County to consider record high tourism budget

County to consider record high tourism budget
The beach is what local tourism is all about – blue skies, blue-green water, white sand and sun. - Cindy Lane | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Tourism officials voted to recommend a record $13.2 million marketing budget for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) today for fiscal year 2020-21.

The budget – up 67% from five years ago – is aimed at attracting more customers for tourism-based businesses.

The largest overall expenditure is on sports marketing – more than $2.1 million over two years, not including another $900,000 in capital improvements for baseball stadium LECOM Park (McKechnie Field).

Other high-cost items are online advertising and marketing, marketing in Central Europe and the United Kingdom, and advertising agency services.

Budget funding is generated by Manatee County’s 5% tourist tax, paid by visitors to lodging establishments. The county spends about half of the tax proceeds on tourism marketing; 20% of the taxes are allocated to beach renourishment. Other recent uses have included rebuilding fishing piers in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

Highlights of the proposed 2020-21 BACVB budget:

Sports marketing $2.1 million

Online/digital marketing $1.3 million

Advertising agency $1.2 million

Online/digital ads $1.1 million

LECOM Park $900,000

Florida Railroad Museum $700,000

Central European marketing $688,714

Allegiant Airlines initiatives $630,000

United Kingdom marketing $628,693

TV/radio ads $458,000

Tourism consultant $310,000

Website management $300,000

Concert series $200,000

AMI Chamber ads $90,000

Magazine/newspaper ads $82,050

Source: Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) voted to recommend the budget to Manatee County commissioners for final approval.

The marketing budget targets baby boomers, who can afford Anna Maria Island’s vacation rentals, CVB Director Elliott Falcione said.

Strong sports market

The TDC also voted to recommend $220,000 this year for the Sports Commission, which manages sports marketing.

Sporting events, such as the World’s Strongest Man competition on the Island last weekend, is an important visitor draw to the area, according to Falcione, who said that the television exposure will raise the destination’s profile.

Drawing about 1,000 people, “It was really, really successful,” he said, adding, “The market share on this event is priceless.”

Falcione said his staff will meet with Island government officials to “see what went well and what went not so well,” and discuss how to make traffic flow better. During the finals on Sunday, the Manatee Beach parking lot was full and cars were parked along Manatee Avenue to the Kingfish boat ramp and bumper to bumper down residential streets near the beach.

“It’s not our community, it’s the residents’ community,” he said.

The county is hosting 105 sporting events in fiscal year 2018-19, including gymnastics, tennis, golf and rowing, according to the CVB.

New marketing campaign planned

In August, a new marketing campaign for the Bradenton Area will be announced, said Dave DiMaggio, of Aqua, the county’s advertising and public relations firm.

Known now as “the Bradenton Area – Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key,” the destination uses the tag line “Authentic Florida” to describe itself, he said. Some critics say the increase in tourism in recent years is fundamentally changing the advertised character of the Island.Bradenton Anna Maria Island Longboat Key

Recent campaigns include “Craft your own vacation” and “We’ve got the cure.”

Marketing efforts will be intensified in pre-summer, summer and fall, the least busy times of the year, he said.

With the exception of the flagging UK market, the outlook for this summer’s tourism looks good, said Walter Klages, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, the county’s tourism consultant.

Despite the rising number of vacation rental units, which increased by 8.3% to 9,097, occupancy only decreased by 1.1% in April 2019 compared to April 2018, he said, adding, “We are having a very good year.”

Tourist tax collections in the three Island cities were up between 5-21% in April and up between 6-9% in March, the height of the tourist season, according to the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office.

Island expenditures

The board also approved a recommendation for an additional $435,000 for the Anna Maria City Pier.

$1.5 million in tourist tax funds, matched by the city, already is allocated to rebuild the pier, damaged by age and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Likewise, the city already is paying half of the additional $869,000 needed, TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said.

It can afford to pay the other $435,000 too, Falcione said, but could better use the money on water management issues and multimodal trails.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told the board that the city has selected a local contractor with local subcontractors to build the restaurant and bait shop at the end of the pier, which is scheduled to open by March 2020.

The TDC also voted to recommend $28,000 to upgrade and maintain the Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce website.

The chamber is the official visitors center for Anna Maria Island, Falcione said. The funds will contribute to improvements that include meeting industry standards for best website practices, he said.