Tourism board meets Vacasa

Updated Feb. 13, 2018

BRADENTON – A local vacation rental agent told the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) today that his company has gone international.

John Lefner, of Island Real Estate, explained that the company has sold the vacation rental portion of its business to Portland, Oregon-based Vacasa, which manages 7,000 rentals with 1,800 employees worldwide.

Vacasa’s Anna Maria Island branch will have a strong, local presence at 419 Pine Ave. in Anna Maria, important for guests who want to do business face to face, not on the Internet, Lefner said.

The Anna Maria City Commission is reviewing the Pine Avenue office’s compliance with the city’s formula retail and formula commercial establishments ordinance.

Vacasa will produce more bookings for rental owners and will have a wider reach than Island Real Estate did in the European market, Lefner said, adding that Island Real Estate will continue to offer real estate sales services in Holmes Beach.

Lefner said Vacasa is sensitive to local residents and will enforce the rules in a five-page guest agreement that covers parking, noise, quiet enjoyment and other issues.

“We want to be a good neighbor because we don’t want to kill the golden goose,” he said. “We want to keep that livability.”

Vacasa also wants to keep the Island’s quaintness, he said, adding, “They don’t want to change it, they don’t want to turn it into spring break, they don’t want to turn it into a wedding destination.”

The sale to Vacasa reflects a growing trend of real estate companies selling off their vacation rental business, which is going digital, Lefner said.

“We’re in a new learning curve when it comes to how people travel,” he said, adding that while he plans his vacations two years in advance, more and more people use their phone to book instant travel.

About 84 percent of Manatee County’s vacation rentals are condos, single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes, with about 16 percent hotels and motels, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione said.

Vacation rental legislation

The TDC voted Monday to recommend that Manatee County commissioners formally oppose Florida Sen. Greg Steube’s proposed vacation rental legislation, SB 1400.

The vote came after Bharat Patel, a representative from the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, representing a large contingency of its members from about 20 hotels in Manatee County, said the bill would kill tourism jobs and harm the economy.

TDC Chair and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the county has opposed the bill on its 2018 legislative platform because it would replace local government regulation of vacation rentals with state regulation.

“The state is going to usurp that, and if you believe that the state will inspect these rentals for safety, I think you’re foolish,” TDC member and Anna Maria Commissioner Doug Copeland said.

“We’ve watched many investors buy homes that were owned long term because there’s so much money to be made,” he said. “It’s destroying the fabric of the Island communities.”

Tourism up in first quarter

Visitation was up in the first quarter of Manatee County’s fiscal year, October through December 2017, said Walter Klages, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, the county’s tourism consultant.

A 5.8 percent growth in visitation to 155,100 people from the same quarter the previous year is “significant,” he said, with the 9.7 percent increase in economic impact to $152 million even more significant.

While occupancy was slightly down from 65.3 percent to 64.9 percent because inventory has grown, Klages said the market absorbed most of the new inventory, all but .6 percent.

The average daily rate increased 3.4 percent to $155 a night, he said. The Florida market grew by 3.8 percent and the European market increased by 6.8 percent. Average party size stayed stable at 2.5 people per party, as did the length of stay, 6.1 days. The length of stay is desirable, Falcione said, explaining that the state average is 4 days, but at 7 days, visitors begin spending less money each day.

The couples market decreased from 58 to 54 percent, but there were increases in other markets – the family market increased from 32 to 34 percent, the single market increased from 13 to 14 percent and the extended family market grew from 9 to 10 percent.

Business travel grew from 8 to 9 percent while vacation travel decreased from 73 to 70 percent.

The average age of visitors is up from age 49 to 51, and the average income of visitors grew from $115,000 to $120,000.

Tampa International Airport is still the primary airport for tourists coming to Manatee County, with 59 percent of local visitors arriving in Tampa.

County tourism officials must pay attention to a decrease in first-time visitation from 37 to 34 percent by targeting marketing and promotions to attract first-time visitors, Klages said.

Klages predicts strong tourism growth this year in the 2.6-2.7 percent range, slightly above national projected growth, he said.

In other business:

  • Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport announced new services: Elite Airways to Portland, ME and White Plains, NY, and Allegiant Airlines to Indianapolis, IN, Cincinnati, OH and Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker reported that negotiations have stalled on getting a hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
  • The TDC board met Judith Tilton, the CVB’s first Director of Cultural Affairs, who will work to promote arts and heritage organizations in the county to enhance tourism.
  • Board member and Anna Maria Island vacation rental owner David Teitelbaum was re-elected vice chair.