The Anna Maria City Pier remains the No. 1 visitor attraction in Manatee County, according to the most recent visitor study from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The July-September 2010 visitor profile report by Research Data Inc. of Tampa for the BACVB said 34.2 percent of visitors named the 100-year-old wooden pier their most favored Manatee County attraction, up 5.9 percent from the 32.3 percent figure in the June-August 2009 study.1.
Although St. Armands Circle in Sarasota is the top area attraction among visitors to the Bradenton area, Anna Maria’s historic pier — owned by the city — has been ranked the No. 1 Manatee County attraction since the quarterly surveys began in 2008. St. Armands Circle has headed the attractions list in each survey.
The latest report showed the Rod & Reel Pier, also in Anna Maria, was the third most-favored county attraction, behind the Ellenton mall.
Visitors gave the privately-owned Rod & Reel Pier a 27.8 favorable vote, down from the 30.6 percent for the same quarter in 2009. Retail shopping at the Prime Outlet Mall in Ellenton climbed from 30.6 percent in the 2009 study to 35 percent for July-September 2010.
The Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach gained in popularity among visitors, rising from a 13.3 percent favorable rating in the 2009 quarter to 17.5 percent for the same quarter this year, a 31.6 percent increase.
Multiple responses were permitted in all voting categories of the survey.
Going to the beaches on Anna Maria Island was the most favored activity among visitors with a 90.2 percent rating, followed by dining out (83.3 percent), relaxing (78.3 percent) and walking on the beach (78 percent).
Anna Maria Island also gained the top three spots in attributes that best describe the area.
Beautiful, clean beaches headed the list with a 92.8 percent vote, while clear, blue water was next at 86.5 percent and sunning on the beach third with an 86.3 percent rating.
Also in the Top 10 of attributes for the area were family friendly at No. 6 (63.5 percent), ease of traveling at No. 7 (63.5 percent), good food and restaurants was No. 8 (61.8 percent) and No. 9 was good value for money (61.5 percent).
The survey reported $48.4 million in direct expenditures during the quarter, an increase of 5.5 percent from the 2009 figure, and a total economic impact of $76.5 million from July-September 2010, up 5.5 percent from the same quarter in 2009.
Average visitor spending during the summer quarter was listed at $466 per person per trip and $75.50 per day. The average tourist party budgeted $1,424 for their vacation in the area, according to the survey. Out-of-state visitors budgeted an average of $1,721 for their vacation, while Florida visitors had a budget average of $977.
The average visitor party stayed 8.1 days, spent $610 on accommodations, $423 on food and beverages and $158 on retail purchases.
Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they planned to return to the area, 81.1 percent said they were “very satisfied” with their vacation time, and 13.7 percent said they were “satisfied.”
Visitors to the Island in May 2011 will have even more reason to visit the pier.
In recognition of the 100 years the pier has been operating, the city is holding a pier centennial celebration May 13-14. Pier committee chair Sissy Quinn said the celebration would be “befitting of the old Florida charm of the pier.”
Quinn, an Island history buff, has headed the committee since its 2008 inception and plans a spectacular affair. She’s always known the pier and the Island are the driving force behind area tourism.
“The pier is old Florida. It’s a piece of Island history that’s been around for 100 years. Visitors realize an old wooden pier is something they won’t find at other Florida resort destinations. This is a piece of history, and I’m delighted to be a part of the celebration.”
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former Holmes Beach mayor and current Island resident, said the pier and the Island are “the engine that drives tourism.” The BACVB survey on what attracts people to the area confirms what’s she’s known since she moved to the Island as a teenager.
But occasionally during budget discussions, some county staff don’t always view the Island and its attraction as “the engine” for tourism, she said.
One example is the fare-free Island trolley.
“When the bean counters look at numbers, they just say ‘let’s charge for a ride.’ They have no understanding that the free trolley is part of the Island’s attraction, an amenity that draws visitors and keeps cars off the Island streets, especially during the winter season. Thankfully, the commission understands we have to take care of the Island. It’s what runs the economy,” she said.
Whitmore observed that pictures of the Island beaches are always featured in advertisements, brochures and on websites for home-buying in Manatee County, especially in the eastern county region.
“The Island and beaches are what sell those homes out east. Sooner or later, every person who moves to Lakewood Ranch or east Manatee County is going to visit the Island. Unfortunately, some people have a hard time understanding the strain this puts on Island infrastructure and the Island way of life,” she said.
Another example of the Island’s perception among some officials could easily be the demolished Manatee Public Beach pier.
County commissioners have pledged to rebuild the pier, but there has been difficulty fitting the estimated $3 million cost into a departmental budget.
“Everybody loved that pier,” Whitmore said. “The commission promised Holmes Beach a new pier, but it’s moving slowly. But it will happen.”
From the latest tourism survey report figures, it would appear the Anna Maria City Pier, the Rod & Reel Pier, the Historic Bridge Street Pier and Anna Maria Island are selling the Bradenton area rather well.