Special Reports

Anna Maria Island hotels worried about post-Fourth bookings (with photo gallery)

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — Hotel bookings on Anna Maria Island are strong for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

However, some hoteliers are scrambling to fill their rooms for the rest of summer.

“The remainder of summer is a disaster,” said Ashok Sawe, owner of Palm Tree Villas in Holmes Beach. “Because the Europeans aren’t coming for whatever reason. Even some of the out-of-staters aren’t coming.”

Tourists are stalling their vacation plans this year due to an economy that remains unstable, combined with concern over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, some say.

As a result, some island hoteliers are offering discounts throughout August or are re-evaluating their room rates in an effort to fill vacancies.

After July 4, Anna Maria Beach Cottages will extend a 15 percent discount on its room rates that start at $140 a night.

Amanda Guerra, a manager, said the discount will be offered through August since there is a 5 percent vacancy rate for the 11 cottages this summer.

“(The discount) is helping because any gaps that we had are filling,” Guerra said. “The entire week of Fourth of July, we filled a year in advance.”

Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South, said more tourists are taking a wait-and-see approach with their travel plans this summer despite the 17.1 percent increase in nationwide travel that’s expected this weekend.

“In the past we might have found people booking far in advance,” Brady said. “People are thinking about it, but they don’t want to make concrete plans too far in advance. “They say ‘Let’s wait until a week or so or two weeks beforehand to make those plans.’”

Brady attributes the hesitation to both the economy and the oil spill even though Manatee County and a majority of Florida’s coastlines remain free from oil sheen and tar balls.

“While the economy is getting better, it’s not full throttle like it once was,” Brady said. “And some are a little more leery than they typically would be because of the oil spill.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, urged Ken Feinberg, administrator of the $20 billion BP claims fund, to cover claims from hotels and restaurants in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Buchanan, at a small business committee hearing in the House of Representatives, said some hotel owners have reported to him a 50 percent decline in business due to the oil spill.

Carolyn Wells, a manager at Anna Maria Island Dream Inn, said rates at the motel have been reduced since last year due to slower reservations. Wells wouldn’t disclose how much rates have been reduced but they start at $144 a night.

“I have had people call with concern about (the oil spill), but we have not had any cancellations,” Wells said. “The reservations are coming in a little bit slower, and a little bit later.”

At Palm Tree Villas, Sawe said he’s eliminated the one-week minimum reservation that used to be required during the July 4 holiday.

In addition, Sawe said he may consider lowering rates due to vacancies.

“We are looking at our pricing policy to see what we need to do but it’s not always the price,” Sawe said. “If people are not making reservations because they’re worried about oil, they’re not going to make the reservation unless you give it to them for free.”

At White Sands Beach Resort, owner Jeff Gerry said he plans to boost his advertising due to the higher than usual vacancies at his Holmes Beach hotel through August.

“We’re running two-thirds full for August, normally were 100 percent through Aug. 21,” said Gerry, who said at least 10 summer reservations were canceled due to the oil spill. “It’s definitely slow. Once you get toward July 21, things start to slow down which is unusual for us.”