Tourism on rise in Manatee in 2010

BRADENTON -- Tourism was up in Manatee County in 2010 by 2.6 percent, despite the BP oil spill and a series of severe winter storms.

The findings are welcome news, as many were braced for worse because of the spill. And they’re predicting much stronger results in 2011.

An estimated 461,600 visitors vacationed in Bradenton and Anna Maria Island in 2010, up 2.6 percent from 2009, according to numbers released Monday by the Klages Group for the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

Total economic impact came in at $471.9 million in 2010, up 2.1 percent from 2009.

Walter Klages, chief executive officer of the Klages Group, said he believes Manatee County gained tourists otherwise destined for oil-impacted beaches after the oil spill.

“The spill affected us, believe it or not, positively,” Klages said.

Still, hoteliers say they’re looking forward to a clean slate in 2011 as the oil spill did bring the misperception of tainted beaches and seafood.

“We’re doing very well,” said Barbara Rodocker, owner of the BridgeWalk and Silver Surf resorts in Bradenton Beach. “We’re excited about this year. We expect a much better year.”

The Tourist Development Council, too, is confident this year will bring a major boost to tourism. Local tourism officials say locally hosted sports events as well as new marketing strategies will play a key role.

Joe Pickett, sports commissioner for Manatee County, said Manatee County is projected to host 43 sporting events that will generate an estimated 14,710 room nights between January and March.

The local sports commission also has 25 bids pending for future years, including one for the Pop Warner National Championships from 2013-16, Pickett said.

“We’ve got a heck of a lot of good sports coming here and a lot of that is because of all the good facilities we have,” Pickett said.

On the marketing front, Executive Manager Debbie Meihls is expecting positive results from the amount of advertising and media coverage the area has gained so far this year.

Anna Maria Island and Bradenton have been featured in Conde Nast Traveler, Florida Travel + Life, Destination Weddings and a magazine that reaches the Canadian market, Dreamscapes.

In January’s Conde Nast Traveler, the editors said Anna Maria Island has one of the best biking paths in Florida.

“To get a mention like that, it’s huge,” Meihls said. “This is a high demographic magazine and the types of publications we want to be in because they have a lot of disposable income.”

Grace Gagliano, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.