New tourism centers across Manatee County seeing more visitors

Visitor traffic up 25 percent in Manatee chamber offices

nwilliams@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2012 

BRADENTON Manatee County tourism centers created over the past year are experiencing high volumes of visitors.

Last summer, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to use space inside four area chambers of commerce buildings around the county to serve as visitor information centers. The centers are located inside the Manatee Chamber of Commerce offices in downtown Bradenton and at Lakewood Ranch, the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. Until last year, the tourism center for Manatee County consisted of a single kiosk inside the Premium Outlet shopping center in Ellenton.

“It was a great idea. It synergized our efforts to be an informational source for a destination,” said Debbie Meihls, executive manager of the convention and visitors bureau.

Traffic at both Manatee Chamber of Commerce offices have increased an estimated 25 percent since the transformation, said Reba Parrish, information specialist for the chamber in Bradenton.

At the centers, guests can collect maps, information on the area’s history, schools, health services, legal services, real estate, retail, recreation, places to go for entertainment and more. Homeowner’s associations have also gathered information for future residents.

“We have a great working relationship with all of the chambers,” Meihls said. “It was a mutual idea.”

In 2010, there were 2,591,300 overnight visitors to Manatee County, an increase of 80,100 from 2009. During that time, 500 new jobs were generated by tourism, according to statistics provided by the visitors bureau. The increase is reflective of an overall wave of tourism growth in Florida.

A record 85.9 million people visited Florida last year, which was a 4.4 percent increase from 2010, according to the state’s tourism agency.

The Manatee Chamber

of Commerce has a local business membership of more than 2,000, all of which are welcome to advertise for free within the centers. Among the businesses which have benefitted from the tourist center is the Lost Creek Resort apartment complex in Lakewood Ranch.

Several residents said they became interested in the eventual 272-unit complex on Lakewood Ranch Blvd. after browsing through its brochure in the Lakewood Ranch center located just a few miles away, according to Assistant Apartment Manager Kara Dischner. Dischner said the complex began placing its brochures at the center last September.

“It’s free and it’s working,” Dischner said.

New students at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton are among the leading groups driving traffic at the Lakewood Ranch tourist center. They visit in search of apartments and recreational activities.

“The people find it very convenient to have,” said Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

“They can get newcomer information and employment information. It’s front door marketing for the community.”

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Tweet: @_1NickWilliams

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