BRADENTON – Tourism was up 9.3 percent in 2012 over 2011, with 537,908 visitors to Manatee County, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) learned on Monday.
Tourist spending was up 12.5 percent, reaching $364 million in the county and creating a total economic impact of $575 million, according to Walter Klages, the county’s tourism consultant.
The biggest gains were in the European market, mostly the United Kingdom and Germany, up 20 percent from 2011, he said, adding, “This is where the opportunity really lies.
“2012 has been a very, very successful year, and not by accident,” Klages said, crediting marketing efforts by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Same coin, two sides
Booming tourism has created bitter debates and caused incumbent commissioners to be ousted over the past year on Anna Maria Island, where developers are buying up and demolishing small duplexes and building three-story, multiple bedroom vacation rentals in residential areas.
“A few have degraded the (Island’s) character a little bit,” TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said, asking for a clear statement from the board on the issue.
TDC members responded with a unanimous vote to oppose the practice.
“The TDC resolves that we think it is unwise for cities to allow developers to build what is in essence hotels in neighborhoods,” moved TDC member and Island restaurant owner Ed Chiles. “You know them, if it has 10 or 12 bedrooms where there was a two/two, that is not right.
“We want to attract the right kind of people,” Chiles said. “We want you to come, but we want you to come if you share our values.”
More to come
The TDC voted unanimously to recommend that the Manatee County Commission spend $1.1 million over the next five years to win a bid to lure the 2017 World Rowing Championships to Nathan Benderson Park, near the Sarasota/Manatee county line.
The funds would come from the county’s resort tax, generated by accommodations rented for six months or less. Sarasota’s tourism bureau would contribute slightly more of its resort tax funds to the effort, called “Sarasota-Bradenton 2017 Candidate City.”
Chiles said the event is an opportunity to attract more people to the region, including sports news networks and sports sponsors.
International rowing will draw people from Europe, where the sport is even more popular, Klages said.
The facility also may host other water events in the future, including wakeboarding, CVB Director Elliott Falcione said.
Visitors guide, website to continue trend
The CVB has produced a new Manatee County Visitors’ Guide and upgraded the county’s website, the TDC learned on Monday.
The new guide is published by Time Inc., and also will be published in an iPad edition by the end of February, CVB Marketing Director Debbie Meihls said.
The guide, which will look like a magazine, features original stories by Time Inc. writers and endorsements by Southern Living magazine, another Time Inc. product, for beach weddings, the Bradenton Blues Festival and four other attractions.
The website has been made friendlier for mobile device users and has integrated social media, map-based listings and more photographs.
The next TDC meeting is schedule on Monday, April 15, at 9 a.m. at the Holmes Beach City Hall.