MIKE FIELD | SUN
Visitors Rebecca Orsi and Ella Sacarello, of Miami,
take a selfie at sunset in Anna Maria.
HOLMES BEACH – Tourism numbers are climbing to record highs along with the summer temperatures, according to Manatee County’s tourism officials.
About 150,000 people visited Manatee County during the second quarter of this year, from April through June, boosting visitation 5.9 percent compared to the same period in 2013, according to Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) consultant Walter Klages, who congratulated the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) for its hard work.
“Last year, we had 570,300 ‘heads in beds,’” he said at last week’s board meeting, explaining that the expression refers only to tourists, not snowbirds, who create less of an economic boost, according to Klages. “This year, just through June, we are at 480,000. The growth is very significant.”
Tourism’s economic impact increased 13.7 percent from $55.3 million in June 2013 to $62.8 million in June 2014, Klages said, calling it a record high.
Occupancy rates averaged 73.4 percent, up 6.1 percent, and room rates averaged $156 a night, up 7.3 percent, while direct expenditures were up 13.6 percent, topping the $100 million mark for the quarter, he said.
“We’re having a great year,” TDC member and hotelier Dale Sconyers agreed. “The summer is really strong.”
TDC member Vernon DeSear said he was gratified with the results of tourism marketing efforts, saying, “It’s a great time to live in this area.”
Tourism “improves on an almost daily basis the quality of life that we have,” said Klages, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, addressing persistent criticism that soaring tourism is producing bad effects with the good.
“If you have a little traffic to the island, listen, if you go to Spain it is not uncommon to sit in your car for two and a half hours to get to a dirty beach, an overcrowded beach and be served really bad food at really rotten restaurants,” he said.
“Every one of you benefits from a reduced tax burden” because visitors pay a resort tax, he said. “This is what the industry brings.”
Manatee County’s 5 percent resort tax is collected from owners of accommodations rented for six months or less. The majority of the tax is allocated to the CVB’s tourism marketing efforts with 20 percent allocated to beach renourishment.
Local tourism operators should begin focusing on international tourists, giving discounts in preference to domestic tourists, who don’t stay as long or spend as much, Klages said.
“Our destination is not for the low- or middle-income traveler. Our customer is an upscale, high-income, sophisticated and demanding type of client,” he said. “Our destination is a metropolitan place. When you come to Manatee County, you’re not just stuck somewhere in the sticks, you’re in the middle of an international metropolitan facility.”
“It’s a struggle to get the industry to work with the European trade because domestic tourism is good,” CVB Director Elliott Falcione said. “The industry says, ‘I don’t need to give a discount to get the European business,’ but they will stay a lot longer, it’s less wear on your accommodations and they are more inclined to buy real estate here and you diversify your business.”
“Your job,” Klages told the TDC, “is to make sure that the trickle-down flow is growing and remains competitive. In a market economy, “it is he who provides the best product at the best price under the best conditions who succeeds.”
Klages predicted a strong summer and a positive winter tourism forecast, calling the traditionally quiet months of September and October “a challenge.”
In other business:
• Falcione announced plans to travel in September or October with County Administrator Ed Hunzeker to visit Anna Maria Island mayors about tourism-related traffic problems on the Island and seek partnerships.
“We believe in collaboration that maintains the quality of life for residents out here and that’s easier said than done,” he said, adding that the best way to do that is “get the three cities joining hands.”
With the Island’s municipalities united, “it would be so much easier to accomplish the wonderful things we need to see done,” TDC Chair Vanessa Baugh said. “I would like to press that forward for the three cities to work together more.”
• The TDC heard a request from Wendy Webb, of the Anna Maria Island Community Center, to provide “seed money” from resort tax funds for a Jan. 11, 2016 5K running event on an obstacle course on Coquina Beach. The idea is expected to be discussed at the October TDC meeting.
• Wendell Graham, of the Artists’ Guild of Anna Maria Island, requested that tourism promotions mention the arts.
• CVB Marketing Director Debbie Meihls announced that new, two-year visitor guides will be produced soon by Time Inc. with a coffee table look, and two different covers, one for each year.