MANATEE -- The traffic is a little lighter and the beaches are a bit more sparse as Manatee County tourism enters its slowest time of the year.
On a recent afternoon, best friends Jazmine Hill and Nina Roman, both 19, hung out at Manatee Public Beach for a friend's birthday. The college students, who both expressed sadness over the end of summer, visit Anna Maria Island often.
On this particular Thursday, it was Hill's idea.
"I love the beach -- the pure sand," Hill said. "Other beaches are really grainy ... the salt water isn't as salty here. It's really smooth."
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Manatee County enters its slowest tourism month in September, collecting the least amount of bed taxes from visitors of any point in the year. Schools are in session, hurricane season is at its peak and then there's the heat and humidity.
Tax receipts show that the least amount of revenue from tourists comes in during September, October and November, according to the Manatee County Tax Collector, hovering around $500,000 each of those months. Though, the number of people visiting during those months has been growing in recent years.
The summer's tax receipts are up as well.
June's tax receipts were up about 20 percent and July's receipts were up 17 percent compared to the same time last year.
"What's unique about this summer compared to previous is all of our feeder markets are running on all cylinders," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
One major event that filled rooms in July was the ItWorks! Global convention in Palmetto, where 4,000 people attended and were expected to spend a combined $766,000 during their stay, the Herald previously reported.
From October through May, Manatee County has seen increases in visitors, room nights booked, spending and economic impact, according to a report by Walter Klages of Tampa's Research Data Services. Visitation is up 6.7 percent through that period, according to the report.
"There's pent-up demand, and we're excited to see the community sustain an influx of visitation during a 'shoulder season' like this," Falcione said.
Over on Anna Maria Island, business owners have felt an increase in business throughout the summer this year in comparison to recent years, but some still expect it to slow down in September.
This summer as a whole was a lot busier than the past four years for Kelly Kary, owner of Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost, 401 Pine Ave., Anna Maria.
"We've been much busier than we have in the past and it seems to have lingered a lot longer than it has as far as sales and people on the island," she said. "We're just now starting to see a wind-down of the summer ending, but it's still fairly strong for us."
Kary said this new pattern has surprised her as well as other area business owners. She said she expects the next few weeks to be a little bit quiet but, once Labor Day grows closer, business will pick up again.
"And then we come in September, and that's when we all know, 'Well it's time to take a vacation!'" Kary said with a laugh.
As she stood behind the counter of The Island Cabana boutique owned by Nancy Lee on a recent afternoon, manager Diane Miller spoke about Anna Maria Island.
"People are learning about us and seeing that we have a lot to offer," she said. "We have lots of new people."
Over in Holmes Beach, Island Trader manager Leah Best said business generally slows down when children head back to school.
"The Northern states don't go back to school 'til after Labor Day," she noted, adding that the store's sales get better every year.
"I'm sure it's from all the marketing they've been doing on Anna Maria Island," Miller said.
European visitation has seen an uptick this year and through the summer, according to visitor data by Klages. Europe is up 13 percent -- the highest out of any market. That's a national trend, according to federal tourism data, as Europeans, hesitant to fly over the Middle East and Ukraine, are looking for other destinations.
Falcione said both fly-in tourists and visitors who can drive here are up this summer. He credits the sports tourism segment for bolstering tourism.
"When you have an IMG Academy and a Premier Sports Campus and other unique sports venues with those families, that's definitely going to play a part in maintaining an influx of visitation," Falcione said. That's going to help even out the lulls, he added.
Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus had one of its busiest summer ever, said Antonio Saviano, director of the multi-sport complex. Typically the campus sees slower activity from mid-May to July, but was propped up by two lacrosse tournaments and camps -- LB3 Lacrosse and Laxapalooza -- bringing about 4,000 people each. Both events are expected to return next summer and bring more people, he added.
"I feel like our summer is not like it used to be," Saviano said.
And Premier Sports will only pick up in momentum for the remaining weeks of summer, he said.
The Neon Vibe 5K is expected to bring 3,000 people in town on Saturday while a Chargers SC soccer tournament will bring 8,000 people here for Labor Day, he said.
Even during a slow September, the month could pick up and start strong as Visit Florida pushes to bring 100 million visitors this year.
"With how the start is marketing Florida, that plays a big part in all of our success all around the state of Florida," Falcione said. "When you have 95 million people coming to the state, they've got to go somewhere, and some of them are coming here."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@ImYourChuck.
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.