PHOTOSFROMTHEAIR.COM | SUN
HOLMES BEACH – The usually quiet summer season on Anna Maria Island hasn’t arrived yet this year, with visitors steadily streaming in from nearby Florida towns, and tourist taxes breaking records.
“Normally we’d be slowing down, but we’re seeing a continued pace through November and December,” Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) member and Bradenton Beach hotelier David Teitelbaum said.
Many are from inland Polk County and even coastal Pinellas County, escaping crowded beaches there, he said.
Second quarter visitor numbers (April through June) are up 9.4 percent from last year, with 132,900 people visiting the county, Walter Klages, director of Data Research Services, told the TDC on Monday.
The very positive summer is outpacing tourism in the rest of the country, he said, partly because local tourists are increasingly upscale, and less affected by economic trends, he said.
TDC Chair Carol Whitmore credited short-term rentals and Pine Avenue in Anna Maria for some of the growth.
Second quarter accommodations occupancy rates were 66.8 percent with most coming from Florida and most of those from Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando. Room rates averaged $140 a night.
Beaches again topped the list of attributes visitors listed in surveys.
Resort taxes up
The resort tax collected by Manatee County accommodations’ owners in June, the most recent month for which statistics are available, was paid to the county in July and totaled $739,234, up 28 percent from last June’s $577,624.
All three Island cities’ resort tax collections were up in June, with Anna Maria up 60 percent, Bradenton Beach up 11 percent and Holmes Beach up 32 percent. Resort tax increases reflect both increased visitation and improved tax collections efforts, according to the county tax collector’s office.
For the first 10 months of the 2011/12 fiscal year, the county collected $6.93 million in resort taxes, nearly as much as the $6.97 million it collected during for the entire fiscal 2010/11.
Klages predicted that by the end of 2012, the county will have hosted 10 percent more visitors than in 2011.
The growth indicates that the TDC is on the right track, TDC member and restaurateur Ed Chiles said.
“What we’ve been doing here has supported us in the toughest economy of our lifetime,” he said. “That’s underpinning us and kept us from going in the tank.”
Branding to be unveiled
The county’s new tourism brand is scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 12 at the Manatee Convention Center, along with a new website, new visitors guide and new television advertisements.
The new brand will “protect the character and authenticity of the Island,” said Elliott Falcione, the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau director.
The current brand is florida’s gulf islands/Bradenton & Lakewood Ranch. The county’s tourism Facebook page is labeled Visit Bradenton Gulf Islands.
The county’s tourism consultant, Walter Klages, calls the county the other Florida, referring to the lack of high rise mega condos on the beach.
“That’s a major part of your brand,” he said.
“That’s the one thing we have to protect above everything else,” Chiles said.
Party houses are threatening the quaint brand of the Island, TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said, referring to short-term vacation rentals that residents say are overcrowded, noisy and cause trash and parking problems.
Sports will be a key component to drawing visitors in the future, Klages said.
Between now and Christmas, 46 sports events are scheduled in Manatee County, including soccer, figure skating and an event called Tough Muddy, an individual endurance race in the farmlands of east Manatee County, said Joe Pickett, the county’s sports commissioner.
The increase in sports marketing is partly a response to Island residents’ complaints to “Quit advertising just the Island,” Whitmore said. “We all said out here, ‘What the heck did you do?’ ”
The county is attempting to diversify its destination, she said, adding, “The Island can’t handle everything we’re bringing in.”
Anna Maria Island will be featured in a two-page article in the London Daily Mail’s Sunday edition, Mail on Sunday, sometime in February or March, according to the CVB’s Public Relations and Social Media Manager Tara Poulton, adding that the crew will be on the Island during Christmas week.
The Mail on Sunday has a circulation of 2 million with almost 5 million readers, according to its website.
The TDC voted not to supply any funding for the city of Holmes Beach to improve the technology in its commission chambers, where the TDC meets about three times a year.
Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino had twice suggested the TDC fund the improvements, saying at an earlier commission meeting that people can make presentations using a laptop computer and the pulldown film screen in the chambers.
In other business:
• Keiser University President David Reid announced that that the school, on the Manatee/Sarasota county line, is launching two hospitality-related programs, sports medicine and fitness and sports and entertainment management, with the goal of funneling graduates into the local job market.
• The CVB is advertising by billboard and other means for Republican National Convention attendees in Tampa to stay in or visit in Manatee County.