ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Finding the perfect spot to catch some rays on Anna Maria Island's beaches just got a little easier.
Visit Florida last week launched its Beach Finder program -- designed in partnership with Google -- that gives visitors a beach view, rather than street view, through Google Maps.
The project's main work was completed last summer and fall when trekkers, as Google calls them, lugged 45-pound backpacks with cameras to capture 360-degree panoramic views of Florida's 825 miles of beaches. The Anna Maria beaches were captured in late September.
"The Beach Finder gives our prospective visitors a cutting edge tool that is fun, unique and engaging that sets Florida apart from other vacation destinations," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Never miss a local story.
A plug-in tool called TripTuner allows Beach Finder users to tune their beach preference and choose their own beach adventure. Anna Maria Island was featured prominently earlier this week because it has the right amount of adventure, laid back, family friendliness, romance, action, seclusion, groomed sand and naturalness. Go to visitflorida.com/en-us/beach-finder.html to use the tool.
"I think it's really unique for people to actually see what it's like to stand on our beach and walk it, especially for people who live in landlocked states or who never have been to the coast or the beach ever," said Kelly Klotz, communications manager for the CVB.
Feeling more adventurous but not as family friendly? Try Fort Myers Beach. How about an ultra laid back beach that's a tad family friendly and a bit more secluded? Go for Port St. Joe on the Emerald Coast.
Anna Maria Island resorts owner David Teitelbaum, who also serves on the Visit Florida advisory board, said the tools help showcase the beaches to
the right audiences.
"We're looking for a different kind of visitor and showing our island the way that they show it, is family friendly," he said. "That's really what we've marketed to -- family and romance. The island has three cities and three different experiences and the tool really provides that kind of visual ability to see that this is more than a beach."
Visual ability is hindered if users are trying to spot a friend on the beach. Google blurred out people's faces for privacy during the trek -- handy for those who frequent the state's nude beaches. On Bradenton Beach, where clothes are required, a view of three diners' faces at the BeachHouse Restaurant looking at the Google camera are blurred for their protection. Further north on the beach, a group can be seen waving at the cameras -- but at a distance -- they could be identified by users who zoom in.
The only downside for Anna Maria's StreetView is that the photos were taken before the $13 million central Anna Maria Island and $3 million Coquina Beach renourishment projects were completed, widening the beach with more vibrant white sands than what appear on the maps. Visit Florida would have to pay for the project again to update beach photos, according to the Associated Press.
Beach maps useful tool
Also, the Bradenton Area CVB doesn't plan to embed the Google beach maps on its website so it would not interfere with Visit Florida's contract and website, Klotz said. It still provides a good tool for someone who wants to come to Florida but is not sure which beach they want to visit, she added.
Visit Sarasota County is just diving into the tool figuring out the best way to use it. While Siesta Key gets most of the attention, an official there thinks some of the lesser used beaches might see more activity through the beach finder.
"I think it is a positive for all of the beach destinations. It is so new, I have not really had a chance to work with my team to figure out how to best utilize it but I fully expect that we will," said Visit Sarasota County president Virginia Hayley, who was recently appointed to the Visit Florida board of directors. "I think it will greatly benefit those beaches that are not as well known as the number one beach -- Siesta."
Charles Schelle, Herald business story, can be reached at 941-745-7095.