Special Reports

Tourism to grow in 2011

BRADENTON -- The oil spill dealt devastating effects to many tourism destinations along the Gulf Coast this year.

Manatee County escaped the actual presence of oil but was impacted by the wrong perception that local beaches, water and seafood were damaged.

The summer season without a doubt was difficult, say hoteliers, restaurateurs and tourism officials. Tourism to Manatee County declined in June, July and August, according to the local tourism bureau’s occupancy reports.

But year-to-date statistics show travel, visitor expenditures and total economic impact of tourism to Manatee County have been on the upswing in 2010.

With the worst of the oil spill’s ramifications over, the local tourism industry has a number of priorities on its slate for 2011.

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau will be focusing on cooperative marketing strategies. The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce will redesign its website in an effort to better market the area. And the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport will make an aggressive push with new data it has collected to woo more international and domestic flights to the area.

After Condor Airlines postponed its decision to offer seasonal trans-Atlantic service in 2011 and 2012 to Florida’s West Coast, SRQ embarked on a research project to have new data to use when marketing to international and domestic airlines.

Condor, a charter airline in Frankfurt, Germany, postponed its decision to come to Southwest Florida because of the oil spill. But SRQ wanted to prove European travelers will continue to visit the area because many own seasonal homes here.

The airport spent a month compiling data on seasonal homeowners in Southwest Florida. Airport officials pulled the property tax records from Hillsborough to Collier counties to develop a seasonal homeowner database including about 4 million homes.

The data reveals about 18,000 seasonal homeowners are from Europe, about 28,000 are from Canada, 29 percent of the homes are owned by New York City residents and 85 percent of the seasonal homeowners purchased their properties south of the Sunshine Skyway.

The data will be key information to continue to lure Condor Airlines, which is still considering flights to Florida’s West Coast, as well as other international airlines, said Michael Walley, spokesman for SRQ.

“The statistics are out there that show we are popular,” Walley said.

Popular indeed

According to year-to-date statistics through November 2010, Manatee County saw an estimated 460,000 visitors, up 3 percent from the same period in 2009.

Visitor expenditures for January to November this year were $297.6 million, up 2.1 percent, and total economic impact was estimated at $470 million, also a 2.1 percent increase, according to statistics from Research Data Services Inc.

“The numbers are really very, very good. There’s virtually no significant impact from the oil spill, but that doesn’t mean the perception of it is gone,” Walter Klages, president of Research Data Services, told the Manatee County Tourism Development Council at a recent meeting. “The moment someone mentions the word ‘beach,’ someone mentions the oil spill.”

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce has a number of marketing plans lined up to bolster tourism in 2011.

The Discovery Channel will air a 30-minute TV segment featuring Bradenton and Manatee County on a series called “Affordable Luxury” on Feb. 12.

The Bradenton Area CVB paid $85,000 for the spot that will feature Bridge Street, Anna Maria Island, Mar Vista, Lakewood Ranch, Dakin Dairy Farms and the South Florida Museum.

“We couldn’t ask for a better segment to display our county,” said Debbie Meihls, executive manager of the Bradenton CVB.

In 2011, the Bradenton Area CVB will get advertising at Tropicana Field that will include rotator ads behind home plate during Tampa Bay Rays games. The CVB also has purchased advertising for Oprah Magazine, Conde Naste, Bon Appetit Travel and Florida Travel + Life, which will include a four-page spread in its January issue.

“We’ve aligned with publications that really focus on our niche markets such as culinary markets because of all the great chefs we have here,” Meihls said.

Meihls came to the Bradenton Area CVB in July from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, and has focused on cooperative marketing to drive tourists to the area.

The tourism bureau in September made marketing partnerships with 11 local businesses in which the CVB jointly advertised with each business for a shared cost.

In April, the CVB will host an advertising fair that will offer more shared advertising opportunities. Meihls said the CVB will offer its media schedule for the next year to local businesses to make more co-op marketing available.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber is also reworking its marketing efforts.

The island’s business organization is working with Webtivity on a redesign of its website, www.annamariaislandchamber.org.

The AMI Chamber website has about a 30 percent bounce rate, says Larry Chatt, a board member for the chamber.

To entice visitors to explore more pages on its website, instead of viewing the home page and leaving, Chatt said the redesign will focus on implementing more engaging content.

“We as a board recognize the website is for the community as well, as the CVB is a phenomenal resource for visitors to the Anna Maria Island area,” Chatt said. “We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to keep content fresh, informative and active on the website so it draws more visitors.”