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Tourism in Manatee continues steady climb since last year

The Hampton Inn in downtown Bradenton no longer refers to summer as the slow season. Tourist development tax figures show tourism continues to grow in Manatee County.
The Hampton Inn in downtown Bradenton no longer refers to summer as the slow season. Tourist development tax figures show tourism continues to grow in Manatee County. ttompkins@bradenton.com

In the summer, Manatee County tourists and residents expect clearer roadways and beaches. But Manatee County Tax Collector tourist tax data shows tourism grew in every month compared to last year, and one hotel isn’t referring to summer as the “slow season” anymore.

Kelly Ann Dixon, director of sales and marketing at the downtown Bradenton Hampton Inn hotel, said comparing season and summer is “apples and oranges.”

“Season is a different animal than what it is during the shoulder season,” Dixon said. “We don’t even call it a slow season anymore. We still see great travel numbers.”

Occupancy at the Hampton Inn during the height of Manatee County’s tourist season, typically January through March, hovers between 95 and 100 percent but drops to 70 to 80 percent during the summer. The hotel is seeing mostly families and couples for weekend getaways.

At the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, President Rick Piccolo said they usually expect to see a drop in passengers. This year, passenger numbers were down 9 percent year over year, June 2015 to June, though Piccolo attributes that to a temporary stop in a United Airlines Chicago flight.

“We’re up 1 percent for the first six months of the year, but we’re down about 8,000 passengers for the month of June, again because of the United flight,” Piccolo said.

While the hotels and SRQ may see a drop in traffic now, Manatee County Tax Collector bed tax figures say tourists will return with force when summer ends. Between October 2014 and October 2015, tourist taxes increased by 11 percent; between April 2015 and April 2016, there was a 16.5 percent increase.

In 1980, Manatee County enacted the local option tourist development tax, which is also called the tourist tax, bed tax, short-term rental tax, and resort tax, according to the Tax Collector’s website. The rate for Manatee County is 5 percent. Bed tax is levied in addition to sales tax. Any accommodations rented for six months or less are subject to the tourist tax.

Over the last two years, January tourist taxes jumped by 47 percent. Nearly $3 million was collected this year in January and February combined, and March alone brought in almost $1.9 million. Per Florida statute, the tax can only be used to pay for beach renourishment, promoting and advertising tourism and maintenance of the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday.

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