Tourism in Manatee remains in growth mode. Here’s why 2019 is off to such a hot start

Visitors keep on coming to Bradenton-area beaches

Visitors keep on coming to Bradenton-area beaches. February was a strong month for Manatee County tourism.
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Visitors keep on coming to Bradenton-area beaches. February was a strong month for Manatee County tourism.

Kip and Amy Betz, and their daughters, Greta, 12, and Ivy, 9, of Bethel, Conn., joined thousands of others on Anna Maria Island on Monday, reveling in the sea breezes, the white sand beaches, unusually large green waves and blue skies.

“We’ve been coming here for years and finally realized that there is no need to look for a better place,” Kip Betz said. “We just hope it doesn’t get too crowded.”

A few blocks away, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council was meeting at The Center of AMI, 407 Magnola Ave., and expressed the view that tourism remains strong and in a growth mode.

“This is just the best of times,” council chair Vernon DeSear said. “Back in 2004-2005, no one would have believed this is happening.”

DeSear was referring to the strong tourism numbers posted in the Bradenton area for February, helped along by a new concert series and other special events, including the installation of a Jane Seymour sculpture on the Bradenton Riverwalk, which produced record internet traffic for the area.

Award-winning actress Jane Seymour told a crowd gathered at the Bradenton Riverwalk how her “Open Hearts” design began during the unveiling of a sculpture of her design.

Walter Klages of Data Research Services, who regularly takes the pulse of tourist activity in Manatee County, said that in February, 77,100 visitors spent time in the Bradenton area, up 8 percent from a year earlier.

At the same time, 2,000 new hotel rooms have been added to Manatee County, yet the occupancy rate remained nearly the same, 90.8 percent in February 2019, compared to 91 percent a year earlier.

“Considering the significant increase in room inventory,” the impact to the occupancy rate was negligible, Klages said.

In fact, the average daily rate hotels were able to charge in February was $209.90, compared to $207.90 a year earlier, he said.

Some of the changes and programs were born of necessity to keep tourism strong during the siege of red tide last year.

Manatee County’s warm weather and white-sand beaches continue to attract visitors, 77,100 in February alone, according to the most recent figures available from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. James A. Jones Jr.

Among those initiatives was a concert series designed to bring visitors and residents to the Manatee Performing Arts Center and The Center of AMI.

Janene Amick of Manatee Performing Arts Center said the concert series, which featured nationally known artists such as Judy Collins and the Marshall Tucker Band, yielded $100,000 in ticket sales, revenue that benefited both facilities.

In addition, Manatee Performing Arts Center is on track to hit $1 million in ticket sales for the fiscal year, reflecting the broadening of offerings to include concerts and recitals as well as Broadway productions.

“We hope to grow the concert series to the four corners of Manatee County,” Amick said.

Greta and Ivy Betz ran out of the surf to greet their father, Kip Betz on Monday. The family regularly visits Anna Maria Island from Bethel, Conn. James A. Jones Jr.

Kelly Clark, director of communications for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, reported that one of the strategies for fostering more tourism is an outreach to critical markets, such as New York (the No. 1 feeder market for the Bradenton area) and the United Kingdom (the No. 1 European feeder market for Florida).

A media buy with the Madison Square Garden Network generated 6 million digital impressions and increased New York area visits to the Convention and Visitors Bureau website from 5,500 visitors to 23,300, compared to the previous year.

Even more web impressions (64 million) were recorded by Seymour’s visit to Bradenton. The story was picked up by news organizations as diverse as the London Telegraph Online, U.S. News and World Report and the Miami Herald, Clark reported.

“We need to be bold and take risks. The competition is getting harder and harder,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said of the need to continue to innovate.