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Ian didn’t stop tourism, it’s boosting it

BRADENTON – The latest tourism statistics shatter the numbers from pre-COVID 2019, according to Anne Wittine, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, Manatee County’s tourism consultant.

Wittine presented her tourism update to the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Nov. 4 with the latest available statistics related to the tourism industry from September. The number of visitors and room nights and the overall economic impact of tourism on the county’s economy are up from pre-pandemic levels, she said.

“Compared to our benchmark in 2019, pre-COVID, our visitors are up 38.3%, room nights are up 36.7% and economic impact is up 51.4%,” Wittine said. “That’s also considering that most properties lost three days that month due to (Hurricane) Ian.”

Room occupancy for September was down slightly at 57.7% compared to 59.3% in September of last year, however, it is higher than September 2019 when it stood at 54% pre-COVID. The average daily room rate is up at $174.82 per day this September compared to $168.04 in September 2021.

While the Island is used to seeing a large number of tourists from Florida, those numbers have actually dipped 15.7% from September of 2021, but are up 61% from 2019, showing the effect that COVID-19 travel restrictions had on people who didn’t leave Florida during the height of COVID. The largest number of visitors to the county from outside Florida are coming from the Midwest, followed closely by the Northeast. Tourists from Europe and Canada are down slightly from 2019; there is no data from 2020 or 2021 since travel from those regions was restricted.

“In terms of the fiscal year, this is a major benchmark. For the very first time, we’ve got visitors staying in commercial lodgings numbering over a million,” Wittine said. “This is up 11% from last year; an all-time record. We have not seen this before. I’ve been saying to Elliott (Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau) that this is a bubble; you guys aren’t going to be able to keep it up, yet you’ve kept it up.”

Wittine also discussed some occupancy barometers related to Hurricane Ian. She said October sold out with people looking for long-term rentals due to the storm. Many of the occupants were from insurance companies, recovery workers and people with damaged homes farther south.

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