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Date of Issue: November 18, 2009

While others stumble, Island tourism continues upswing

At a time when tourism in Orlando is off 40 percent and other Florida destinations are suffering drops of 15-30 percent, Anna Maria Island continues to defy the trend.

Crowds swarm on beach towels at the Manatee Public Beach.
Islander File Photo: Rick Catlin.

According to figures available from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the two-month average of occupancy figures on the Island for September and October was 14.7 percent higher than the same two months last year.

“We’re booming and I’m delighted,” said David Teitelbaum, a board member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and owner of three resorts in Bradenton Beach.

“We are dancing in the streets with these occupancy levels, while other places are in real trouble,” he said.

Indeed. Occupancy of Island accommodation units was up 20.2 percent in August 2009 compared with the same month in 2008, and up 9.2 percent in September of this year compared to last September.

“On a national basis, we are doing extremely well. Other Florida destinations have hotels they can’t fill, while we have all been very busy the past two months,” Teitelbaum said.

Many Europeans and Canadians have taken advantage of low prices in October, but Teitelbaum said he’s also seen a lot of Floridians stay on the Island for a weekend.

“The local area is our No. 4 market. I had one guy from Lakewood Ranch last week come for three days just to get out of the house,” he said.

Teitelbaum sees no reason for the boom not to continue.

“Advance reservations are up and we continue to get great publicity about the Island,” he said.

Islands magazine recently published a story that rated Anna Maria Island one of its best getaway destinations.

The Washington Post, in its Nov. 8 edition, published a travel story that praised the Gulf Islands of Manatee and Sarasota counties, with particular emphasis on the ambiance of Anna Maria Island.

All the good news about Anna Maria Island is contributing to the tourism upswing said Larry Chatt, vacation rentals manager for Island Real Estate.

He said the BACVB has done a tremendous job in obtaining positive press for the Island.

“It’s had a snowball effect since the article about the Island in Southern Living last year,” he said.

“The CVB’s efforts to get us noticed have gotten us noticed. Life on the Island is good.”

Chatt’s advance reservations for December are up 70 percent from December 2008, and January 2010 reservations are up 25 percent “and climbing” from January 2009, he said.

“To me, when a January is starting to fill up with reservations this early, it means we should all have a great season.”

In addition to the favorable publicity about the Island, there’s a real value in price on the Island in October, November, December and January, he said.

“You’re getting reduced rates at this time. People are taking advantage of the pricing.”

And it’s not one particular segment of the travel market that’s causing the jump in tourism.

“It’s a combination of people. We’re getting a lot of wedding parties, Europeans and Canadians, people who drive here by car. It’s not any one market, it’s all of them,” Chatt said.

He added that he doesn’t foresee any drop in tourism from February through April 2010. Reservations are up 15- 30 percent for those months.

“High-season is looking very good,” he said.