Tourist dollars spread far and wide in the Walton County economy, influencing everything from automotive sales to the area’s wellness professionals and yoga studios. But many locals have come to understand that a job in hospitality certainly doesn’t have to end with the arrival of Labor Day.
Gary Brielmayer, General Manager of the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, followed his father in to a lifelong career in the hospitality industry. When he hears someone describe tourism as a career without growth potential, he scoffs at the idea. “Just like any other job, if you put in the time and effort you will be successful.”
Brielmayer began his career as a bellman, working a weekend job that helped him pay for a little extra fun. But over the years, Brielmayer kept at it and his early career eventually paved the way for him to take over the role of General Manager at a major hotel and resort. “I’ve been a busser, waiter, beach service guy – you name it and I have probably held that position in a hotel somewhere. It definitely helped prepare me for the role I am in now that I spent time learning nearly every aspect of the hotel business,” he says.
Tourism means a lot more than a paycheck for Walton County residents, though. As Brielmayer happily notes, “We all reap the benefits of the taxes generated by tourism to better the county. We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful counties in Florida – our quality of life is bar-none.
Indeed, elements of the South Walton community that seem central to a resident’s quality of life – from the paved bike paths along Hwy 30A or Scenic Gulf Dr., public beach and bay accesses equipped with lifeguards and restroom facilities, to even the roads we drive on and schools our children attend – are all funded in total or in part by tourism-driven revenue.
More obviously, tourism also helps local restaurants and shops thrive. Based on research, visitors spend the majority of their money (outside of accommodations) on dining and shopping. The influx of spending is why even with its small official population, South Walton is home to more than 200 restaurants. In 2018, visitors spent $676 million dining out, in addition to $617 million in retail spending. That support is especially critical to the survival of South Walton’s unique collection of small businesses that serve both locals and visitors, and is one more way that in Walton County, hospitality is much more than just a day at the beach.
Tourism by the Numbers
$4.7 Billion – The total economic impact of tourism in Walton County
77% – Amount of all retail spending in Walton County made by visitors
67% – Amount of all Walton County taxes paid by visitors
$1,263 – Amount that visitors save each Walton County taxpayer household
22,000 – Number of Walton County jobs supported by tourism