HOLMES BEACH -- The economic impact of tourism has reached $566 million, a 10.2 percent increase in Manatee County during the first nine months of 2013 over the same period last year, a tourism expert said Monday.
"It has been a very successful season, a very successful third quarter," Walter Klages, president and chief executive officer of Research Data Services of Tampa Inc., reported to the Tourist Development Council during its meeting at Holmes Beach.
Klages predicted as European economies begin to recover from recession tourism numbers will strengthen in coming months.
"We are looking at strong growth, both in the (United Kingdom) and on the continent in 2014," he told TDC members.
Nanette Almeter, owner of Irene's Resort Wear, 5308 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, said her business is up over last year. During the last quarter especially, sales at her store are up, she said.
"For us to be doing better is a treat. It's a good sign all the things we're doing are working," Almeter said.
Although shoppers are still spending cautiously, Almeter said a combination of factors have helped her business go "definitely back on the upswing again."
Klage said visitors to the area from around Florida are up by 10,250, or 7.5 percent, during the first nine months over the same period last year.
Sports tourism such as a state-of-the-art rowing center at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park and Bradenton's IMG Academy, "has become a very major and strong element," Klages said.
"In 2014, we'll see more of that," he said. "We're expecting a 6 percent to 7 percent increase just in that market."
The sports tourism segment is growing because "we have really good collaboration going on between all the sports venues," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau,
In the third quarter, occupancy rose to 62 percent, a 2.5 percent increase over the same period last year. Average daily room rates rose to $133.20, up 3.9 percent over the same period last year, according to Klages.
Other notable numbers: First-time visitors to Manatee who were also new to Florida comprised 4.4 percent of all third-quarter visitors, Klages said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.