Explore Northwest Florida Brings Home Bronze

A Year After Hurricane Michael’s Landfall: Northwest Florida Tourism is Thriving as Marketing Efforts Win Awards from VISIT FLORIDA,

NORTHWEST FLORIDA – December 2019 Explore Northwest Florida is receiving recognition for their marketing efforts to bolster tourism in the wake of Hurricane Michael. Outstanding Florida tourism marketing efforts are recognized annually at the Flagler Awards, a statewide program of VISIT FLORIDA. This year’s recognitions included a Bronze Award in Rural Tourism Marketing for the Explore Northwest Florida’s “Choose Your Adventure” campaign.

The Choose Your Adventure effort is a multifaceted marketing campaign, which includes website and video content, print collateral and public relations efforts. The campaign promotes paddling, hiking, diving, beaches, historic attractions, state parks and more, with the aim of touting the region’s assets to a diverse mix of travelers. The effort is the result of market research and promotional rebranding undertaken by the regional coalition of Northwest Florida counties including Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, Walton and Washington.

The Flagler Awards honor individuals and organizations for excellence in their promotional campaigns and are described by VISIT FLORIDA, as “a tribute to the determined efforts of those who use their skill, resourcefulness, creativity and innovative spirit to market Florida to the world.”

“It’s an honor to be recognized,” said Heather Lopez, president of Explore Northwest Florida, “and it’s gratifying to see our region coming back strong to successfully promote this diverse, resilient region. These efforts,” she added, “continue to support our destinations, our industry and the economy of the entire region.”

VISIT FLORIDA announced the recipients of the 2019 Flagler Awards during this year’s Florida Tourism Forum at the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort. Judges evaluated the creativity, innovation, production quality and effectiveness of each entry. Cumulative scores resulted in awards being presented to the top three entries in each category: Bronze, Silver and, for the highest scoring entry, the Henry Award. In addition to the regional award, these Northwest Florida destinations were recognized for their individual marketing efforts.

Direct Marketing Silver: Destination Panama City for Postcards from Panama City

Internet Advertising Bronze: Visit South Walton for South Walton’s Stages of Travel Campaign

Internet Advertising Silver: Santa Rosa Tourist Development Office for Navarre Beach Content Videos

Niche Marketing Bronze: Visit South Walton for South Walton Meetings Discovery Box

Out-of-Home Bronze: Visit South Walton for South Walton’s Dallas and Charlotte Airport Advertising

Resource/Promotional Material – Consumer Silver Award: Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau for Visitor Guide

Resource/Promotional Material – Consumer Henry: Visit Panama City Beach for Decor by The Shore

Rural County Marketing Henry: Gulf County Tourist Development Council for Hurricane Michael ReBuild, ReVisit, ReDiscover Gulf County Campaign

Social Media Marketing Bronze Award: Visit Panama City Beach for We Are Thankful: Panama City Beach’s Hurricane Michael Recovery Story

Social Media Marketing Silver Award: Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa for Hilton Sandestin Beach Personalized Social Media Strategy

Special Event Bronze: Florida Seafood Festival for 55th Annual Event post Hurricane Michael

Special Event Henry: Gulf County Tourist Development Council for Brothers Osborne Port St Joe Album Release Concert

Television Advertising Silver Award: Visit Panama City Beach for Make It Yours!

Television Advertising Henry: Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau for ABC National

“We’re so proud of our regional effort and success, as well as that of our individual destinations and partners,” said Lopez. “This region continues to show its importance and its popularity as a destination. We represent a microcosm of all that this state has to offer, right here in Northwest Florida. More and more visitors are choosing their Florida adventure here. We’re very proud of that.”


Explore Northwest Florida efforts are a result of a public/private partnership which promotes travel to the region which includes Northwest Florida counties bordering the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers. The partnership encourages sustainable economic development through the preservation and promotion of the natural, cultural, recreational, scenic and historical resources within the rivers’ basins by providing services to enhance and support the tourism industry throughout the region. For more information visit www.explorenwflorida.com.


Betty Webb, Project Manager




Our 2019 Accomplishments

2019 Funding Awards and Partner Contributions

FL Department of Economic Opportunity Regional Rural Development Grant – Total Program $307,300 

–$150,000 Grant Funds w/ $103,800 Partner Cash and In-kind Match – Plus – VISIT FLORIDA Program Match (Cultural Heritage Rural Nature Grant $5,000 for Visitor Guide, Small Business Grant $3,500 for Website Update and $45,00 Value for 2020 Trade Show Program)–

VISIT FLORIDA – Rural Area of Opportunity Grant – $42,375 – 2019 Trade Show Program

VISIT FLORIDA – Rural Area of Opportunity Grant – $15,000 – Regional Video Series

Total 2019 Funding Awards and Contributions = $364,675

2019 Organizational and Marketing Activities

Leadership Development Forums:

  • 1/17/19, Gadsden Art Center & Museum
  • 2/21/19, Dr. Sorna Khakzad, Florida Public Archaeology Network & Askew Institute, update on Florida 

Panhandle Maritime National Heritage Area feasibility study for designation

  • 3/21/19, Dan Rowe, TDC Director for Visit Panama City Beach, tourism industry status post Michael
  • 5/16/19, Chris Ellis, Owner, Orange Hill Gator Farm
  • 6/6/19, Ann and Chuck Tucker, Muscogee Nation of Florida
  • 8/1/19, Meghan Holley, Interim Director, Main Street Marianna
  • 9/19/19, VISIT FLORIDA, Kate Chunka and Amber O’Connell, RAO Undiscovered Florida Marketing
  • 10/17/19 John Solomon, Florida Seafood Festival, 2018 55th Annual event post Michael 
  • 11/7/19 Sarah Hibbard, AARP GIS Specialist, Apalachee Online, AARP’s new GIS regional info and

