ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Manatee County’s new tourism marketing campaign will run from November through the winter tourist season to counteract the loss of visitors during the red tide bloom that began locally in August.
The strategy is contrary to what Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Director Elliott Falcione had promised Anna Maria Island residents requesting relief from burgeoning tourism, he told the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) on Monday.
But with the recent loss of visitors, “I think it makes sense,” he said. “Then next year we will get back to normal.”
The impact of red tide on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key tourism has been significant, said the county’s tourism consultant, Walter Klages, of Research Data Services.
The number of visitors dropped from 48,700 in August 2017 to 42,000 this August.
“That’s a pretty significant impact and decrease,” he said.
Room nights decreased by 9.3 percent, economic impact dropped 11.4 percent and occupancy dropped 13.7 percent. The number of Floridians visiting the area was down nearly 23 percent in August, he said.
Tourism statistics are not yet available for September.
Red tide is a passing thing, Klages said, adding that visitors who have been to the area before will not be deterred from visiting again.
The county tourism agency no longer will respond to media requests to comment on the red tide, Falcione said.
“If you talk about economic loss, you create the perception in the market that we have a problem,” he said.
Monday’s red tide forecast from the University of South Florida/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides is for low levels in Anna Maria Island waters and medium levels in Longboat Key waters through Wednesday, Oct. 17.
Local tourism marketers will use the new international digital marketing campaign to geotarget selected visitors, Falcione said.
The premise is based on ailments and a cure.
Got pale-a-tosis? Need-a-vacation-itis? Fam-nesia?
People searching online for vacation destinations will find cures for these conditions in Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, according to the county’s marketing agency, Aqua.
The cure for ailments like seeking a suntan, needing a break from work, or wanting more family time is a vacation prescribed by a “doctor” who details the symptoms of the ailments on three videos that soon will be available at the county’s tourism website.
The campaign will include a sweepstakes with prizes such as beach vacations.
The county’s previous marketing campaign was “Craft Your Own Vacation.”
Visit Florida helping red tide counties
Manatee County’s TDC is eligible for Visit Florida’s $500,000 Tourism Recovery Grant Program for Red Tide to assist counties affected by red tide, Visit Florida representative Jen Carlisle told the TDC.
Grant funds will assist the TDC with increasing visitation once red tide has subsided through advertising, direct mail, brochures, website development and other related projects.
Grant applications will be accepted until the red tide has subsided, she said.
“Red tide is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. Of that there is no doubt,” TDC member Ed Chiles said, adding that there also is no doubt about what feeds it.
Addressing environmental issues including harmful algal blooms like red tide and blue-green algae, shoreline restoration, seagrass, stormwater management, septic systems, sewage treatment and others is vital to tourism, he said.
“We ought to start pounding on the table,” Chiles said. “We’ve got to get with it.”
With that in mind, the TDC unanimously recommended that Manatee County commissioners use $25,000 in tourist tax funds to hold two training seminars on the Blue Community One Planet Living program at the Studio on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria this fall and winter.
The program will detail methods to increase tourism profits while protecting the environment, according to promoter Dave Randle of the University of South Florida.
“I think it is something that can differentiate ourselves,” Chiles said. “This is about Anna Maria Island being recognized internationally for what we’ve done,” such as Green Village on Pine Avenue.
In other business:
The TDC voted unanimously to recommend that Manatee County commissioners approve up to $5 million in tourist tax funds to improve drainage in the parking lot at Coquina Beach, a county park.
The project is estimated to cost $5.94 million, with other agencies contributing the difference. Bradenton Beach reduced permit fees for the project from $30,000 to $500.