Bradenton-area room rates fall as summer approaches, occupancy rates remain steady

MANATEE -- Although hotel room rates are dropping as the summer season approaches, occupancy rates aren't following.

The quintessential summer holidays are proving to be golden for Bradenton businesses. Memorial Day weekend is already bringing in crowds and hoteliers say they are already getting reservations for the Fourth of July.

"Reservations are good, and we're expecting a good crowd," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitor's Bureau.

Beachfront hotels on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key represent the majority of sold-out properties.

In March, rates at hotels such as the Holiday Inn and Fairfield Inn & Suites in Lakewood Ranch ran higher than $300 on weekends and more than $200 on weekdays. At this time of year, the rates for the same properties are between $180 and $200.

Robert Ferguson, corporate director of sales for the two hotels, said beach resorts typically sell out for holidays and mainland hotels have vacancies. But this year, his hotels are sold out for the next couple of weeks, mainly because the NCAA Division I men's golf championship will be held from May 29 to June 3 at The Concession Golf Club.

At Silver Surf Gulf Beach Resort and at BridgeWalk, rates for Memorial Day weekend ranged from $165 to $207 and $191 to $278, respectively. Owner of the two resorts and former member of Manatee County's Tourism Development Council Barbara Rodocker said lower room rates in the summer and fall seasons are typical of the lodging industry in Florida.

"I think it's probably one of those things that's been going on forever," Rodocker said. "When I started in the business, we did it to attract people in the summertime but there are a lot of people attracted to the beaches than there ever has been before. I guess nobody has ever broken the habit."

Rodocker also said bookings for Memorial Day weekend came in a month ago, and they're already booking rooms for the Fourth of July.

The Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Bradenton has seen similar demand trends over the summer months. Banquet coordinator Mary Owen said she's never seen the hotel as busy as it was for the Fourth of July last year. Some guests, upon checkout last year, booked their rooms for the Fourth of July this year. The downtown hotel has 99 percent occupancy, with six rooms left for the Fourth of July.

For Memorial Day weekend, Owen said the busiest day for the Hampton Inn & Suites is Saturday, at 92 percent occupancy. On Friday, they'll see 73 percent

occupancy. Room rates for the weekend ranged from $179 to $204.

Falcione estimates this year's occupancy rate for the month of May is about 3 percent higher than last year's.

"We're still seeing growth in visitation so that demand allows short-term rentals to increase the average daily rate," Falcione said.

He also said the visitor's burea encourages hoteliers to adjust their rates to meet the demand. As a result of raising rates, as many have recently, hotels sometimes see a bit more vacancy.

Several new attractions in the Bradenton area are driving demand and keeping occupancy rates high during all seasons, including sporting events held at Nathan Benderson Park and IMG Academy. Walter Klages, president of Research Data Services, told the Tourism Development Council in April that demand is outpacing supply.

Average overall room rates in Manatee County have increased by 17 percent since 2010, according to a report from Research Data Services.

The average daily rate for the first quarter of 2015 was $184, up 9 percent from last year.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.