SUN PHOTO/DEE BRADY
Tourism officials are hoping that stunning
sunsets such as this recent gem lure tourists
from around the globe to the Island and
help the local economy recover from
last year's poor season.
High season has begun, and should be a good one thanks to a harsh northern winter and a late Easter, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council learned on Monday.
Severe winter weather is encouraging more visitors to head south, but flights are still being cancelled, said Michael Walley, of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
"People have pushed their vacations forward because they couldn't get out of the airport," said Bradenton Beach hotelier and council member David Teitelbaum, adding that he expects tourism to pick up as a result.
The season may last a bit longer with people rescheduling flights and with Easter, traditionally the end of the season, falling on April 24, council members noted.Tourists began arriving right on schedule, around Feb. 10, said Bradenton Beach hotelier and council member Barbara Rodocker, adding, "It's got to be a better year than last year."
A particularly cold Florida winter in 2010 and the April-July oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made it a tough year, said Walter Klages of Research Data Services, the county's tourism consultant.
Tourism was up only slightly – 1 percent – during the last quarter of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009, with 91,200 visitors to Manatee County from October through December, and direct expenditures were nearly 3 percent higher than 2009, according to Klages.
Most visitors came from Florida, 28 percent, and Europe, 21 percent, followed by the Northeast, 16 percent, and the Midwest, 15 percent.
Hotel occupancy hovered at or just below 50 percent during the quarter, while average daily hotel rates ranged from $116 to $120, with little change from 2009.
The average visit lasted 8.7 days, down only slightly from 9 days in 2009. The average number of people (average age 52) in each party remained stable at 2.8, with nearly 23 percent visiting for the first time.
Nearly 84 percent got their travel information from the Internet.
The beach and dining out were listed as the most popular activities, with the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach ranking as the fourth most visited attraction behind St. Armands Circle, Prime Outlets Ellenton and Tampa Bay attractions.
Manatee County tourist tax collections for December 2010 totaled $347,173, with Anna Maria Island cities collecting 34 percent of the total (Anna Maria, $11,122; Bradenton Beach, $36,196; Holmes Beach, $69,523. In January 2011, the Island accounted for nearly 40 percent of the county's $415,217 in tourist tax collections, according to Klages' report.
This year is looking better so far, he said.
"The season is beginning to build well. The first quarter of 2011 is going to be good one," Klages said.
Anna Maria Island was featured on the Discovery Channel on Feb. 12, which may boost tourism, according to Bradenton Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Manager Debbie Meihls. The video is online at www.floridatravellife.com/affordable-luxury. Discovery media partner Florida Travel and Life magazine also features the Island in its February issue, and is running a sweepstakes with an Island vacation as the grand prize.
Conde Nast Traveler's February issue also features the Island, calling the bike paths the best in the state, Meihls said.
The Island also is mentioned as a wedding capital in the Destination Weddings and Honeymoons guide given out in Bloomingdale's in New York City, she added.
The council also learned about a new marketing effort to draw visitors to eastern Manatee County. Gulf Coast Agventure, a cooperative venture of Mixon Fruit Farm, Dakin Dairy, King Farm, Herrmann's Lipizzans (performing horses), Fiorelli Winery and other agricultural attractions, offers an alternative to the beach after too much sun or on cloudy days, promoters say.