Sometimes the truth hurts.
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce executive director Mary Ann Brockman says the recent wave of negative talk about tourism has visitors angry.
Brockman attended an Oct. 28 congestion committee meeting in Holmes Beach and when asked what the recent trend in tourism is, Brockman fired back a question of her own.
“Do you want the truth?” she asked.
Brockman said visitors to the island are well aware of the negative tone public officials have taken in recent months toward tourism.
“A lot of Europeans are extremely angry about the talk that they don’t want tourists here,” said Brockman. “They say they will take their dollars elsewhere. A lot of people in Bradenton also are angry.”
Brockman said she receives phone calls from Manatee County residents who ask her, “Do you think you are so special out there? You can’t even get to the mainland without coming into Bradenton first.”
She said a “really bad” spin has been placed on the island and she is receiving a lot of calls from people who want to remind island officials that the beaches belong to Manatee County. They pay county taxes and the beaches are just as much theirs, Brockman said.
Blaming “daytrippers” has alienated some mainland residents, as was evident in a recent protest on the Palma Sola Causeway where Bradenton residents sold “daytripper” bumper stickers.
Island officials have used that term, particularly in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, while addressing subjects that are tourist-related, however, the term “daytripper” was coined long ago and was not created in a negative light.
The term “daytripper” is used in books about the history of Anna Maria Island that defined those who lived close to the island and who would come for a day at the beach or for a meal at one of the early lodging facilities.
Easing traffic congestion, parking and infrastructure concerns have been a primary point of discussion islandwide. Whether it has been an attack on tourists and daytrippers is speculative, but Brockman said that doesn’t matter once perception becomes someone’s reality.
“So I’m trying to combat that,” she said.
Public officials have stemmed the use of “daytrippers,” and Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti asked his commission to no longer use the term.
Brockman said avoiding the term with a negative tone has helped.
She doesn’t believe the recent headlines of island officials trying to address the impact of tourism will hurt the coming tourist season, which typically begins in late February.
She’s not so sure about the future, however, “because it’s all picked up by the media and it goes viral. In the years to come, I think it will have an impact on tourism.”
Committee member Bob Johnson wanted to know if tourism appeared to be growing “before the fire storm in the local papers.”
Brockman said the overwhelming majority of responses from visitors have been positive, but some have complained about the bathrooms at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach, which visitors say, “are a little gross.”
She said the bathrooms at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach get a better response.
The committee asked if Brockman understood the frustration of some residents.
“We can’t be knocking the tourists,” said Brockman. “That’s our dollar. It keeps businesses alive. It’s the tourists that drive our economy. We don’t have anything else. We don’t have commerce here.”
Brockman said that as a resident, of course, she wants to see residents happy, but she blames the increase in rental homes as the problem.
When asked if she would define the recent concerns about tourism as an explosive or gradual increase, Brockman said she would define it as gradual.
“We get a lot of good publicity because we are the laid-back island and we want to stay that way,” she said. “We don’t want to be Longboat Key or Siesta Key. We want to be Anna Maria, but change is going to happen. It’s more important in what you do with it.”
Brockman said she is seeing more young families beginning to come to the island, especially Europeans, who stay for a week to recharge and relax before continuing their vacations somewhere more fast paced.
Brockman was critical of recent proposals of paid parking at the Manatee Public Beach.
Brockman said Manatee County residents are telling her they already pay taxes for the beach and shouldn’t have to pay to park there.
She was reminded that the paid parking proposal didn’t come from the congestion committee, but Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, a committee member, defended the proposal.
“People here pay taxes, but when they go downtown, they have to pay for parking and sales tax,” said Tokajer.
Brockman said it wasn’t the same thing, but Tokajer said it was.
“You are paying for convenience to be close to downtown Bradenton,” said Tokajer. “It’s the same reason for the suggestion here. You can pay for the convenience or, if you don’t want to pay, then that’s the reason we are trying for the park-and-ride spots.”
Brockman said she wished she had the solution, but does not.
Committee chair Carol Soustek said everyone is working together for the benefit of all.
“We want the trip to be better for them, too,” said Soustek. “We don’t want them stuck in endless traffic either. So we want their trip to be good and we want our residents not to feel overwhelmed. That’s the purpose of all of this.”