ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- At White Sands Beach Resort, Ken Gerry has set up his hotel’s website to make winter-shocked residents throughout the Midwest and Northeast say, “Yes, I wish I were there.”
The website features the daily temperature on Holmes Beach -- an inviting 72 degrees Wednesday -- a live beach camera and it plays tropical music featuring steel drums.
“It’s a little taunting,” Gerry said. “We tell them we’re swimming in the pool right now. We’ve gotten some calls from regular customers watching the beach camera wishing they were here.”
Several hoteliers on Anna Maria Island have reported the recent wave of snow storms has resulted in extended stays or new business at their hotels because residents couldn’t get returning flights. And, in some cases, didn’t want them.
As Gerry and local visitor statistics point out, however, the far-away storm’s effects have hurt tourism, too.
Recent statistics provided by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau show travel declined 2.4 percent in December, compared to December 2009. But travel was up 1.1 percent in November, 0.7 percent in October and 2.6 percent for all of 2010, compared to travel in 2009.
“It’s kind of a double-edge sword in the sense that people can’t get out to go back home, but they can’t get out to get here,” Gerry said.
Travel proved to be problematic Wednesday, the second day of widespread flight cancellations. Airlines grounded at least 85 flights at area airports.
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport accounted for nine cancellations -- five arrivals and four departures -- affecting travel to and from Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and New York. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Tampa International Airport reported 76 cancellations, spokeswoman Christine Osborn said. The breakdown included 42 arrivals and 34 departures to cities in the Midwest and Northeast.
“This storm is different in that it’s still impacting a lot of the Midwestern hub airports, and that directly affects us,” she said.
That proved to be good news for Mark Davis, owner of the Harrington House.The bed and breakfast resort in Holmes Beach gained unexpected reservations from three additional families from New Hampshire, Virginia and Minnesota whose flights were impacted.
“They were really excited about finding us,” Davis said. “They dropped in as drive-bys, which is fantastic for us. It gives us an opportunity to show the island and to give people a happy experience here versus having to travel back to the snow.”
Gerry received a reservation this week at White Sands Beach Resort thanks to similar circumstances. “We had someone come here for a room after staying someplace else because he couldn’t get back to Chicago,” Gerry said.
Like Gerry, the Bradenton Area Convention Visitors Bureau has been using the Internet to pitch Florida’s warm weather to tourists.
The tourism bureau’s Facebook page pointed out to tourists that good weather is already here even though Groundhog’s Day called for an early spring.
“No shadow and spring is near. Head on down to Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key to escape that cold!” the status update read Wednesday.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism bureau, too, has been tailoring vacation packages to those hit by snow and sleet. VisitFlorida.com is marketing “winter relief packages” that include deals on hotels, events and attractions.
“We’re proud to welcome anyone who wants to thaw out,” said Kenneth Morgan, spokesman for Visit Florida.