Manatee County plans to spend nearly $8 million to market itself as a tourist destination over the next two years.
The proposed tourism marketing budget for fiscal year 2014 is $3,921,020 (from a total Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau budget of $6,557,635), while the marketing budget for fiscal year 2015 is $3,969,804 (from a total budget of $6,504,419).
The marketing budget for each year is about $1 million more than this year’s marketing budget of $2.9 million.
The funds are generated by tourism resort taxes – paid by lodging visitors – which have been rising due to record tourism, as well as increased collection efforts by the county’s tax collector. The county spends one fifth of the taxes on beach nourishment and the rest is allocated to the county’s tourism agency, primarily for marketing and advertising to draw more tourists to the area.
The high season that just ended continued a record upward trend for tourism, which was up 9.3 percent in 2012 over 2011, with 537,908 visitors to the county, according to the CVB.
The achievement has generated complaints from Anna Maria Island residents about noise, crowds, traffic and parking, among other issues.
Less is more
“Is there a point when this will affect the quality of life?” Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Chair and Island resident Carol Whitmore asked Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), at a meeting last week in which the TDC unanimously approved the budget recommendations to the county commission.
“Marketing is one thing, but certain things are out of our control,” Falcione responded. “It’s how the municipalities manage their cities.”
Commissioners in all three Island cities have lamented a state law passed in 2011 that prevents municipalities from regulating vacation rentals unless local ordinances already were in effect when the state law was passed. Discussions continue on repealing the law in the 2014 Legislative session.
In recognition of overcrowding on the Island, Falcione said the CVB is promoting off-Island destinations such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, the DeSoto Heritage Festival and agricultural tourism destinations in east Manatee County, like Mixon Fruit Farms and Dakin Dairy.
“I think overall we’re trying to focus on the four corners of the county,” he said.
Other tourism officials have said the destinations are day trips made from the Island.
Falcione said that some local tourism industry operators believe in the less is more theory – if hoteliers would increase daily rates, fewer people will come, but will spend more money – but most small lodging establishments can’t afford to take the chance, he said.
Falcione said he hopes that Anna Maria Island does not follow Clearwater’s path; 30 years ago, Clearwater was comparable to today’s Island, he said.
“We’re trying to do even keel, year-round sustainability, but the word is getting out more and more,” including from computer savvy Island tourism operators like restaurant owner Ed Chiles, hotel owner David Teitelbaum – both TDC members – and rental agent Larry Chatt, he said.
If the CVB shifts too much marketing money away from the peak winter season, “it will cost us four to five times more to get back the market share we just gave away,” Falcione said. “Our charge is no major peaks or lulls, but strong tourism year around.”
New marketing efforts
In the next couple of years, tourism officials hope to increase visitation from Tampa/St. Petersburg, the Island’s number one feeder market, through partnerships with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Falcione said.
Other market niches will be developed, including arts and culture tourism, agritourism and culinary tourism, he said.
The CVB is looking to invest in special Island events like SandBlast and Symphony on the Sand, with the intent to help them grow to multi-day events that cause people to spend the weekend.
Other efforts include partnering with the Sarasota Film Commission to promote Manatee County as a film location.
Tourism officials also are vying to attract a statewide tourism show, Florida Huddle, to the Bradenton Area Convention Center in 2015, he said.
Texas is a new target market, particularly Dallas and Houston, that will diversify the local tourism base in case another Hurricane Sandy impacts tourism from the Northeast, Falcione said.
The CVB also plans to target international sports, using IMG, Nathan Benderson Park, Ellenton Ice and the Pittsburgh Pirates as possible venues for athletes from Brazil, China or Europe and for an upcoming international rowing championship.
The CVB budget is scheduled to be presented to the Manatee County Commission for approval on Wednesday, June 5, at the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.