Manatee County bed taxes increase year over year; more than $1 million in five months

Enrique Rivera and daughter, Lexee, 4, play in the water at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island in this file photo.
Enrique Rivera and daughter, Lexee, 4, play in the water at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island in this file photo.

MANATEE -- Few Manatee County businesses, hoteliers and tourism officials are surprised that tourism is up year over year.

The increase in bed tax, revenues specifically derived from tourism, aren't just from the beaches anymore, even though traffic has visibly increased there -- to a point it feels like saturation in certain months.

"It's no secret that tourism is way up in Manatee County and there's many reasons for it," said Manatee County Commission Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. "And it's not just because of our beaches; it's the diversity we have in our county. The new thing right now is sports."

IMG, Premier Sports and the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex are a few of the organizations boosting tourism numbers, Baugh said.

"It's not been surprising me that we've been running a high occupancy rate and rates have been consistent," said David Teitelbaum, owner of the Tortuga Inn and four other resorts on Anna Maria Island and vice chairman of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. "And other resorts or units are getting the benefit of the fact that we're full."

The only thing surprising Teitelbaum about the increased business is timing.

Every month posted at least a 3 percent increase or more, according to Manatee County Tax Collector data. January was the largest increase at 26.8 percent, and April was the lowest.

Though September and June aren't typically busy months for Manatee County tourism  because the weather tends to be hot for the snowbirds, the second- and third-largest increases, at 25.9 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively, came in those months. Europeans vacationing in the summer helped boost tourism numbers, as well.

In total, the 2014-15 bed taxes pulled in more than $11.3 million after the 3 percent collection fee, compared to about $10.6 million the previous year. In the most recent fiscal year and the 2013-14 fiscal year, March brought in the biggest chunk of tourism tax change.

"In the summertime it's been surprisingly strong," Teitelbaum said. Between the 2014 fiscal year third quarter and the 2015 fiscal year third quarter, the Bradenton area attracted 5.5 percent more visitors, according to Tampa-based Research Data Services Inc.

Direct expenditures and total economic impact in the same period rose 9.4 percent. The increase isn't "boom and bust," Teitelbaum said, but a steady rise in the number of visitors. He's hired more staff as a result of the increased traffic at his resorts.

At a meeting for hotel managers and owners in October hosted by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Executive Director Elliott Falcione said up to 700 hotel rooms are expected to be built in Manatee County over the next two years in response to the demand.

And though the bureau and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council work toward bringing more visitors to Manatee County, Falcione reiterated the collaborative effort begins at the state level.

"When your state has a budget that can effectively compete with the competitive set it's going to drive visitation to the state," Falcione said. Some of Florida's biggest competitors in the tourism industry are California, Texas and New York.

Beyond a better budget, changes at the local level and a sharper branding strategy helped drive visitation and boost tourism taxes, he said.

"It's created a lot of clarity and it's geographically understandable and it conveys promise to prospective visitors," Falcione said. Bringing travel writers into the area and showcasing Manatee County's attributes and attractions beyond beaches has helped sell it to different and new market segments, as well.

"We have ecotourism, culinary tourism and agritourism, aside from the leisure or sports segment," Falcione said. "Diversification has really played a part in the sustainability of our visitation."

Baugh echoed Falcione's sentiments about Manatee County's varied offerings for tourists.

"Internationally the figures are up," she said. "We have a lot more people from Europe visiting Manatee County and they don't just visit the beaches; they visit all the other venues we have in the county. We're very fortunate in that Manatee County is being known now not just because of beautiful, pristine beaches but also because of so many other things we can offer."

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