MANATEE -- Tourism in Manatee County doesn't appear to be cooling down, especially on Anna Maria Island.
The county saw even more revenue thanks to tourists in April compared to a year ago, according to the latest tourism tax receipts by the Manatee County Tax Collector Office.
Among the bright spots is the city of Anna Maria, which saw a $34,777 increase over tourism taxes in April 2012, standing as the largest increase from last year out of any municipality and unincorporated Manatee County.
"Anna Maria is such a special place," said Ed Chiles, whose restaurants include the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria. "It's a great value, and has the prettiest beach in the world and has a good selection of restaurants. And now with the Pine Avenue project, it has very good shopping, and it's very pleasing to people."
The Pine Avenue Restoration project includes residential cottages, professional offices and retail shops along the length of the city's east-west street.
In April, Manatee County and its six municipalities netted $748,227 in "bed taxes," which is an additional penny sales tax paid by visitors when they book a hotel room. A year ago, the county saw $740,573 from tourists in April 2012.
The early off-season boom is expected to last through the summer, said Kelly Klotz of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"They definitely come for
the beaches, but another thing we're seeing is a lot of people coming for sports," Klotz said. "Their children are coming here for a sports tournament or game, and it's because we're growing strongly as a sports niche market."
Hotels are stepping up targeting visitors in different niche areas, too. Some hotels are promoting pet-friendly amenities. The Mainsail Beach Inn is partnering with the Beach Bistro during June to provide a complimentary glass of champagne at the restaurant, as well as a 25 percent discount.
"They get a little Anna Maria sand in their soles and they like it, and it becomes a place where they want to come back to," Chiles said.
How strong has the 2012-2013 tourism season been? The $6.1 million collected September through April is just about $800,000 less than what was collected in the entire 2010-2011 season. The 2011-2012 proved to be a super tourism season with $8 million collected, and if the rest of the summer remains flat compared to last year, this season will see $630,000 more coming into the tourism fund, according to the tax collector.
Bradenton Beach's outlooks also appears to be sunny despite seeing a $3,000 reduction in bed tax receipts in April compared to a year ago, bringing in $73,213.
David Teitelbaum, who owns Tradewinds, Tortuga, Seaside and Tropic Isle beach resorts in Bradenton Beach, said despite the rain of late, business is going well.
"We see a nice increase coming in the next few months," he said. "A lot of our customers are repeat, but the repeat customers generally now have been coming for years."
Anna Maria Island as a whole has a lot going for it, helping bolster the county's tourism revenue, said Teitelbaum, who also sits on the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.
One is that No. 5 ranking for Anna Maria Island being the best in America.
"That didn't hurt," he joked.
The other is Anna Maria's distinction of being the wedding capital of Florida. And, of course, June is a popular wedding month, which helps extend the season on the Island.
"When people come to a wedding, usually they bring 50 to 75 people and most of them have never been here before," Teitelbaum said. "They come under wonderful circumstances, and they get exposed and come back and it becomes a large source of new business for us."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.