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Date of Issue: July 14, 2010

Panhandleís loss is Islandís gain

Beaches on Anna Maria Island were packed last week once rain-filled skies cleared. A number of visitors who had planned to vacation in the Florida Panhandle — now troubled by oil-spotted beaches — opted for oil-free AMI. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Summer tourism on Anna Maria Island appeared to jump-start in early July and many in the industry attribute that to the BP oil spill that is already affecting Florida’s Panhandle resort locations.

At the Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s July 7 meeting in Holmes Beach, Kristen Moriarty of Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures said her business is up 30 percent from last year at this time, thanks to vacationers who normally head to Pensacola and Panama City coming to Anna Maria Island.

“I hate to say we are doing well at the expense of others, but a lot of people are coming here because of the oil spill,” she told the TDC.

Moriarty has a website proclaiming no oil on Island beaches and a webcam showing the clear Gulf waters.

Likewise for David Teitelbaum, a TDC member and owner of the Tortuga, Tradewinds and Seaside resorts in Bradenton Beach.

“I’ve never seen so much walk-in traffic. We’ve been promoting oil free beaches and many beaches north of us have been hit hard. People who usually go there are coming here. We’re seeing it every day,” Teitelbaum said.

He, too, has a website proclaiming the beaches oil free and a webcam that shows clear waters and beaches.

The downside is that the European market has been canceling, in part because they assume the spill includes all the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

At the Club Bamboo in Bradenton Beach, manager Mike Dolan said he’s been full every weekend for the past month.

“We’ve gotten a lot of walk-in traffic and they’re coming from Florida and the Carolinas,” Dolan said.

“They’re telling me they normally go to Pensacola or Panama City, but came here because the beaches are oil- free,” he said.

Joe Praetor of Just4Fun rentals in Holmes Beach agreed that the beach rental business has been great, but the spill has hurt his European business. In addition to beach and bicycle rentals, Praetor also has a few vacation homes he rents on a weekly basis.

Last week, he lost a $16,000 booking from Germany.

“All they see is the spill on TV,” said Praetor. “They ask me and I tell them there’s no oil here, but they’re not close to the scene like we are.”

Praetor is hoping he can make up the lost revenue with a walk-in looking for a nice vacation home for a week.

That just might happen.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Elliott Falcione, who took over from Larry White July 1, said the BACVB advertising campaign is aimed at the southeastern United States, and it appears to be working.

BACVB representative Kerry Alderson said she recently made calls to AAA offices in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee and they were “thrilled to learn that Anna Maria Island was free of oil.”

Alderson said most of their members head to the west Florida beaches in the summer, but are asking them for a new destination.

“They’re very happy to learn about the Island,” she said.

“It’s an easy sell and the drive is not bad,” added Falcione.

He urged members to “work together” with the TDC.

“It’s not about us, it’s about all of us,” he said.

Falcione said the BACVB is being transparent about oil spill questions. While the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, based on computer modeling, says there’s only a 2 percent chance any oil reaching the Island, Falcione said he’s not telling anyone there won’t be any oil on the shores.

“Be positive. Don’t talk about estimates. Talk about what is now, and that’s that there is no oil on our beaches,” he said.

Falcione asked Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for $600,000 from BP for advertising to inform summer vacationers that the area is free from any oil.

The TDC also has a cancellation website and needs to know when a member gets a cancellation due to the oil spill. BP has set up a program for reimbursement for lost business, and the Island has taken a hit from Europe.

Falcione said TDC members to date have lost 422 room nights and $790,000 as a direct result of the oil spill.

“At some point, we will ask BP for compensation,” he said.