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Data specialist cautions local tourism officials

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

In the midst of a glowing report that said tourism to the area is up 7.2 percent for the first two months of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, Walter Klages, of Research Data Services, warned the tourism industry that tough times could be coming.

“I don’t see a lot of economic growth coming. I would advise you in the industry to be cautious about the coming year,” he said at the Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s April 15 meeting in Holmes Beach.

“The economy has stalled. Confidence at the national level is dropping,” he said.

Klages said the main feeder markets for the area are the Northeast and Midwest regions of the country and there are few signs of any economic growth in those areas. There is a lack of confidence that could transcend to the tourism industry, he said.

“Still, we had a very good start to the year,” and the diversification effort by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau should pay off when the northern markets begin to slowdown.

RDS is the company retained by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to gather monthly and quarterly tourism data.

Klages said the area has become well known in the tourism industry, but he cautioned tourism officials to be careful about expecting continued high gains.

Tourism in Manatee County has increased 23 of the past 24 months when compared to the same month in the previous year.

He expected tourism and spending figures for March and April to be even better than the first two months of 2013.

“Remember, you are only seeing two months of tourism,” he  said. Klages advised the industry not to get caught up in looking overseas for major tourism increases to offset any drop in North American visitors to the area. The European market is doing well, but it’s not the major focus for visitors to the area, he said.

“Always remember that Florida is our bread and butter market,” Klages said. The summer tourist season, which traditionally is led by the Florida market and runs July-August, could begin earlier this year, Klages suggested.

BACVB  executive director Elliott Falcione said recent efforts to garner European tourism are paying off.

Visitors from Great Britain are increasing, he said, and those visitors come in the fall season, when rates are lower.

“They also spend a lot of money and are buying a lot of property and businesses,” he added.

The same is true of the German market, Falcione said. “It’s a domino effect. The Germans are hearing what a great island this is, coming here and buying homes and businesses.”

TDC board member David Teitelbaum said reservations for the summer and fall are doing well at the five properties he owns. He attributed much of this to the increase in social networking he’s done, including advertising and reaching people on Facebook. Klages said that was great news, but “I am just saying to use caution at this juncture.”

Because of economic concerns, Falcione said Klages has advised the BACVB to target those people with incomes of $105,000 or more. These are the people who will come to the island regardless of the national economy, he said.

Falcione also said the BACVB has spent $50,000 to help advertise Jet Blue Airlines’ direct service from Chicago to Sarasota. He expects this to be an excellent market if advertising reaches the people with the right income level in the Chicago area.

Falcione also is looking at United flying from Chicago to Sarasota, with a possible link to American Airlines flying into Chicago, then to Sarasota.

All this is good news, said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn, but she asked the TDC if some funds from the resort tax – the 5 percent paid on accommodations of six months or less in the county – might find a good use on the island.

She cited the Anna Maria City Pier as an example.

The pier has consistently been a No. 1 attraction for visitors to Manatee County, yet the city, which owns the pier, gets nothing from the resort tax.

She said she read the statute that authorized collection of the resort tax and found that money collected could be used to refurbish and repair “fishing piers.” She asked the TDC to consider some funding of the more than $100,000 needed to repair the pier, and that estimate keeps going up.

Board member Ed Chiles agreed, and SueLynn said she would have a list of needed repairs and cost estimates presented at the next TDC meeting.

In other business, BACVB marketing director Deb Meihls said a delegation from the International Rowing Federation, based in Switzerland, is visiting the two-county area as part of its consideration for a site for the 2017 world rowing championships.

Meihls said she believes the IRF is considering only two locations — the Manatee/Sarasota, Benderson Development Inc. site for rowing competitions, and a location in Bulgaria.

Lake Benderson is located near the I-75/University Boulevard intersection and the effort to get the championships awarded has been a joint campaign with the Sarasota tourism bureau and the BACVB. The announcement of the world championships location is expected to be made by the IRF around Sept. 17 during this year’s world championships in

South Korea.

Meihls noted that a lot of people probably don’t realize how much the championships would impact the area.

An estimated 1,100 rowers plus coaches, officials and trainers would arrive, along with about 40,000 overseas fans, in addition to what North America would generate in fan interest.

That’s also why the IRF gives the host country four years to prepare. Meihls said needs to be enough hotel rooms and other facilities for athletes and fans.

The next TDC meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, June 17, at the Manatee County Commission Chambers, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

One Response to Data specialist cautions local tourism officials

  1. David Roberts says:

    I have been a winter and summer visitor to Anna Maria Island since 1972. Perhaps Mr. Falcione should encourage Jet Blue to add a flight from Detroit Metro to the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport. As it stands now I have to fly into Tampa and then drive down to Anna Maria. Based on conversations I have had conversations with other visitors from NW OH and SE MI, we all agreed a direct flight from Detroit to Sarasota would be a sound investment for Jet Blue.

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