Gulf Coast officials say the 2019 tourist season is shaping up to be a big one.
The latest bed tax numbers as of Tuesday showed annual increases in Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.
A lodging fee charged only to short-term visitors, bed tax is a clear indicator of tourism and plays a crucial role in a county's development.
According to David Demarest, communications director for the Walton Tourist Development Council, tourists spent more than $450,000 this May than last.
He added that bed-tax collections were already up 15% from 2018 as peak season gets underway.
"We're in a healthy economy nationwide right now, with low unemployment rates, which generally contributes to people feeling comfortable taking vacations," Demarest said.
As for Okaloosa and Santa Rosa, May's numbers weren't available on Tuesday, but tourist development officials in each county said an influx of guests was present.
"Our marketing strategy has been to focus on 'prime' season, which is September through May," said Jennifer Adams, tourist development director for Okaloosa.
She added that a steady push to draw visitors in during the off-season has increased Okaloosa's current bed-tax numbers by a little more than 8%.
For Santa Rosa, 2019 collections were already up to a more than $150,000 head start from last year, according to the county's website.
"(Navarre Beach is) a great place to go," said Julie White, tourist development director for Santa Rosa. "The sand and the water here are appealing and it's family friendly and not crowded."
With Independence Day around the corner, tourism experts agreed — the Panhandle is turning into a year-round destination.
"I think that summer is going to remain our busiest time into the foreseeable future, but our goal is to help create a steady, dependable economy year round," Demarest said.