Vol 6 No. 35 - May 24, 2006

Marketing expert surveys tourism

Judy Giovanelli, left, rental property manager with Duncan Real Estate in Anna Maria, receives the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Shining Star Award last week from Chamber President Mary Ann Brockman.

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

LONGBOAT KEY – While tourism on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key is healthy, according to Evelyn Fine, those in the business must focus on staying that way.

Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing and Research Inc., spoke to tourist business owners during National Tourism Week last Thursday at the Hilton Longboat Key Resort.

A statistics expert, Fine has crunched the numbers and concluded that local tourism is well above average, with Manatee County attracting 39 percent of its target market to the area, and Sarasota County drawing 51 percent. An average return is 20-25 percent, she said.

Still, several challenges remain, the largest being the "H" word.

Hurricanes give the area an image problem, even though it hasn’t been directly hit in recent years, Fine said. Rising gas prices also affect tourist plans, as does the general economy, especially while there’s a war on, she added.

Fine suggested several strategies that motel owners, condominium rental agents, restaurateurs and shop owners can use.

First, keep name, address, e-mail and telephone records on your customers, she advised. Then send them an e-mail or a postcard a few months after their visit to invite them back.

Don’t put merchandise or room rates on sale, Fine said. Instead, offer "value-added" services, such as gift certificates to a restaurant for a motel guest, or a free item with a purchase at a shop.

Take advantage of co-op advertising, which lowers the price for all the advertisers, she said, adding that even the smallest ad will get some attention.

And use the Internet as much as visitors do, she said. Place links to local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus on your website, and post hours, locations, contact information, photos, menus and anything else you can think of to promote.

Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed with Fine.

Accommodations owners are the key, he said, advising them to contact customers at least a couple of months in advance of when they stayed the previous year.

"We need to get people here or retail will not survive," White said. "The finest customer you’ll ever have is the one you’ve already got."

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