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Visitors are flocking to Bradenton area. Here’s where all those tourists are coming from

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.

Elliott Falcione gave what he called his “tourism department 101” presentation to a Manatee Chamber of Commerce Headliners Luncheon on Wednesday.

Although the audience at the Legacy Hotel at IMG Academy seemed impressed with the scope of projects that tourism bed taxes are back plowed into, there was one overriding reaction: relief.

Relief that tourism has bounced back in the Bradenton area after months of red tide.

“I loved hearing that visitors are coming back after the tough year we had,” said Sarah Colandro, director of interior design for Fawley Bryant Architecture. “Tourism was up 10 percent in February over the previous year.”

Jacki Dezelski, president and chief executive officer of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, applauded the news.

She was also pleased that Sarasota Bradenton International Airport has seen such strong passenger traffic. In March, traffic was up 33 percent year over year with 197,889 passengers traveling through the airport.

Traffic at SRQ has been up 13 consecutive months and traffic is up 36.5 percent for the year to date.

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Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, discussed the impact of tourism on the community during a Manatee Chamber of Commerce Headliners Luncheon on Wednesday. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

“We have seen smiles over the statistics at SRQ,” she said.

Annette Forsberg of Diversified Robotic said she was surprised at how much outreach that Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and his staff do to keep tourism in the Bradenton area growing.

“The biggest surprise for me was how much they market out of state and out of the country,” Forsberg said.

The top U.S. feeder markets for the Bradenton area, according to Falcione:

  1. Tampa-St. Petersburg;
  2. Orlando;
  3. New York;
  4. Chicago;
  5. Pittsburgh.

The top international feeders:

  1. United Kingdom and Ireland;
  2. Central Europe;
  3. Canada.

In 2018, the Bradenton area attracted 3,173,200 visitors, With an average party of three, they spent $185 a day here, Falcione said.

Tourist bed taxes collected from hotels, motels and private residences rented to visitors (approximately $54.4 million) went to everything from beach maintenance to the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch to rebuilding the Anna Maria Pier, Falcione said.

The iconic Anna Maria Pier which was damaged in 2017 by a hurricane underwent complete demolition, but reconstruction is now underway.

Tourism has a $1.3 billion economic impact on Manatee County. It’s the county’s largest economic engine and employs 26,100.

Falcione also touched on red tide and said that 39 percent of all visitors were aware that the persistent bloom had spent months along Manatee County shores.

Yet, their appreciation of Bradenton area beaches brought them back, once the area was declared all clear of red tide, he said.

Lessons learned included that the tourism industry did not have a consistent crisis communications plan and many businesses did not have emergency funds to tide them over, Falcione said.

He feared that now that conditions and tourism have improved, businesses will become complacent and apathetic.

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The Manatee Chamber of Commerce Headliners Luncheon attracted a crowd Wednesday to hear about the impact of tourism on the community. The meeting was held at the Legacy Hotel at IMG Academy. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

Asked about potential state budget cuts to Visit Florida, Falcione said if the budget is cut and tourism goes into a decline, he thought the Florida Legislature would revisit the issue and make adjustments.

Falcione also revealed that CBS plans to film a segment of The World’s Strongest Man competition in Bradenton and on Anna Maria Island later this year. That program would air in the United States and the United Kingdom.

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