Panhandle Tourism

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A new survey says the Panhandle's Fort Walton Beach-Destin area is now the state's second most popular destination for tourists who drive to Florida.

The study by Visit Florida and the D-K Shifflet market research company shows 7-point-1 percent of all auto traffic to Florida travels to the coastal area of Okaloosa County. Orange County, which includes Orlando, retains its top ranking, but Okaloosa has surpassed Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Volusia, Duval and neighboring Bay counties.

Okaloosa tourism officials credit an aggressive marketing campaign that began in 1991 to raise the profile of the area, which is also known as the Emerald Coast. It targeted Southeastern markets, young couples, families, multigenerational groups and reunion markets.

The has exposure helped Fort Walton Beach-Destin win the titles of "Best Beach in the South" and "Favorite Family Destination" from readers of Southern Living magazine eight years in a row.