With demands rising from island officials to stem the flow of tourists, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Elliott Falcione addressed Holmes Beach commissioners July 23.
Falcione provided a breakdown of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s $6.4 million budget that is raised from the 5 percent bed tax, for which island cities contribute about 60 percent.
Almost half of the TDC budget is earmarked for advertising and promotion, and Falcione said about one-third of the $3.1 million marketing budget covers overhead expenses, leaving $2.1 million for direct advertising.
Falcione’s primary message to commissioners was there’s a misconception about TDC spending.
“The TDC is an advisory board to the county commission,” said Falcione. “A lot of the time the media or residents think that once the TDC approves something, it’s a done deal. I have a team of marketing people that develops a marketing plan for the county. Then we bring that plan to the TDC for recommendation to send to the county commission.”
Other TDC expenditures include more than $800,000 for administration, $400,000 for maintenance for the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training facility and $500,000 in debt reduction for the $6.5 million convention center.
More than $737,000 is earmarked for beach renourishment projects and $600,000 is reserved for tourism-related projects.
Falcione said Manatee County and particularly Anna Maria Island has a strong brand of “Real Authentic Florida,” which sets the county apart from the rest of Florida.
“We have visitors stay an average of 7.2 days, which is the longest average stay in the state,” said Falcione. “If that changes, we will have a problem with our brand being like everybody else.”
Falcione said an additional $80,000 will be spent over the next two years for personnel to help the island keep its beaches clean.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino questioned the $6.4 million in bed tax revenue, asking if the budget reflects actual revenue.
Falcione said he is given a budget to work with and didn’t want to guess what the actual revenues were, saying, “I can tell you we are on a vertical trajectory from the past year.”
Falcione said if revenues exceed the budget, then the excess money is placed into a TDC reserve fund.
Zaccagnino noted that Holmes Beach would likely qualify for tourism-related projects under the state statute. He pointed to beach accesses and parks as examples, but also said he would like to see the TDC take more interest in Bradenton Beach’s Historic Bridge Street Pier and the Anna Maria City Pier.
Zaccagnino said the two other island cities are having issues with the piers and they are obviously attractions.
Mayor Carmel Monti agreed that Holmes Beach needs to approach the TDC with specific projects, but wants the focus of the TDC to be more about “enhancing the experience of people who are already coming here, rather than getting new customers here.”
Monti said it’s more important to keep residents here and longtime visitors coming back to the island. He said a growing number of comments are related to “people who aren’t happy because things are changing too fast. We want to balance what’s good for the citizens and what’s good for the tourists.”
A lot of recent discussion on easing island congestion has focused on so-called “daytrippers,” or those who visit the beaches from the mainland and surrounding areas.
Falcione acknowledged that managing daytrippers can be difficult, but cautioned commissioners against negative headlines.
“The key is more communication,” he said. “We all agree there needs to be balance. My one caution is when we read headlines that AMI residents are tired of visitors, our marketers cringe. We don’t want to hide from the media, but be careful what we say publicly.”
Commissioner Marvin Grossman said there is no hiding from how tourists are impacting island infrastructure.
“I know you don’t like to hear we have too many tourists, but that’s the reality,” said Grossman. “It’s the elephant in the room. We need advertising letting new tourists know that people live here, too.”
Grossman said many tourists don’t care about island residents because he hears them say, “I paid $7,000 for this room and I can do anything I want.”
He said Falcione should return to the TDC with a simple message.
“People are upset,” said Grossman. “If you don’t help in the next few years, there will only be more anger.”
Commissioner Judy Titsworth said the TDC brand of authentic Florida is being lost and it’s becoming more of a marketing gimmick “to trick people into thinking it still is old Florida.”
Titsworth called for the TDC to reduce spending on advertising, but Falcione said to be careful with wishes.
“You have to be very careful in how you play around with the marketing system,” said Falcione. “We are competing against counties with a lot more spending power. If we cut back too much, we could lose market shares.”
Falcione said more emphasis should be placed on managing daytrippers and the focus should not be reducing a population with an average income of more than $100,000 a year.
He said the high-end clientele being drawn by the TDC are vacationers spending money.