The 14 beach communities that comprise the area known as the Beaches of South Walton on the Florida Panhandle have undergone a marked transformation, according to tourism officials. It has moved away from its commonly known epithet. "I know, the Redneck Riviera. But things really changed over the last 20 years," says Tracy Louthain, public relations and promotions manager for the Beaches of South Walton. Indeed, of late, luxury pioneers have blazed this area in a determined effort to turn things around.
One is the St. Joe Company, a paper concern that began leveraging its vast landholdings on the Panhandle to build luxury destinations once regional property values began to rise. It owns the WaterColor Inn and Resort (www.watercolorinn.com), the first luxury hotel on the Panhandle, which opened in 2000. "We've introduced a new level of product and experience that hasn't been here before," says Stacy Hamilton, director of marketing and sales for WaterColor. The 60-room beachfront boutique is a Virtuoso property and a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Rates range from $250 to $745 a night. Agents can earn 20 percent commission through a promotion that will last until the end of the year, and will likely extend into February. The regular commission is 10 percent.
Next, Rosemary Beach, about 10 miles from WaterColor and
also on the Gulf of Mexico, is going to open the Hotel Saba sometime in
2007, reports Louthain. The 56-room boutique property will, like the WaterColor
Inn, evince a decidedly un-Miami, southern feel à la
Interestingly, observers can trace the most activity in the
luxury sphere not to hotel development, but to the private cottage rental
market. Both WaterColor and Rosemary Beach are, for instance, beachfront
communities that, in addition to the boutique properties, offer clients upscale
living quarters on the
WaterColor, for one, has 140 cottages available for rent.
(These are commissionable to agents as well.) And Rosemary Beach (www.rosemarybeach.com,
888-855-1551) has, according to Louthain, some "magnificent
properties," as well. "They range from one to eight bedrooms,"
she says. There are a total of 14 luxury residential communities with stocks of
rental villas in
But it definitely should be on the radar screen of couples
looking for a luxurious, romantic getaway, and multi-generational tourist
groups in need of multi-room accommodations under one roof. Beware, however,
that some communities, unlike WaterColor, do not award agents commissions for
villa rentals. Those that do offer commissions include Rosemary, Seagrove,
Accommodations aren't the only things going upscale in the
area. Restaurants aren't all hush puppies and beer anymore. Travel Agent
had the opportunity to taste dishes from Criolla's, in
The area's 26 miles of protected coastline and numerous pristine white sand beaches are so important for business that one of 33 tourism council employees is a beach scientist. Also, the area has the largest designer factory outlet center in the country.
The Beaches of South Walton has high hopes that the new
For more information, visit www.beachesofsouthwalton.com,
or call 800-827-6877.