During the recently completed five-week spring training season, more than 8,000 guests descended on Bradenton-Sarasota and chose to stay in lodging provided by Airbnb hosts, according to data provided by Airbnb.
The home-rental platform founded in 2008 provides additional income to about 1,000 residents in the area. The data provided by Airbnb reflects the five-week Grapefruit League season but doesn’t specify whether the travelers were vacationing in the area to attend Pittsburgh Pirates games in Bradenton and Baltimore Orioles games in Sarasota, or for other purposes.
“We’re certainly not trying to say that every single person that went to these cities was there for spring training,” Airbnb Florida spokesman Ben Breit said. “Obviously for Kissimmee there was a lot of Disney travel, but the spikes and the spikes from the home states of the teams are indicative of a huge boost from spring training.”
Bradenton Airbnb hosts saw a 194 percent increase in bookings from Pennsylvania guests compared to the previous five-week period, while 247 percent more from Maryland booked accommodations with hosts in Sarasota.
Carole Zoellner, who lists her East Manatee County rental accommodations, the CBS Pop Inn, on Airbnb and Tripadvisor, said she was booked for the entire month of March. She’s used the listing sites to advertise her accommodations for about five years.
Whether Zoellner’s guests who attended baseball games were in town specifically for spring training or other reasons “is hard to say.”
“The one couple from New Jersey are repeat customers,” Zoellner said. “They love baseball, golf and gambling. The other couple was here for the first time from Baltimore. They did ask about spring training.”
Compared to the previous five-week period, Bradenton and Sarasota Airbnb hosts had a 45 percent and 91 percent spike in bookings, respectively, according to the Airbnb data.
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t keep track of Airbnb traffic, said bureau executive director Elliott Falcione, because the platform doesn’t have a formal agreement with the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office. The tax collector declined to enter an agreement with Airbnb last year, while Sarasota County and a handful of others in Florida chose to do so.
“We do realize many consumers today use Airbnb for vacation purposes,” Falcione said.
Jeff Podobnik, the senior director of Florida and Dominican operations for the Pirates, said more than 100,000 fans attended spring training games at LECOM Park.
“For the months of January, February and March, it’s not too pleasant weather-wise up north, so they’re coming down here and getting out of that weather and catching some Pirate baseball,” Podobnik said.
Other accommodations weren’t short on baseball fans within the last month, either. Rob Ferguson, director of sales for Kinsman Resorts, saw “lots of Pirates and Orioles hats and jerseys in our lobby.”
The typical spring training-bound traveler is easy to identify not only by apparel but also by their relaxed attitudes and buying habits.
“They’re a sports bar crowd,” Ferguson said. “We’re selling more burgers and fries than filet mignon. It’s not formal. It’s middle-of-the-road, casual fun.”