Mobile-friendly website to assist tourists

The local tourism website will relaunch in November with a version that is completely mobile-friendly, Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, announced Monday.

The website is “the heart of what we do,” he told the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

New features include a real-time map showing visitors what restaurants and attractions are near their location.

Travel starts with research, and most tourists search online, said Carol Johnson, the county’s Trip Advisor account representative, who gave advice to tourism operators on maximizing their presence on Trip Advisor at the TDC meeting.

“Develop your reputation online,” she said, citing the example that after Hurricane Irma, tourists confused Barbuda, which was totally destroyed, with Bermuda, which was not affected.

Irma caused damage and delays at Anna Maria Island’s two city piers, the TDC learned.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon reported that the day dock repair next to the Bridge Street Pier will be delayed because Irma impacted a southwest Florida supplier.

Irma also damaged the Anna Maria City Pier, TDC member Doug Copeland said, adding that it will be “a brand new pier” when it’s rebuilt. Permitting is expected to take 6-9 months.

The cost could be $4-5 million, TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said. Because the pier was damaged by a storm, FEMA will contribute to the reconstruction, Copeland said.

“As we move out of hurricane season our market is stabilizing,” Walter Klages, of Research Data Services, Manatee County’s tourism consultant, told the TDC.

September tourism statistics clearly show “a pullback due to Hurricane Irma,” he said.

But August tourism was up 4.7 percent in visitors, 4.1 percent in room nights and an “impressive” 11.1 percent in economic impact over August 2016, he said.

Visitors came primarily from Florida, followed by Europe, the Northeast U.S., the Midwest, the Southeast and Canada.

The average number of people in a party that visit Manatee County is three, mostly family and couples, but singles visitation is growing, he said. The average age is 46.

In other business, Florida Maritime Museum Supervisor Kristin Sweeting updated the TDC on the progress of The Folk School, which began in January, targeting heritage tourism with classes on maritime skills like net mending, as well as other Old Florida skills like soap making and canning.

The classes will move from the museum to the historic Burton/Bratton store’s first floor when renovations are complete, she said, adding that the upstairs of the historic building will be used for museum collections storage and a maritime research library.