$11.6M tourism budget proposed

Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) proposes spending $11,675,206 to market Manatee County to tourists during 2018/2019.

The county’s Tourist Development Council unanimously recommended the budget to the Manatee County Commission on Monday.

Following a 61 percent increase in 2016/2017 from the previous two years, primarily to promote the 2017 World Rowing Championships, the proposed budget represents a 9 percent decrease from 2016/2017. The two-year budget breaks down to $5,876,473 for 2018 and $5,798,733 for 2019.

A new budget item will pay for a new employee salary, an Arts and Culture Marketing Coordinator, at $92,159 a year, with another $50,774 annually for advertising arts.

The coordinator will work for the CVB to market and promote arts, culture and heritage, educate small arts organizations and search for grants, CVB Director Elliott Falcione said, adding that the position was created when arts groups throughout the county declined to support a centralized not-for-profit arts organization, concerned that it would compromise their groups.

The largest single expenditures in the budget are $500,000 annually for an advertising agency and $400,000 annually for the City of Bradenton’s LECOM Park and Pittsburgh Pirates training facility.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce will receive $60,950 each year, with another $45,000 each year for advertising.

The tourism budget allocates other funds for online advertising, the county film commission, county tourist information centers, trade shows, sports marketing and marketing in the United Kingdom and central Europe.

Marketing initiatives for the next two years include trade missions to the UK and Germany in alternate years, and increasing Facebook and Twitter advertising in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Falcione said.

Priorities

In April, hotel, motel and condo occupancy in Manatee County increased 4.2 percent, while the average daily room rate rose 7.6 percent from April 2016, said Walter Klages, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, the county’s tourism consultant.

“We’re not the cause of all the visitation,” Falcione said, crediting Visit Florida with attracting 112 million visitors to Florida last year. Local marketing efforts will get a boost from the state’s marketing agency if Gov. Rick Scott signs a $72 million budget on July 1 for Visit Florida as expected, up from the $25 million the Legislature approved this spring, he said.

“The number one priority is to get the four cities on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in the room to talk about transportation,” he said, especially paid parking lots and bridge replacement, mentioning a 2015 Urban Land Institute study that included transportation recommendations.

“If we market a character that’s not the reality, we’re out of business,” he said.

The biggest priority is “to be able to keep the experience we have today,” TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said. “I just want the experience of old Florida where I can go in shorts and flip-flops to a five-star restaurant.”