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Date of Issue: November 30, 2006

Lukewarm start to winter tourist season

When the first snows fell in October for the northern climates, winter visitors made an early start to the season, flocking to Anna Maria Island in droves.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the beach. The weather got warmer up north, while getting colder down south, particularly during Thanksgiving.

That turn of the weather apparently created a mixed bag of occupancy rates at various Island accommodations.

Some accommodation owners reported occupancy levels were good for the Thanksgiving weekend, while others said their occupancy was only "average" for the holiday.

"Thanksgiving was pretty good," said Richard Dorsey of the Club Bamboo Resort in Bradenton Beach.

"Maybe not spectacular, but I'd say it was above average for the first holiday of the season. It wasn't disappointing."

At Haley's Motel in Holmes Beach, owner Tom Buehler had the same view.

"We were pretty well booked. It's a good start to the season, but the week before we were slow and the week after Thanksgiving we're slow," he said, noting that Thanksgiving is generally a family holiday and many people don't think of an Island vacation for that week.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce reported a heavier than anticipated amount of walk-in traffic and e-mails just before Thanksgiving.

Most of the inquiries were about Island accommodations and things to do during the holiday, said Debbie Cooney of the Chamber staff.

"We're delighted with the increase. It was very busy here and I expect a good holiday weekend for the Island," she said.

At the White Sands Resort in Holmes Beach, owner Jeff Gerry said the weekend was "about average."

"Because of the cold weather, it wasn't exceptional."

Normally, the resort is fully occupied the entire Thanksgiving week, he said. Because of the weather, the full house didn't start until last Wednesday.

"We are geared to repeat customers and a few of them didn't come simply because of the weather, but the week after Thanksgiving is looking very good," Gerry added.

"It's only been an average start to the winter season," he concluded.

That's a sentiment echoed by Barbara Rodocker of the Bridgewalk Resort in Bradenton Beach.

"I'd like to say Thanksgiving is sold out, but it isn't," she said, characterizing occupancy as "about average."

In some past years, she's had nearly 100 percent occupancy for the holiday, but not this year.

"There's been a lot of warm weather up north and that usually keeps visitors from heading south until it does get cold," she said.

What might be average in 2006 wasn't the case four years ago.

In fact, according to the latest occupancy figures from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, occupancy of Island accommodations in October 2006 was just 35.6 percent, down from 39.8 percent in 2005 and 49.8 percent in October 2003.

Overall occupancy in October of all accommodations in the CVB survey has fallen from a high of 60.6 percent in 2004 to just 49.5 percent for October 2006.

The CVB surveys accommodations on Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and the Manatee County mainland to determine occupancy and average-room-rate levels.