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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Warm weather up north slows start of Island visitor season

Islanders may have noticed how warm it was in early November and some were complaining.

Not about the warm weather on Anna Maria Island, but about the warm fall temperatures up north that some say are delaying the start of the winter tourist season here.

Susan Estler of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said that warm fall temperatures in northern states and Canada usually indicate the winter tourist season in Florida will get a late start.

"Normally, we would see a lot of visitors start to arrive by now," said Estler.

But with daytime temperatures in Chicago, New York, Detroit and Toronto reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in late October and early November, visitors are putting winter vacation plans on hold.

"A lot of people like to wait until the first snowfall, but there hasn't been much yet," up north, she noted. "That's supposed to change very soon," Estler predicted.

"Some members have said early November has been OK for arrivals, while others have said they are slower than normal, but I think the warm weather up north has definitely been a factor in arrivals."

A better barometer for the winter season is Thanksgiving weekend, Estler said.

"By tradition, that's when things start moving in the tourism industry," she said.

Most, if not all, Island accommodations expect a full house Thanksgiving weekend, but many visitors no longer book months in advance.

At the Surfside Econolodge/Club Bamboo in Bradenton Beach, Marge Moran said November has been slower than normal, thanks to the warm weather up north.

"It sure seems that way, and people are coming for just a few days, not two or three weeks," she added.

Condo rentals at Club Bamboo, which are handled by the EconoLodge, however, have been brisk. "We've been busy at Club Bamboo, but the Econolodge is a bit slow."

Hotel guests seem to be waiting until the last minute to book a reservation, Moran said.

"Right now, even Thanksgiving appears slow, but I expect reservations for that weekend to pick up this week. People just don't like to book well in advance like they used to."

A good snowfall up north might also help, she suggested.

Moran may have gotten her wish as a snowstorm swept through the upper midwest this past weekend.

But a warm winter up north may not have that much affect on Island tourism, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Ann Brockman.

"I know that's what we always say, but there's no historical data to prove it," she said with a laugh.

"Actually, I haven't received too many complaints from chamber accommodation members about November," Brockman said. Retail business, however, seems to be a bit light.

At the chamber's visitor center, the past week has been extremely busy.

"We've gotten a lot of people walking in and asking for accommodations, many of them for extended stays," she noted.

That's a change from past years when visitors used to book well in advance.

After the events of Sept. 11, however, visitors often "just show up and ask where they can stay for the winter," Brockman said.

She expects Thanksgiving weekend to give the Island its traditional jumpstart for the winter tourist season.

"Thanksgiving should be a sell-out for Island accommodations," she predicted.

Kent Davis at the Siam Garden Resort in Anna Maria said his November reservations have been good, fueled by British visitors.

"They seem to be vacation savvy. They come when the temperatures are great and the prices are down," he noted.

Thanksgiving reservations have picked up recently and he expects to be fully booked by Nov. 27.

At the Anna Maria Beach Place in Holmes Beach, which specializes in vacation rentals directly on the beach, November occupancy has been great and advance reservations in February and March look even better.

"Some units are already booked for the season," said owner Dennis Rauschl, "and our short-term reservations are looking good. I don't see anything that says we won't have a good season on the Island."

For accommodation information, contact the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce at 778-1541, or the CVB at 729-9177.

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