely will attract a record number of tourists this summer, if the off-season is any indication.
Between the shoulder months of October 2018 and April 2019, tourist development tax collections reached more than $1.5 million, more than double the amount during the same period in 2014-2015.
Deonna Houchins, who works in the gift shop at the Navarre Beach pier, said she notices more people coming to the four-mile stretch of barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. The pier is the longest one in Florida, stretching 1,545 feet and towering 30 feet above the Gulf.
She said the combination of the area’s natural beauty, less-crowded beaches than Pensacola Beach or Destin, and Hurricane Michael’s destruction of Mexico Beach to the east in October, are among the factors causing numbers to skyrocket.
“This is a great place to be,” Houchins said. “If you came here before, you’ll want to come back.”
Last summer from May through September, tourist development tax collections reached almost $2.1 million. If projections hold, the bed taxes could climb more than $445,500 this summer and, for the first time, hit $4 million for the fiscal year.
Tourist Development Director Julie White said its advertisements and target markets changed throughout the Southeast this season.
“We’re not crowded and we have a natural shoreline,” White said on a picture-perfect sunny day. “More people find that appealing. Come kick back, chill and relax.”
The Navarre Beach Marine Science Station on the beach’s eastern end has benefited from the growth in visitors. It added three new summer camps to the four it already ran.
Director Charlene Mauro estimated four times as many people visit the science station, thanks to about $450,000 in new beach walkways, a kayak launch, showers, restroom pavilion, other pavilions with picnic tables and grills and an observation platform on the sound side. Gulf-side improvements wrap up by the end of this month.
“We are really busy,” Mauro said. “Word is getting out. We’re no longer the best-kept secret.”