Ben Chandler, AARP Disaster Resilience Coordinator, regional recovery projects post Michael

Special Publications:

  • Regional Domestic Visitor Profile Report completed February 2019
  • Regional Post Michael Assessment Report completed March 2019

Marketing and Promotion: 

  • Contracted w/ Laurie Rowe Communications to Maintain Travel Media Pressroom and Media Releases
  • LRC Planning Underway for Coastal Media/Writers Tour – scheduled Feb 26-Mar 1, 2020
  • Maintained Facebook Page and Activated New YouTube Page
  • Partnered with VISIT FLORIDA Co-op Marketing Opportunities & Updated Portal for State Recognition
  • Partnered with Southeast Tourism Society for inclusion in Regional Listings and Publications
  • Maintained 231 and I-10 Welcome Centers 9-slot Regional Brochure Display & Attended WC Events
  • Continued Participation in Regional Events, Activities and Workshops to Promote ENWFL Region
  • Registered as Sponsor for Wildlife Viewing and Nature Tourism Academy – event February 2020
  • Partnered with Florida State University, Panama City, for Ecotourism Summit – event February 2020
  • Partnered with Paddle Florida for Choctawhatchee Challenge – scheduled March 2020
  • Partnered with ABARK Riverkeepers for Apalachicola River Outings – schedule Dec 2019-Mar 2020 
  • Implemented Board Approved Advertising Plan: 
  • DREAMSCAPES – Winter Edition Dec 19-Feb 20, circulation 104,875/500,000 print & digital 
  • TEXAS MONTHLY – Jan-Feb 2020, circulation 270,000/more than 2,373 Texas readers 
  • 2020 TRAVEL GUIDE TO FLORIDA – Annual Publication, Release Jan 2020, 300,000 print & digital, 

Newsstand distribution/19,000 retail locations/250 airport locations

  • 2020 VISIT FLORIDA OFFICIAL VACATION GUIDE – Annual Publication, Release Jan 2020, 

300,000 print/200,000 digital, Welcome Centers/AAA Offices Nationwide              

  • MADDEN MEDIA RE-TARGETING DIGITAL CAMPAIGN – Various Markets, 700,000+ impressions 

with 255-425 clicks

  • 365 ATLANTA TRAVELER DIGITAL PROGRAM – 3 SEO-optimized destination articles 378,000 

monthly visitors, 3 Facebook mentions 101,200 followers, 3 Newsletter articles 18,000+subscribers

  • I-10 BEYOND THE EXITS – Bi-annual Regional Publication, January and July 2019 Issues 

60,000+ distribution in Northwest Florida               

  • UNDISCOVERED FLORIDA – Annual Publication, Release Apr 2019, circulation 320,000/50,000 

Welcome Centers, 250,000 bagged w/ Smithsonian Annual Travel Issue         


Maintained Organizational Website:  

Contracted with 78 Degree Media for extensive website update and redesign, also implemented monthly maintenance and hosting agreement: www.explorenwflorida.com

Marketing Materials: 

  • NEW Contracted with TREW Media to Produce Eight 3-minute Regional Marketing Videos w/ 15, 30
  • and 60 second snippets (History, Springs, Beaches, Camping, Trails (1), Trails (2), Fishing, Local Cuisine)
  • Created Media Influencer Information on USB for Distribution
  • Provided Marketing Give-a-Ways for Distribution

Printed and Distributed:

  • NEW Regional Visitor Guide  
  • Adventure Brochure
  • Places to Stay Brochure
  • Places to Camp Brochure
  • Regional Resource Map, tri-fold and tear-off
  • Updated Media Pitch Sheet

Under Design:

  • Regional Springs Brochure
  • Regional Paddling Trails Brochure for Apalachicola, Choctawhatchee and Chipola Waterways

Attended 9 Trade Shows to Promote the Northwest Florida Region:

  • Boot Dusseldorf, Germany – January 2019
  • Atlanta RV & Camping Show – January 2019
  • Nashville RV Super Show – January 2019
  • New York Times Travel Show – January 2019
  • Houston RV Show – February 2019
  • Chicago RV & Camping Show – February 2019
  • Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show – February 2019
  • Canoecopia, Madison, Wisconsin – March 2019
  • Ottawa Outdoor Travel Show- April 2019

Newsletters: Released to Regional DMO Leadership and Representatives, Media and Travelers:

  • 3 Informational Newsletters 
  • 12 Monthly Regional Events and Activities Newsletters

Annual Workshops:

  • Planning Underway for Ecotourism in Northwest Florida Summit – scheduled February 25, 2020 

(In partnership with Florida State University, Panama City)

  • Planning Underway for Networking Workshop – scheduled March 5, 2020

8 Educational and Training Scholarships Provided:

  • 1 Florida Tourism Day, Tallahassee
  • 1 Southeast Tourism Society Marketing College, Dahlonega, Georgia
  • 1 Southeast Tourism Society Connections Conference, Daytona Beach
  • 1 Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations Conference, Pensacola
  • 4 VISIT FLORIDA 2020 Tourism Forum – Panama City Beach

Organizational Restructuring to Expedite and Enhance Work Progress:

Task Force, Standing Committees and Ad Hoc Work Group Plan and Flow Chart – Adopted Aug 2019

~ 2019 was a very productive and progressive year for Explore Northwest Florida ~

Thank You to our county, supporting and agency partners!