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Date of Issue: April 15, 2009

Visitor numbers don't reflect real Island season

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Happy Easter
Adults, students and kids packed the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach for the Easter holiday as warm weather descended on the Island, much to the delight of area businesses. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman is perplexed by the March occupancy figures from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The BACVB reported that occupancy of Island accommodations during March 2009 fell 6.2 percent from March 2008, dropping from 88.9 percent to 82.7 percent.

“That’s so hard to believe because a lot of places were full during March and everyone was extremely busy. And rooms were hard to find at Easter. We were busy all last week helping people find a place to stay,” Brockman said.

“No one has been complaining about the season. Many people have said it’s the best ever,” she added.

At the same time the BACVB said Island occupancy declined, it reported that Longboat Key occupancy figures also dropped, falling from 89.4 percent for March 2008 to 85.7 for the same month this year.

Occupancy of mainland accommodations took the biggest plunge, dropping from 88.3 percent for March last year to 74.6 percent for March 2009, according to BACVB figures.

But David Teitelbaum, part owner of the Tradewinds, Tortuga and Seaside resorts and a Manatee County Tourist Development Council member, cautioned that the BACVB figures can be misleading.

“They only survey 26 percent of the available accommodation rooms on the Island, and they don’t include seasonal rentals in the survey, and those are way up this year,” he said.

Indeed. Several Island real estate companies reported in January that seasonal rentals were up 20-30 percent from last year.

At Island Real Estate, Larry Chatt, who manages 175-plus rental units for IRE clients, said occupancy is “fantastic” this season.

“We were up 30 percent this March compared with March 2008. In January, our occupancy was double last year, and in February we were up 20 percent,” he said.

“We’re well over 90 percent occupancy for the season. In March, we had three of the four weeks where we had no full week available at any unit.”

Chatt said most of the other rental companies likely had similar increases this season.

“I would say the BACVB might want to consider seasonal rentals in their occupancy report. It’s not apples to apples,” Chatt said.

Teitelbaum said determination of occupancy is a topic he might discuss when the TDC meets April 20 at the Holmes Beach City Hall. It’s hard to believe occupancy was down in March when so many business and accommodation owners and managers are reporting increased occupancy and sales, he said.

“It really is a great season,” Teitelbaum said.

“And Easter was wonderful. We were booked solid, the weather was great, and we had a lot of families who were repeat guests. The word about the Island is spreading.”

Figures for March activity at the chamber office in the Tidemark Shoppes on Gulf Drive indicate the month was extremely busy for chamber staff.

The chamber set a record for walk-ins during March, with 4,260 visitors signing the guest book. In March 2008, the chamber reported 3,012 walk-ins.

“We were extremely busy here in March,” Brockman said. “We handled 891 telephone calls from people looking to book an accommodation or for information on activities and properties, and our Web site had 65,709 visits from 101 different countries. I’d say that’s pretty busy.”
With a number of Island retail establishments reporting increased activity for this year’s season, Island restaurant owners agree the season has been busy.

“We’re actually up this year from last year,” said Dave Russell, owner of Rotten Ralph’s in Anna Maria and on the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

“We had some great weather in March. Things are moving in the right direction and it’s been a very good season,” he said.

Likewise for Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, the BeachHouse in Bradenton Beach and the Mar Vista on Longboat Key.

“The weather during March was great. We’re an indoor-outdoor business, so all three locations had a phenomenal month. This has been a fantastic season. Man, there are people everywhere. I’ve never seen this many people during the winter and I have to believe other restaurants are also having a great season,” Chiles said.

At the Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria, owner Jason Suzor agreed.

“The weather has been great and there are a lot of people on the Island. The traffic here has been gangbusters and we’re having a very good season.”

While the Island was enjoying a solid winter tourist season, the Manatee County Commission at its April 7 meeting approved a resolution to increase the resort tax from 4 cents per dollar to 5 cents per dollar. The increase will become effective in May.