Economist: Manatee County tourism exerted $182M impact in first two months

skennedy@bradenton.comApril 16, 2013 

HOLMES BEACH -- Manatee County tourism recorded an economic impact of almost $182 million in January and February -- a 12.3 percent jump from the same period in 2012, local leaders learned Monday.

The reason the numbers were so good: Manatee County offers a "very different product" from the rest of the region, said Walter Klages, president and chief executive officer for Research Data Services of Tampa.

"It's a part of Florida you can't find, really, anywhere else on the Gulf Coast," he said after the Tourist Development Council meeting Monday at Holmes Beach City Hall.

The Bradenton area's Gulf Coast beaches have avoided a "Chinese wall" of gigantic condos and hotels, and maintain a friendly style of relaxation that matters to vacationers, Klages said.

"They're coming out of an urban cauldron," he said.

Visitors seek somewhere to stretch out and relax, but also want amenities such as quality accommodations and restaurants, he said.

Klages' statistical report for January and February also showed:

• The number of visitors jumped 7.2 percent to 116,700 from 108,900 over the same period in 2012.

• Direct expenditures, the dollar value of tourism purchases, rose 12.3 percent to $115.1 million from $102.5 million during the same period last year.

• Room nights sold increased 9.4 percent to 284,100 from 259,700 over the same period last year.

• Manatee hotel occupancy rates through February increased 2.7 percentage points to 74 percent from 71.3 percent in the same period last year.

Although statistical results were upbeat, Klages delivered a sobering message about the future: The national economy has stalled.

"It is now beginning to show some slowdowns," Klages said. He predicts a "more demure pace" than the area has experienced in the past.

"The economy is definitely taking a breather," he said.

Developer and resort owner David Teitelbaum, a TDC member who operates businesses along Manatee County beaches, remained upbeat after having a strong year.

"Our reservations book going forward is very, very strong," Teitelbaum said.

He says he is "very positive" about 2013, and did not expect to drop room rates, but would be "reasonably raising them as we go," Teitelbaum said.

Some businesses, however, experienced slower results this year than last.

Last year was very good for William Diggens, who operates Elite Parasail, at 5503 Marine Drive in Holmes Beach. But this year's cold weather and an early Easter spelled trouble, he said.

"We do our best during spring break, and 10 days after Easter," Diggens said. "But Easter fell in March, so we lost about three weeks of revenue, and the weather didn't help.

"But it's only weather and a timing thing," he said. "We know it's going to be good over the summer. I'm sure the summer will be great."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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