Frommer’s Travel Guide, one of the best-selling travel guides in the world with more than 75 million books sold, recently named the Florida Panhandle beaches as one of its top 12 travel destinations for next year.
Other areas that made Frommer’s list are Tunisia in North Africa; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Melbourne, Australia. The only other American locale that made the list was Hawaii’s Big Island.
“It’s a big deal,” said Beth Oltman, Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO and president. “We’re very proud.”
Not only are the sugar-white beaches a draw for tourists, but the whole area also is becoming a thriving community, Oltman said.
“I think it’s great. Anytime you can get national recognition is a feather in your cap,” said Tracy Louthain, director of public relations for the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council. “It really gets people to pay attention to you. I think the timing is good with the opening of the new airport in Panama City in 2010. There are a lot of reasons to focus on this region of the state right now.”
Northwest Florida has b! een suggested for inclusion in the list of top destination choices in the past, but this was the first year it made the final cut, said David Lytle, editorial director of frommers.com.
“It fit our list for the year,” Lytle said. “It’s an American destination; part of it is overlooked oftentimes. It’s got some economical choices. A family can still afford to take a vacation to the Florida Panhandle.
“It’s a gorgeous part of the country,” he added. “People tend to think of Florida, and they either think of the theme parks or they think of southern Florida. We want to give another part of the state its due as well.”
Frommer’s list of the top tourist destinations for next year will be seen by people from all over the world and will help draw new visitors to the area, said Darrel Jones, executive director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council.
“It’s a great thing for opening this area up to the world,” Jones said. “Advertising like this, you couldn’t pay for.”
All three tourist organizations plan to use the recognition from Frommer’s in their upcoming publicity measures, including updating their Web sites to include information on the list.
“With the economy, I think that’s important that people understand you can come to this area and have a great time, great vacation and not cost you a small fortune,” Jones said.
News Herald Writer Scarlet Sims contributed to this story.