Lakewood Ranch: A community to live, play and visit

March 25, 2013 

The Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has been working to develop new tourist draws while simultaneously expanding the ones in place. In order to be successful, we need the cooperation of all of the county's communities.

Anna Maria has its beaches, unrivaled in their beauty. Downtown Bradenton's shining star is the Riverwalk. And Lakewood Ranch continues to gain momentum with its sports tourism, an industry that employs nearly 2,000 workers in Manatee County through 156 business establishments.

The sports market is flourishing, thanks to the successful Premier Sports Campus and the Sarasota Polo Club.

We at the BACVB are constantly thinking of ways to enhance the Manatee County experience for the visitors who are only here for a brief sports tournament.

Lakewood Ranch has employed several tactics to keep their visitors interested and engaged.

Most important to that mission is to offer a wide selection of stores, restaurants and entertainment options. The centerpiece of that experience is Lakewood Ranch's Main Street, which is home to an eclectic selection of boutiques as well as restaurants representing a range of American and international specialties.

Second, Lakewood Ranch stages a variety of events, ranging from the monthly, family-oriented Music on Main to the annual Ovation arts festival and the more adult-oriented Beer Fest, which kicks off the widely popular yearly Tour of Homes.

Many other organizations hold events at the Ranch that also draw the crowds, including Art at the Ranch, numerous walks/runs/marathons such asMaking Strides Against Cancer and Tour de Cure, and seasonal favorites like the Memorial Day "Tribute to Heroes Parade" and Holidays Around the Ranch.

Finally, they don't just wait for tourists to drop into their laps. Marketing has always been a component of successful outreach.

This year, Lakewood Ranch entered a unique real estate development partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization that gives them exposure to hockey fans from the northern, eastern and mid-western areas of the United States, as well as Canadians.

The relationshipalso allows Lakewood Ranch to bring additional visitors from the

St. Petersburg and Tampa markets to familiarize them with what our area has to offer.

Obviously, not all of our visitors come from afar. In order to be successful, we need to welcome and encourage everyone, whether they stay for hours, days, weeks or months. Just as we have made updates to our old views and definitions of "tourism," we need to make similar adjustments to our idea of who might come here, and what they might want and need.

As our vision and visitor base continues to grow, so will our value as a destination.

For information on Lakewood Ranch, visit www.lakewoodranch.com. For information on the destination, visit www.BradentonGulfIslands.com. We also invite you to follow us on Facebook at "Visit Bradenton Gulf Islands" and Twitter @VisitBradenton.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, can be reached at Elliott.Falcione@BACVB.com or 941-729-9177 ext. 222.

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