Lakewood Ranch Herald

Manatee County had 3 million visitors in 2015, with $1.1 billion in economic impact

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- At least 3 million visitors came to the Bradenton area in 2015, generating $1.1 billion in local economic impact and $47 million in sales tax, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director said Wednesday.

And if Manatee County can balance that tourism with what the community wants, then Manatee County is a community that is on its way, Elliott Falcione told the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance.

"It's not about numbers, folks," Falcione said. "It's not about let's do more tourism, let's do more visitors. It's the balance of what the community wants. How do we have an influx of visitors that generate, stimulate our economy but at the same time maintain a quality of life for us to live in? We are going to deal with that 60 days that we just got out of but how do we balance the two?"

As the region's main tourist season comes to a close, Falcione and Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, spoke about "The Suncoast on a Tankful" at Wednesday's luncheon at the Fete Ballroom at Polo Grill & Bar.

The two tourism leaders talked about destinations in each county. Haley focused her presentation on Sarasota County destinations people may not know about, including Olde Englewood Village and an excursion in Venice.

Farm tours, Powel Crosley Theatre Series and the county's parks and preserves such as Robinson Preserve and Jiggs Landing are among the things to do in the Bradenton area, Falcione said.

He also touted art and culture enhancements such as the Cortez Fishing Village and the South Florida Museum expansion, as well as sports enhancements such as Premier Sports Campus and IMG Academy, as generators of the 2015 statistics.

With a 96 percent visitor satisfaction rate, visitors return to the area 94 percent of the time, Falcione said.

"We need people to continue to invest and reinvest in our community," Falcione said. "If you own real estate here, the more demand the more appreciation you get. If you own a business here, the more people that come here, the more successful your business will be."

As the area continues to be a popular tourism destination, more hotels are coming to the area. Falcione gave an update about new accommodations coming to the area, including a 37-room Waterline Resort on Anna Maria Island in early 2017 and Zota-Longboat Key, which will have 185 rooms and opens this fall.

"We have been patiently awaiting the opening of this," Falcione said.. The area is "desperate for those beds to open up."

Other new accommodations on the horizon include a hotel at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, which the county is negotiating with a developer.

"Not only would it do good for the convention center, it is another seed that is desperately needed for urban core redevelopment," Falcione said.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.

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